- Ruby Wallau/Daily
By Cindy Yu, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 10, 2013
Hailing from the same gym as Olympic all-around champions Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin, freshman Briley Casanova was ready to represent the Wolverines, despite joining the team just 10 days before the official season-opener in Cancun, Mexico in early January. The newest addition to the No. 7 Michigan women’s gymnastics team (12-2 Big Ten, 24-2 overall) graduated high school a semester early to begin the competitive season with Michigan.
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A two-time U.S. junior national team member, Casanova has many accolades, including the 2012 Women’s Junior Olympic Level 10 National Vault Champion in the Senior 'B' division and a third-place finish in the all-around at the 2009 International Junior Gymnastics Competition.
Though Casanova has had less time to adjust to a new school, training facility, coaches and academic curriculum than her teammates, she has adapted well and proven to be a valuable team member. It doesn’t hurt that her former teammate and freshman companion Austin Sheppard is right alongside her.
“She’s mature beyond her years,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “She has character, integrity and all the things we look for. Her priorities are in the exact order they need to be in.”
Transitioning from a small, private high school to a large, public university is something that Casanova embraces whole-heartedly. She said she loves experiencing a completely new atmosphere from the southern comfort she grew up with. The bubbly Dallas native exudes positivity and a high level of pride for competing for Michigan.
“I try to be happy all the time,” Casanova said. “I think that’s just a personality thing. That’s how I was raised. Just always smile, always laugh, embrace life and live it to the fullest. I like applying that to my school. I’ve always had school pride for my past schools ... so I just know that once you’re welcome into a family, you represent it.”
Casanova said her favorite part of gymnastics is competing in the floor exercise, where she can show off her personality through dancing and tumbling. Ever since she was little, she loved performing before an audience.
At the Big Ten Championships on March 23, Casanova struggled with consistency, faltering on the landings of two of her tumbling passes and scoring below a 9.825 on the event for the first time all season.
“(The Big Ten Championships) just wasn’t my day,” Casanova said. “I let the emotions get to me, and that was a weakness that I’m still learning about and need to overcome. I used that bad day to push me harder for regionals, and I think that helped me a lot.”
Last Saturday at the NCAA Regionals, Casanova hit a crucial balance beam routine in the anchor position — the most nerve-racking spot in the lineup — highlighted by a stuck backhandspring to back layout flight series. Her 9.725 score prevented the team from counting a fall and gave it a nice cushion over No. 13 Nebraska and No. 16 Illinois heading into the Wolverines’ final event.
“I think that did wonders for her confidence,” Plocki said. “To go up there in that situation ... and hit that routine shows a lot of composure for a freshman.”
While Casanova has competed sporadically on vault, beam and floor, her role is likely to expand in the next season. After all, she’s only been in Ann Arbor for four months.
“I definitely look for her to compete at a whole different level next year than where she is right now,” Plocki said.