The Michigan women’s gymnastics team seems to be growing smaller and smaller by the week. Three upperclassmen are injured, there are no seniors, and there aren’t enough gymnasts with set routines to compete. The Wolverines have their work cut out for them.

With only 11 girls on the team, the recent loss of junior Natalie Beilstein to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury is a serious setback. She was one of three juniors on the squad and a clear team leader. She is also one of the highest-scoring gymnasts on the floor exercise.

“We definitely had to pick up what (the injured athletes) left open for us,” said freshman Sachi Sugiyama. “We have to just keep a strong mind and know we’re capable of filling in their shoes.”

Added Michigan coach Bev Plocki: “Every member of this team fully understands that every single thing that they do matters, that we don’t have the luxury of having a couple of people that can take a break from an event.”

Despite the injuries, the Wolverines have been unstoppable this season.

They narrowly defeated West Virginia, 194.650-194.050, on Friday night. With a shortage of gymnasts who are able to compete, Plocki is pulling out her secret weapons: Sugiyama and fellow freshman Annette Miele.

Sugiyama was put on the “Gymnasts to Watch” list during the preseason and has flipped and twirled her way to multiple first-place finishes so far this season. In last week’s meet, Sugiyama proved to be a key player, earning first place and a career-high on vault with a score of 9.925 and winning third on the uneven bars with a score of 9.800. She tied for third on floor with junior Katie Zurales, scoring a 9.800. Sugiyama also took third place in the all-around competition with a total score of 38.700.

Miele’s college career is just leaping into action. Against West Virgina, she was scheduled to compete in the all-around for the first time this season. Miele was suppossed to be the sixth gymnast to do a routine on vault, though only the five highest-scoring routines would be counted in the final score. After her teammates’ near-perfect vault routines, her performance was unnecessary, and she was pulled from that round and therefore dropped as an all-around competitor.

“She is going to get better as the weeks go along and more confident in her performance,” Plocki said. “I think she is going to end up being a major contributor for us by the end of the season.”

Miele competed on the uneven bars, beam, and on floor for the first time this past weekend. She did not expect to be a floor competitor yet and had to come up with a routine in just one week, whipping together some last-minute dance moves and turns. Her routine looked flawless, and it was good enough to earn her a 9.575 score.

Sugiyama and Miele are growing in importance to the team as it dwindles in numbers.

“They have to give us everything that they have, but they also know that we’re not going to push them out there before they’re prepared and before they’re ready,” Plocki said. “So it’s just a slower process this year, but I think this team is getting more mature and more confident every single week that we go along.”

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