April 4, 2017
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Junior Paige Zaziski had never been to the NCAA Championships but was determined to make sure herself and her teammates on the Michigan women's gymnastics team would be in St. Louis this season.
"I smile at our journey this season and how far we have come," said Zaziski. "We have figured out that we succeed when we have fun. My excitement level is through the roof. It is exciting to prove what we can do next week."
It was her determination that led her to a breakout performance on Saturday (April 1) in Morgantown, West Virginia, winning two events and the all-around to lead U-M to the NCAA Regional title with a score of 197.350.
Entering the NCAA Regional, Zaziski was one of the top performers nationally on the uneven bars and consistent contributor on vault and balance beam. However, nobody expected her to be in contention for the all-around title. Especially because she wasn't even entered as an all-around competitor. She was not in the floor exercise lineup and hadn't competed floor since the second meet of the season at Ohio State.
Zaziski was having an exceptional meet, having hit all three of her routines on vault, bars and beam so as the team was going in to a bye before finishing the meet on floor, head coach Bev Plocki and assistant coach David Kuzara pulled Zaziski aside.
"After beam they told me they wanted to give me an opportunity," said Zaziski. "I was going to compete if the first five hit, and Lauren (Marinez) would have gone if someone hadn't. I started preparing and was really excited."
It wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision. Plocki had wanted to get Zaziski more floor routines under her belt, but in the postseason there is not a chance for exhibition routines.
"Dave and I had talked about it during the week, and with us ending on floor I saw it as an opportunity to scoot the lineup up and put Paige last," said Plocki. "We hit our first five routines, and then Paige went out and won the all-around, so it is really nice when you have a coaching strategy and it works."
In her two previous times competing floor in 2017, her result was not what she wanted as she fell on a tumbling pass. However, during the bye rotation her teammates kept coming up to her and gave her boosts of confidence by their encouragement.
"They kept telling me they believed in me, and it really helped," said Zaziski. "Lauren is just a great teammate and a great friend. She reminded me of how hard I had worked for it and to make the most of it even though I was taking her spot. It was a really special moment."
Zaziski went out on the floor, competed with the biggest smile in the arena and closed her routine with a point at the team corral. She walked away with a career-high 9.900 to clinch the all-around.
"I changed my last pose to a point at my teammates because they were with me through everything," said Zaziski. "Everyone said I had a huge smile on my face when I landed my last pass. I couldn't wait to run back to them. My score couldn't have happened without the five people in front of me doing such a great job. It shows you what a team can do for you, which is pretty cool."
Zaziski's performance was the cherry on top of a great day for both her and her team. The team celebrated a regional championship, and Zaziski posted a season high on vault (9.875) to tie for the win, a 9.950 on bars to win the title and match the top score of the meet, a career-high 9.900 on floor and a career-high 39.575 in the all-around for her first all-around victory of the year.
She did all of that after a stressful beginning. When she got to the WVU Coliseum she forgot her backpack on the bus and had to go back to get it. She then realized she forgot her applesauce, a pre-meet favorite of hers. When all was said and done, she calmed down once she started dancing with her teammates in the locker room prior to warmups.
Then her determination kicked in, and she willed herself to a career day, which in turn earned her a trip to her first NCAA Championships with her teammates.