“The thrills of winning a national championship are as exciting as they are because everybody goes through the lows of lows, which is what we’re experiencing right now,” Michigan head coach Bev Plocki told the Wolverines after being eliminated from the postseason at regionals. “That’s athletics; that’s what we signed up for here.”
Just two years after winning an NCAA title, the 2023 NCAA championships looked a lot different for the Wolverines, who qualified just four individuals after losing a tiebreaker to LSU in at the Denver regional final to miss out on advancing as a team. But, for Michigan’s two fifth-years, qualifying for a fourth national championships just continues to add to their Wolverine legacy.
Natalie Wojcik took the competition floor for the final time on uneven bars, where she crushed her signature Deltchev to notch a 9.925 and a share of 10th place. After starting her NCAA career as national champion on balance beam as a freshman back in 2019 and taking home the AAI Award in 2022, she leaves as one of the most decorated Wolverines in history. But, it’s not her accolades that head coach Bev Plocki will remember Wojcik by.
“[Wojcik] brought that veteran, ‘I’m gonna hit this routine no matter what the level pressure is gonna be out there’ energy,” said Plocki, adding how crucial that mentality was in helping lead Michigan to the title in 2021 and establishing a positive culture in the program. “She’s a cool cucumber under pressure, a veteran leader, brings a calming effect, and her work ethic is incredible.”
In her fifth-season and fourth NCAA championships, Abby Heiskell hoped to “take that extra second to enjoy every last second” of her final routines competing in the all-around. Her 39.500 landed her 11th overall, and a stellar bars set with a crisp giant full to double tuck dismount earned her a 9.950 and runner-up finish on the event—her best individual finish ever at the event. When looking back at her career, Heiskell hopes her upward trajectory is what sticks in Michigan’s memory of her.
“I hope when people look back at my career, they can see the growth and development that I’ve had over the past five years,” Heiskell explained. “My freshman year I was able to compete and contribute to the team, but it’s crazy that I’m here for my fifth year and I’m competing as an individual all-arounder at the national championship. I don’t think my freshman year self would have believed that.”
But, like Wojcik, Plocki sees Heiskell for her characteristics extending far beyond her gymnastics.
“Heiskell can bring levity and fun and silliness and happiness and energy to any situation,” said Plocki. “She’s a hard worker and a lead-by-example individual.”
With five years of accolades, humor, and calming energy, Heiskell and Wocjik are leaving a legacy behind at Michigan, one that very few Wolverines can match. Plocki described that while they’re both part of the core group to win a national championship, they did it because “of all the things wrapped up into who they are.”
It’s a legacy that will not soon be forgotten, either, as the first thing the Wolverines did when arriving at Dickies Arena for practice was stand in the very spot where they won the 2021 NCAA title. And although Michigan is set to lose two members from that title-winning team, Plocki is confident that it won’t be long before the Wolverines stand atop the podium again soon.
“I have always had a saying that tradition never graduates,” Plocki said. “The culture we have built in our program and the things that we learn don’t graduate with the athletes that helped us learn those things and helped us become who we are. [Heiskell and Wojcik] definitely have made their mark on that, and they will leave that with us, and it will continue to be a part of who we are.”
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Article by Brandis Heffner
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