Authored by LetsGoDU Contributor Jill Cattrysse-Larson
Well, Pioneer fans, this weekend wrapped up the gymnastics season for our beloved team, who had a strong finish after battling injuries all season. If anything, I hope LetsGoDU readers have learned more about these outstanding student-athletes and the grueling challenges of a collegiate gymnastics season. This past weekend, Denver competed at the Sweet 16 of gymnastics and finished fourth in the NCAA Auburn Regional meet, behind Florida, Auburn, and Kentucky. Florida ended the meet with the season’s highest score in the entire NCAA with a whopping 198.775. The top two teams from each of four regional meets advance to the NCAA National Championship. Denver improved their National Qualifying Score at the regional competition and ended the season ranked at #13. This DU team is just finding their stride after battling back from injuries and having to substitute-in athletes who would not otherwise have gotten spots in the lineup. I think if this were the halfway point of the season, Denver may have clawed its way into the team final NCAA Gymnastics Championships. But as it stands, only one Pioneer will be advancing to Nationals to compete for Crimson & Gold.
On the individual front, Denver sophomore Abbie Thompson qualified for nationals on the beam with a 9.9 in Thursday’s second-round event. Denver’s standout All-Around athlete, sophomore Jessica Hutchinson, missed nationals on beam, floor, and All-around by just one place. Only one gymnast in each event who is not on a qualifying team makes it to nationals.
In the Auburn regionals, Denver earned a bye in Round 1 because they were a seeded team.
Round 2 on Thursday 3/31, saw Denver facing off against Florida, Iowa State, and Ohio State. Denver did just enough in this round to advance to the regional finals. This round also determined which individuals from teams who don’t qualify for a national berth will advance to nationals.
DU started on vault, usually their lowest scoring event. Denver was finally up to full strength, but we learned perhaps why they had only been competing for five for the last few weeks. DU’s sixth vaulter, freshman Mia Hebinck competed a layout yurchenko layout, which has a start value of only 9.75. Other than sophomore Rylie Mundell’s yurchenko 1 ½, which is DU’s only 10.0 start value vault, all the other Pioneers’ vaults are worth 9.95. Denver ended the first rotation of Round 2 in last place (4th).
Then, the Pios dug deep and battled back. Hebinck made up for her low vault score with an exciting routine on bars that scored a 9.875. Three Pioneers hit a 9.875 on bars, but no one broke into 9.9. On beam sophomores, Abbie Thompson and Jessica Hutchinson, both scored 9.9s. On floor, senior Alexandria Ruiz finally achieved a 9.9 mark this season! Well deserved. She has fought all season for that elusive score and her efforts help lift DU. Round 2 ended with Denver in second place behind Florida, and ahead of both Ohio State and Iowa State.
Round 3 of the Auburn regionals was on Saturday, April 2nd and DU again faced Florida, plus Auburn and Kentucky, to battle for the top two teams to advance to nationals.
Denver started on beam. Junior Callie Schlottman was a surprise in the lineup, as sophomore Abbie Thompson looked to have reinjured her ankle or foot on floor in Round 2 and was out in Round 3, a major setback for Denver. Schlottman fell on her acro series and her 9.2 was dropped. But everyone else hit their routines.
On floor, sophomore Bella Mabanta hit one of her best routines all season, tying her season-high score of 9.9. Rylie Mundell followed and earned a strong 9.85. Hutchinson followed with a 9.95. Once again, Denver competed with only five gymnasts on floor and all five scored well on the day.
The third rotation was vault, where Denver earned two 9.9s from Hutchinson and Mundell. However, anchor Bella Mabanta approached the vault too high, didn’t get any block and fell on her landing. As a result, Denver had to count a 9.75 from Ruiz. Denver’s final rotation was bars. Graduate student Emily Glynn was in the lineup for DU on bars which really meant DU planned to go five-up-5 count (because Glynn has been out this post-season with an achilles injury). DU’s bars competition was anchored by Rylie Mundell with a 9.95 for a strong finish. So a shorthanded Denver team, who didn’t fill a full lineup for most of the season, yet still hit when it counted, finished the regionals with a 197.225.
Fortunately for the field, it looked like the Colorado judges didn’t get any invitations to the Auburn Regional (you knew I would mention judges!), because these judges were awarding perfection with some perfect 10s! Florida graduate student Trinity Thomas hit 10.0 on her first two events of floor and vault. Thomas is the third-ever NCAA gymnast to record a “gym slam” in one season. A “gym slam” is a 10.0 on all four events. Thomas finished the day with an unfathomable 39.9 All-Around score! Florida freshman Leanne Wong also hit a 10.0 on vault. Olympic All-around gold medalist and Auburn freshman, Sunisa Lee, had an uncharacteristic fault on bars, hitting her calves on the bar as she transitioned from low to high bar. But Lee came back and scored a 10.0 on beam! Overall a very exciting meet but bittersweet for the Denver gymnastics team who are missing the NCAA Championships.
On to Nationals:
NCAA Championship semifinals will air on ESPN 2 on April 14th and finals on ABC April 16th. Gymnastics fans across the country are thrilled that our great sport is on network broadcast (unlike some of the current hockey games in Boston). One thing COVID brought us was that gymnastics conferences started streaming meets live and getting enough views to gain the attention of networks. The Pioneer’s sole National NCAA Championship competitor, sophomore Abbie Thomspon will have her shot on beam on April 14th. Quite honestly, Thompson doesn’t have the consistency in the competition this season to factor into the final event standings. With multiple gymnasts scoring regularly in the 9.95 range and many 10.0s earned this season, a repeat 9.9 is not going to rank. Thompson’s career-high on beam is a 9.95, so only if she matches or beats that will she gain a podium finish. But Thompson earned her trip and Pioneer Nation will be cheering her on! I hope to give you one more write-up on the NCAA Championship Finals.
This collegiate gymnastics season is winding down and I hope LetsGoDU readers have enjoyed learning more about women’s gymnastics. This has been an incredibly up-and-down season with injuries, new faces, incredible performances and, of course, judging controversies that have made this a very memorable season. Mellissa Rinehart-Kutcher said it best, “Sometimes success isn’t measure in wins, but it’s measured in how people come together to support each other and overcome adversity. We succeeded this (past) weekend at our highest possible level.”
Photo: Courtesy of Denver Athletics