MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The No. 25-ranked West Virginia University gymnastics team travels to Ames, Iowa, for its first-ever Big 12 Gymnastics Championship, this Saturday, March 23, at Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum. Competition is set to begin at 3 p.m. EST.
Saturday’s meet will be televised by FOX Sports Net on a date to be determined.
The Mountaineers (13-7, 1-1) will battle No. 2-ranked and defending conference champion Oklahoma (19-1, 2-0) and Iowa State (4-11, 0-2) for the conference crown. The Sooners own a conference-best 197.57 regional qualifying score (RQS). WVU is second with a 195.78 RQS, while the host Cyclones sit in third with a 194.95 RQS.
“I think it’s great that we can now say we are competing for the same conference title as most of the other WVU teams compete for,” says second-year coach Jason Butts. “This is the first time we can say that. There’s a buzz in the air with the team regarding this meet, especially because it will be televised. I think we’re all really looking forward to being a part of something big. Having said that, we’ve focused this week on remembering that Saturday is just another meet.”
WVU will open the meet on floor before rotating to vault and uneven bars. The Mountaineers will close the meet on balance beam. The team is nationally ranked on three of four events this week: No. 21 vault, No. 22 beam and No. 23 floor.
The Mountaineers seek to score their first road score of 196.0 or better. WVU earned 196.0+ in each home meet at the WVU Coliseum this season, the first West Virginia team to achieve the feat in the program’s 40 years. Only the 2004 team scored more than five 196.0+ marks, as the Mountaineers earned six that season, including three scores of 197.0 or better.
Though Saturday’s meet signifies the start of the team’s postseason, WVU’s score will be factored into its final RQS. RQS will determine the top 18 teams that will be seeded on a national basis for the NCAA Regional Championships. Through 10 meets, WVU owns a season-high score of 196.55, earned in a second-place finish at home on Feb. 24. The team is looking to drop its third-best road score of 195.15, earned in a loss at NC State on Jan. 25.
“A solid score (this weekend) is a focus for the coaching staff, but I don’t want it to be a focus for this team,” says Butts. “We’ve talked a lot this season on not focusing on scores – they flash up, they go away and we can’t control them. It’s something I’ll be tracking, but it’s not something I want this team to be watching.
“Realistically, if we stay on the events and compete the way we have all season, this team is capable of earning a solid 196.0+ road score. That’s what we need. If OU hits, it will be hard to beat them – they’re ranked No. 2 in the country for a reason. Our level of competition should help us this weekend. I want this team to hit 24-for-24. We gave up some tenths in our landings last Friday. I’m hoping our focus on the little details in practice this past week will pay off Saturday.”
WVU went 1-1 against the field this season. The Mountaineers dropped a 197.375-196.05 decision to the Sooners on Feb. 1, at the WVU Coliseum, in the team’s Big 12 and home season openers. Nine days later, the Mountaineers earned their first Big 12 victory with a 196.15-194.825 win over the Cyclones on Feb. 10 at the Coliseum. WVU is 2-1 all-time against ISU, led by former Mountaineer assistant Jay Ronayne, and 1-6 against OU.
The Mountaineers were victorious the last time they competed in Ames, as they tallied a 194.925-194.9 win at Hilton Coliseum on March 13, 2009.
“I think it helps that we saw both of the teams already this year,” explains Butts. “We won’t be watching these teams at practice or on the competition day. This team knows these gymnasts and their skills, which allows them to focus in on themselves. That will definitely help us Saturday.”
WVU enters the championship boasting an All-Big 12 Conference gymnast, as freshman Jaida Lawrence, the reigning and two-time Big 12 Newcomer of the Week, was named to the 2013 team on March 20. The Rocky Hill, Conn., native ranks No. 3 in the conference on vault with a 9.89 RQS.
Junior Hope Sloanhoffer and senior Kaylyn Millick are the conference’s fifth- and sixth- ranked gymnasts, respectively. Sloanhoffer, a native of Cornwall, N.Y., ranks No. 38 nationally with a 39.145 RQS, while Millick, a Washington, Pa., native, ranks No. 39 with a 39.14 RQS. Millick also is the team’s top floor worker, as she ranks No. 48 nationally, No. 5 in the Big 12, with a 9.875 RQS, while Sloanhoffer paces the beam unit and ranks No. 8 (9.82) in the conference.
Senior Alaska Richardson looks to make some noise on vault and floor. The Dayton, Ohio, native ranks No. 6 (9.86 vault, 9.865 floor) in the conference on both events.
Millick paces the Mountaineers’ bars unit and ranks No. 8 in the Big 12 with a 9.82 RQS.
The Mountaineers closed out their regular season on March 15 with a 196.05 showing in wins over Maryland (194.8) and Rutgers (194.175) at the WVU Coliseum. Sloanhoffer and Millick took the top two all-around podium spots with respective 39.25 and 39.175 scores. Sloanhoffer also tied for the beam win with a season-high 9.875 showing. Lawrence and Richardson tied for the vault win with 9.9s. Richardson also scored 9.9 on floor and earned the victory. Junior Erica Smith paced the team on bars with a third place, 9.775 showing.
OU suffered its first loss of the season with a 197.525-196.9 outing at then-No. 4 Alabama on March 15; the Sooners were the nation’s top-ranked team at the time. OU enters the championship after winning a conference-best 13 All-Big 12 awards. The Sooners are ranked No. 1 in the Big 12 on each event. Junior Taylor Spears and senior Brie Olson respectively rank No. 1 (39.53) and No. 2 (39.5) in the conference.
ISU closed out its regular season with a 196.825-195.125 loss at then-No. 3 Michigan on March 16. This year marks the fourth season (1996, 2000, 2009, 2013) the Big 12 Championship has been staged at Hilton Coliseum.