MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University gymnastics team opens its 2014 season at No. 21 Kentucky, with No. 15 Penn State and Ball State, on Friday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m., at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky.
The Mountaineers return to competition following a 2013 campaign that saw them finish 13-9 and advance to their 30th NCAA Regional Championships. Coach Jason Butts returns for his third season at the helm, and seven newcomers join 10 Mountaineer returners for their second season in the Big 12 Conference.
“We are definitely ready for competition season,” says Butts. “This team’s attitude has been phenomenal throughout our four-month preseason; it’s probably the best it’s been since I’ve been at West Virginia. We’ve had fun in practice, and because of that, I think they’re ready to go. Everyone is prepared and really confident. There’s just a lot of excitement and not many nerves going into Friday’s meet.
“I want to hit 24 routines tomorrow night. I want the team to be aggressive. We can’t control the scores or the other teams, so I don’t want to get hung up on that. I have preached consistency over the last few months, and we need to hit our stride in these first few meets, not down the road. The gymnastics is there; I want them to remember that as they take to the floor Friday night.”
The Mountaineers are 2-1 in season openers under coach Butts, and Friday’s meet marks the fifth time in six years WVU has opened its season on the road.
“I like competing on the road early in the season because the team is used to the atmosphere in the WVU Coliseum,” explains Butts. “We’ve been practicing in Cary Gym for over four months, and I like the excitement that surrounds a road trip. This is a way to kick off the season with a lot of adrenaline, and I like to see the way the team is going to react right off the bat when we get them out of their comfort zones.”
Friday’s meet also will serve as the season opener for UK. Penn State and Ball State opened 2014 with wins, as the Nittany Lions (1-0) defeated Iowa State, 193.925-193.55, in Ames, Iowa, on Jan. 5, and the Cardinals (1-0) won, 189.0-188.95, at Illinois State on Jan. 4. The victory was the first career win for BSU head coach Joanna Saleem, a former assistant coach at WVU (2002-08).
WVU owns a 15-6 series advantage over the Wildcats, led by third-year coach Tim Garrison. The two teams met at the 2013 NCAA Morgantown Regional Championships on April 6, with UK finishing fourth (195.575) and WVU placing fifth (194.475); the result did not count against the Mountaineers’ season record. The squads last met in the regular season in 2009, with the Mountaineers earning a 195.425-194.65 victory at the WVU Coliseum. WVU’s last trip to Lexington resulted in a 193.775-192.875 loss in 2007.
The Mountaineers and the Nittany Lions have met 11 times since 2004, with PSU, led by fourth-year coach Jeff Thompson, owning a 10-1 record. The two have not competed against each other since 2012, when PSU scored a 195.775-195.1 victory in coach Butts’ career debut at the WVU Coliseum. The Nittany Lions own a 36-6 all-time series record.
WVU is 8-1 all-time against Ball State and 3-1 in their last four meetings, most recently defeating the Cardinals, 195.175-191.775, in a quad-meet at the WVU Coliseum in 2012. The Mountaineers’ lone loss to BSU came in 2000 at the Ball State Cardinal Classic (193.475-190.825).
Sloanhoffer, a Cornwall, N.Y., native, is the team’s top competitor, having competed in every meet since 2011. An all-arounder in 26-of-38 career meets, she owns 1,368.975 points and needs 8.375 points to break onto the WVU all-time career points chart. With 18 career 39.0+ scores to her name, she is tied with Jessica Bartgis (2001-05) at No. 4 on the Mountaineers’ all-time chart. Sloanhoffer owns career highs of 9.95 on vault and beam, 9.9 on bars and floor and 39.5 in the all-around.
Sloanhoffer and sophomore Jaida Lawrence
each earned six event wins in 2013, the most among the Mountaineer returners. Lawrence, a Rocky Hill, Conn., native, earned all six of her wins on vault. WVU’s first All-Big 12 honoree (vault), she concluded her rookie campaign ranked No. 43 nationally on vault with a 9.89 regional qualifying score (RQS). She scored a career-best 9.9 four times.
Smith and Sloanhoffer are the top returners on bars, as each ended 2013 ranked No. 24 in the Southeast region with 9.78 RQSs. Sloanhoffer, along with juniors Beth Deal
and Lia Salzano
, highlight a steady beam lineup that boasts four returning gymnasts that scored 9.85 or better in 2013.
Of the Mountaineers’ seven newcomers, freshman Nicolette Swoboda
is expected to see the most competition time. A three-time qualifier for the Junior Olympics National Championships, the Westbury, N.Y., native should compete as an all-arounder this season. Also expected to compete right away are freshmen Alexa Goldberg
and Mackenzie Myers
and sophomore Lindsey Litten
, a transfer from Central Michigan.