Authored by LetsGoDU Contributor Jill Cattrysse-Larson
It’s March Madness again!
I know many people may be thinking about basketball and, especially at DU, hockey. But to thousands of gymnastics fans, this is our March Madness, too. Almost exactly a year ago, DU won their first Big 12 Championship Title. It was an upset of the, then #1, Oklahoma Sooners and a huge accomplishment for the Pioneer’s gymnastics program. This year the Big 12 Conference Championship is being held in Magness Arena for the first time. But if you didn’t get tickets (they are still available, guys), it is also being broadcast on ESPNU at 5:00 pm MT.
Going into this year’s Big 12 Conference championship, Denver is scoring on average 1.1 points behind Oklahoma. The Sooners enter today’s meet ranked #1 in the nation, again. Can history repeat itself? It is unlikely that Denver can pull off another upset, but the competition today will be exciting nonetheless.
Denver’s star this season has been sophomore Jessica Hutchinson. Hutchinson stepped into the spotlight after graduate student Lynnzee Brown suffered a season-ending injury. Brown left a gaping hole in the Pioneers lineup and Hutchinson has proven that she can hold her own in the NCAA. She has been consistently strong and beautiful on all four events. Especially striking are her long lean limbs that make great lines in her leaps and handstands. But DU’s national ranking isn’t due to one person alone. This team has proven they have grit and determination as each week seems to bring new challenges.
Other Pioneers to watch today, i.e. a list of my favorite performances and competitors are as follows. Keep in mind, we don’t yet have the planned lineup, so these gymnasts may or may not be competing.
- First is senior Alexandria Ruiz. Consistency is her strong point. She has been an all-around athlete for DU for four years. She can also be seen giving pep talks, high fives, hugs, and pulling springboards for her teammates. You can tell even from the stands that she is the rock of this team. Cheer her on extra loud in her last meet in Denver!
- Sophomore Rylie Mundell has Denver’s only 10.0 start value vault. She stuck it last weekend for a 9.95, so I’m crossing fingers she can do it again today! Mundell is the only Pioneer all-around competitor with enough meets to have a national ranking. She is ranked 49th in the All-Around.
- Sophomore Bella Mabanta competes on beam and floor. She hasn’t been consistent on floor, but when she is on, her floor routine is amazing. The way she moves through her choreography is gorgeous.
- Freshman Momoko Iwai competes on vault, beam, and floor. Her floor routine is consistently good and she is a true performer. I’m looking forward to what she brings to the team in future years as well.
- And finally sophomore Abbie Thompson. Thompson has not competed since week four but is poised to return to competition this weekend if she can make the lineup. Watch for her on floor in particular. Her ‘80s rock medley routine is a crowd-pleaser.
Checking out the competition: Oklahoma had won 8 consecutive Big 12 gymnastics titles before Denver broke their streak last year. Sooners head coach, K.J. Kindler holds 11 Big 12 titles as coach. This year Oklahoma is coming into the Big 12s as one of only two schools in the country with a National Qualifying Score (NQS) above 198 (Florida is the other). I’ll explain more on NQS later. The Sooners have scored 9.9 or higher on 49% of their routines this year. OU has hit 95% of their routines all year (a hit meaning no falls or major breaks). A 198 average team score means 9.9 average on every single counted score. That is what it takes to be #1 in the nation, folks. Even for those of us rooting for the Pioneers, it will be fun to see Oklahoma do their thing. Today’s meet will be the 3rd time Denver has seen Oklahoma this season.
The other two Big 12 teams are Iowa State and West Virginia. Denver’s team scores have spanned from 195 to 197, so anything can happen in today’s meet. The Cyclones from Iowa State are a team with solid potential and have two 10.0 scores this season. They have topped DU’s four lowest team scores this season, so could pose a challenge for the Pios. West Virginia is less of a threat, but they also have the potential to beat DU if the Pios have an off day.
Now for some info on rankings and scoring. NCAA gymnastics rankings, as well as postseason assignments, are determined by National Qualifying Score (NQS). NQS is used as the fairest possible way to decide who goes to regionals and NCAA finals in a sport where teams only have 10 or possibly 11 competitions in the regular season, with most of those competitions being dual meets. NQS is calculated by taking each team’s top six finishes (three of which must be away meets), dropping the overall top score, and averaging the remaining five scores. This is why all season I’ve been talking about DU’s ranking rather than wins and losses.
As background, NCAA gymnastics team scores are out of a possible maximum score of 200. Each team is allowed to compete six athletes on each of four events: vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise. The top 5 scores on each event count towards the team score. Unlike elite (think Olympic) gymnastics, the NCAA maximum score is a 10. NCAA judes are looking for perfection, not necessarily the hardest skills in the world. The maximum team score on each event is 50 points. A team NQS of 197+ is currently good for top 13 ranking. DU sits at a NQS of 196.87.
Regional placements will be announced on Tuesday, March 22. Denver is currently ranked #15, which would put them seeded with the numbers 2 (Florida), 7 (Auburn), and 10 (Cal) teams, plus five other unseeded teams. But all of that could change after all the scores are tallied for this week. We won’t know where any teams will compete until Tuesday. Scores and placements in regional competitions determine which teams and which individuals not from qualifying teams get to move on to NCAA Nationals. The top two teams from each of four regional meets move on. It doesn’t look good for Denver to qualify as a team to Nationals, but a few individuals do stand a chance.
So back to today. This is the first time Denver has hosted a Big 12 Championship ever! Cheer loud. Show those Pios they’ve got all of Denver’s support. Show the Big 12 that we are worthy of high-caliber gymnastics in Denver. Bring your amusing fan signs and try to get on ESPNU. Keep your eyes peeled for perfect scores. Let’s enjoy some Big 12 action in Magness. Let’s go DU!
Photo: Courtesy of Denver Athletics