In a meet against the No. 9 team in the country, the Michigan women’s gymnastics team needed to be especially sharp at Crisler Center on Saturday to earn an impressive win.
Led by five athletes who either tied or set new career highs in the meet, the fifth-ranked Wolverines narrowly defeated No. 9 Georgia, 196.925-195.200.
After missing all of last season due to injury, sophomore Lauren Marinez surpassed her personal record on the beam with a 9.775, beating her score of 9.750, which she set just last weekend.
Senior Briley Casanova scored a 9.900 on the floor event, her highest since her freshman year, which came as a surprise even to her.
“I didn’t think it would be a career-high routine because I felt like I’d done similar routines before,” Casanova said.
Michigan practiced few special dance moves, though Casanova explained the importance of a drill she and her teammates call “shoot ’em downs.”
“(It’s a drill in which) we just try make eye contact with everyone on our team on the floor whenever we do a dance through,” Casanova said. “We really emphasized that.”
Freshman Emma McLean also tied a career high. She received a 9.850 in the floor event, living up to the promise she’s showed as a newcomer. Last weekend at the meet in Cancun, Mexico, she scored a 9.775.
Sophomore Nichelle Christopherson, who performed in just four routines last season, significantly improved from her showing on the uneven bars in the previous meet. There, she scored a 9.100 after being added to the rotation at the last minute. Saturday, she scored a 9.825, tying her best score ever, which she set last January.
Junior Talia Chiarelli, who finished in the top three for each event in which she competed, explained what individual successes can mean for the team.
“It’s awesome,” Chiarelli said. “It’s even more awesome to do that in one of the first meets of the season. It shows how much potential we have and how much farther we can go from here.”
Another freshman who has excited both her teammates and coaches is Olivia Karas. Karas set a new best in the floor event in her young career, scoring a meet-high 9.950. However, she also struggled at times during the meet, falling on both the beams and the uneven bars.
“(Karas) is absolutely capable of making a name for herself in college gymnastics,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “When she learns how to control her nerves and emotions and go out there and really perform, that’s when she’s going to be at her best.”
Karas scored a meet-low 8.850 on the uneven bars due to falling on the ground in the middle of her routine.
Luckily for her, her teammates stepped up, with junior Nicole Artz and sophomore Brianna Brown scoring in the top three to maintain Michigan’s lead.
Plocki attributed the players’ individual successes to the facility at Crisler and to the coaching staff.
“That’s what we want to do, to develop these young ladies,” Plocki said. “It’s nice from a coaching perspective to see the fruits of your labor come out and show season best scores.”
Despite many players setting or tying career-high scores, Plocki stressed the importance of the entire team’s success in addition to that of the individual athletes.
“If we had a lot of people who had a lot of great individual accolades, but the team lost, it would be a disappointing night no matter what any individual did,” Plocki said. “The team result is the reason we do this.”
Fortunately for the Wolverines, on Saturday, they succeeded in both areas.