Authored by LetsGoDU Contributor Jill Cattrysse-Larson
Injury-riddled Denver gymnastics delivered one of its finest efforts in program history at the Big 12 Championships Saturday afternoon at Magness Arena. DU garnered an All Around individual title, won two of four event titles and finished second to #1 Oklahoma by less than a point. This was not a meet to pine about what might have been with DU’s raft of season-ending injuries but a dazzling display of Pioneer heart and depth when short-handed DU earned their second-highest score of the season. All this despite only having the minimum number of gymnasts, five, available to compete in two of the four events.
In order to put all this in perspective, look at DU hockey. Take away captain Cole Guttman, high-scoring Bobby Brink, veteran goaltender Magnus Chrona and for good measure freshman star Carter Mazur. How would Denver hockey fare in a conference tournament final? That is exactly the situation Denver gymnastics faced Saturday – and Denver gymnastics delivered with flying colors!
Denver staff and student-athletes went all out as hosts of the Big 12 Conference Championship at Magness Arena. DU put up winners podiums on which the apparatus sits – just like in the big leagues. They did the hype videos and the smoke and lasers and flames. I squealed like a little girl! The #1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners clinched the win, nearly a point over the second place Pioneers. But the Pioneers took away three individual titles and battled all afternoon in an epic effort by the home team!
DU Sophomore Jessica Hutchinson was named the Big 12 Gymnast of the Year and also won the All Around title with a career high tying 39.625! Freshman Momoko Iwai won the Beam title with a career-high 9.95! Sophomore Rylie Mundell won the Uneven Bars with a 9.95 and took second in the All Around with a 39.5.
🤸♀️ #Big12GYM 𝐆𝐲𝐦𝐧𝐚𝐬𝐭 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐘𝐞𝐚𝐫
— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) March 20, 2022
Final team scores were University of Oklahoma 198.200, University of Denver 197.250, West Virginia University 196.650, and Iowa State University 196.100. Denver could have closed the gap with more stuck landings throughout the meet, but that has been a struggle all season. Nonetheless, Denver still achieved their second-best team score of the season and broke 197 points for the third time this year.
Denver started the meet on floor, where sophomore Abbie Thompson finally made her return to competition. Thompson has been out since week 4 with an injury, and although she seemed to have a few jitters, it was amazing to see her back on the floor to Back in Black (AC/DC)! As usual, Jessica Hutchinson was AMAZING! Meanwhile, Oklahoma started on beam where
Junior Regan Smith took a bad fall and couldn’t get back into her rhythm. Oklahoma had to drop her score, but all the other Sooners scored a 9.875 or higher. After the first rotation, Oklahoma led Denver 49.475 to 49.225.
The second rotation had Denver on Vault and OU on Floor. Denver had no sticks on vault. That is five-tenths of a point given away. Denver went with the minimum five gymnasts on the vault as freshman Mia Hebinck was on the lineup (for the second week in a row). OU wasn’t perfect on floor, and I think a few of their mistakes were not taken as full-tenth deductions where they could/should have been. Denver couldn’t afford to give up any tenths, and OU scored well (too well, maybe?). Denver has had very few stuck vaults all season but think about it? Sprint for about 70 feet as fast as you can, hurl yourself at a springboard, do a flip to land on your hands on the vault, block off of the vault to launch yourself 8 or 10 feet into the air, complete 1 or 1.5 twists in the air with a straight tight body, and land on a dime. One can barely fault the Pioneers for their hops and steps, but the best teams in the nation are sticking vaults. This event has been the lowest-scoring event for the Pioneers for the last month. Oklahoma extended their lead after the second rotation with 99.075 to Denver’s 98.200.
In the third rotation, Denver looked great on bars, but yet again had steps on landings. Freshman Mia Hebinck was great and hit her three-skill release combo with just the landing as her only deduction. It will be awesome seeing Hebinck gain consistency in her next three years with the Pioneers. Rylie Mundell had the best routine of the Pios lineup with a stuck landing and a 9.95. DU had the minimum number of student-athletes compete yet again. Abbie Thompson warmed up, but did not compete. At the end of the third rotation, OU had the same lead as the second rotation.
DU ended the meet on beam, which has been their highest-scoring event, and they tied their season-high 49.55. Senior Alexandria Ruiz was clean, but had a hop on the landing. Sophomore Bella Mabanta was so nice, and just a tiny hop on her dismount. Iwai’s routine was totally clean. Abie Thompson fell on her acro series, an arial cartwheel to layout step-out. This meant the final two competitors had to hit. Hutchinson was gorgeous as usual and had only one minor balance check. Then the anchor, Mundell was so clean, with just a hop and step on her dismount for a 9.9 (I think the judges didn’t count the step after the hop, but I’m not complaining). Overall it was a strong rotation to end the meet for DU. But OU also ended on their best event, bars. OU had four sticks, nearly perfect routines, and dropped a 9.9 as their lowest score. And that clinched the win for the Sooners.
At the awards ceremony after the competition concluded, DU’s Hutchinson was named Big 12 Gymnast of the Year. As was stated earlier, Hutchinson also won the individual All Around title and has a legitimate shot at an NCAA All Around title. But NCAA gymnastics is a team sport above all. Although Oklahoma is an incredible team, they did not have a single All Around competitor. In order to make the lineup on any event for Oklahoma, a gymnast has to average a 9.9 on that event. #1 Oklahoma has depth that Denver does not have, and that means that no gymnast on OU’s roster competed on all four events. That fact elevated Jessica Hutchinson’s national visibility, and DU will take it. Enjoy your time in the spotlight, on the podium, Jessica. It was a well-deserved win and we wish you the best in regionals and the NCAA Finals!