If the Michigan women’s gymnastics team hopes to have a season like it did last year, when it finished as the sixth-ranked team in the country, the Wolverines are going to have to get healthier.

Plagued by injuries and illnesses, Michigan struggled to compete against Eastern Michigan, as it dropped its exhibition meet against the Eagles, 194.050-183.350.

Senior captain Briley Casanova, who was battling the flu, managed to achieve a career-high score of 9.850 on the vault to start the day. But what seemed to be an issue of little concern quickly affected the Wolverines. As Casanova prepared to mount the bars, she lost her grip and fell, tallying a score of 8.75. Casanova, like many of her teammates, was sick during the meet, and as her symptoms became too severe to compete, she was scratched from the floor routine.

Senior captain Nicole Artz had recently been dealing with viral meningitis and had been out of practice prior to the meet. Artz was also supposed to compete for the floor routine, but was scratched before the event, leaving Michigan with just four competitors for the event, instead of the usual six.

Injuries also sidelined freshman Emma McLean, who is dealing with a sprained ankle, as well as senior Austin Sheppard, who is suffering from a sprained neck.

“We have a very small team this year,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “We’re not like football where we have second and third strings. Everybody is crucial.

“We are a very talented team — we just don’t have a lot of numbers. If we’re healthy, we’re going to be as good as most teams, if not better.”

For the few Wolverines that were healthy, there were some positives. The underclassmen had stellar performances and were a source of hope for the 2016 season.

Sophomore Brianna Brown, who recently recovered from spraining both of her ankles, performed well on the bars and beam, getting scores of 9.850 and 9.825, respectively.

In her first meet against collegiate competition, freshman Olivia Karas was the only gymnast to participate in all four events, scoring an impressive all-around total of 39.250.

“I was really nervous, but I was super excited,” Karas said. “It was an awesome atmosphere, and I had a lot of fun.”

Added Plocki: “Olivia is going to be a phenom. She is such a talented young lady. She is so charismatic on the competition floor.”

The exhibition loss does not concern Plocki. Her main focus is keeping the team healthy before their season opener in Cancun, Mexico on Jan. 2, and she believes that at full strength, the Wolverines can be a threat.

“This is not a dark cloud for the season,” Plocki said. “When they see us start the season, they’ll be surprised at how good we really are.”

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