MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – On the heels of its season-best performance, the West Virginia University gymnastics team travels to Gainesville, Fla., for a dual-meet against No. 2 Florida on Friday, March 7, at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
Friday’s meet against the defending National Champion Gators will air tape-delayed on SUN Sports on Sunday, March 16, at 5:30 p.m.
The Gators (7-1, 5-1 SEC) are the Mountaineers’ (6-7, 0-2 Big 12) fifth ranked opponent in three weeks and the squad’s fourth top-10 opponent of the season.
“We haven’t been in this type of gymnastics environment since we competed at Utah last season,” says Mountaineer coach Jason Butts. “I’m excited. I really felt like the team handled the large crowd and noise well last year through the first two rotations. We’ve been in front of big gymnastics already this season, and I think that is something that will help us, too. We’ve also worked a lot on crowd noise and distractions inside Cary Gym this week. I think the team will handle the pressure well.”
WVU is 1-7 on the road this season and looks to drop a 193.525 mark from its regional qualifying score (RQS).
“Despite scoring a season high on Sunday, I still found a lot of things we can improve on, and those details have been our focus this week,” continues Butts. “We need to focus on our performance at Florida and not so much the score. I think if we do our job, we should bring home a good road score. The team has looked really good in practice this week, and the lineups are almost solidified. We’re finally able to focus on details and not just on how to hit.”
The Mountaineers and the Gators have met 13 times since 1982, with UF owning an 11-2 series advantage. WVU last competed in Gainesville in 2008, with the Mountaineers finishing fourth (194.825) at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships; UF won the regional (197.525). WVU’s last regular-season meet inside the Gators’ home came in 2006, a 196.95-194.2 loss. WVU has not defeated UF since earning a forfeit victory in Morgantown in 1988.
Most recently, then-No. 1 UF trumped WVU, 196.875-195.225, in a quad-meet in Morgantown on Feb. 20, 2011; both teams defeated New Hampshire (194.4) and George Washington (193.05). In her first season as a Mountaineer, senior Hope Sloanhoffer
anchored the team’s beam lineup and finished fourth with a 9.85. She also finished a team-best third on floor with a 9.85.
Sloanhoffer enters the meet as the nation’s No. 29-ranked all-around gymnast with a 39.16 RQS. She has tallied five 39.0+ marks this season and scored six all-around victories. The Cornwall, N.Y., native also ranks No. 48 on vault with a 9.837 RQS. She paces the squad with 15 event wins and ranks No. 11 in the Mountaineer record book with 1,681.15 career points.
Freshman Alexa Goldberg
is nationally ranked on the uneven bars for the eighth straight week. The Ivyland, Pa., native is up 13 spots this week to No 35 with a 9.855 RQS. She has earned two scores of 9.9 or better this season and five event wins.
Senior Amanda Carpenter
paces the Mountaineers’ beam unit with a 9.746 season average, while Sloanhoffer leads the floor workers with a 9.731 average.
“I’m hoping to go to Florida and build confidence,” says Butts. “If we can hit 24-for-24, then I know we’ll be ready to roll into postseason.”
The Mountaineers return to the road following a season-best performance in a 196.175-194.95 upset win over No. 22 Ohio State at the WVU Coliseum on March 2. The win was the team’s first over a ranked opponent since defeating Southern Utah, 192.125-191.05, at Utah, on Jan. 19, 2013. WVU’s total was its best score since earning 196.375 on March 3, 2013, and ranks No. 19 in the program record book.
WVU put forth season-best showings on vault (49.15), bars (49.05) and beam (49.05) against the Buckeyes. Sloanhoffer finished first overall with a 39.3 mark, while freshman Nicolette Swoboda
scored a career-high 39.2 and finished third. Sloanhoffer also tied for first (9.875) on vault, while Goldberg won bars outright with a 9.9. Additionally, freshman Mackenzie Myers
earned the floor win with a career-best 9.925, the team’s top score of the season, while junior Beth Deal
and senior Erica Smith
tied for second on beam with 9.85s.
The Gators are coming off a 197.65-197.4 at No. 4 Alabama on Feb. 28. The defeat was the squad’s first since March 16, 2013. Sophomore Bridget Sloan, the nation’s top-ranked gymnast, won a share of three events, including her seventh straight all-around title (39.5). She also finished first on vault (9.95) and bars (9.925). Freshman Claire Boyce, the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week, and senior Mackenzie Caquatto tied for beam win (9.925).
Sloan, a 2008 Olympian, also ranks No. 1 nationally on vault and No. 6 on bars. She is the reigning NCAA all-around and beam champion. Senior Alaina Johnson is the defending NCAA bars champion. Caquatto and junior Kytra Hunter rank No. 3 on beam and floor, respectively. Of note, Sloan and Hunter have combined for six 10.0 marks this season.