Authored by LetsGoDU Contributor Jill Cattrysse-Larson
While the entire Pioneer Nation comes down off of the hockey Championship high, the DU gymnastics season fizzled out with our sole National Championship qualifier, Abbie Thompson, not competing in Fort Worth, assumingly due to injury. The season started with incredibly high hopes of, perhaps, a national championship for the first time ever from an all-women’s team at DU. It was just not to be.
On April 2, DU Athletics announced that sophomore Abbie Thompson had qualified for Nationals on the beam. They said, “More information about the NCAA National Championships will be announced in the coming days.” Then on April 13, @DU_Gymnastics posted that Thompson was unable to compete. Now that the Champion Oklahoma Sooners have been crowned, and Florida’s grad student Trinity Thomas finally has her National All-Around title, DU’s schedule page simply says Abbie Thompson “Did Not Compete.” End of season.
A fitting ending, I guess, to a season riddled with injuries and last-minute lineup swaps. DU couldn’t get a break when it counted. National powerhouse teams were regularly scoring a full point above DU, keeping the Pios out of the National Championships. If you had asked me in January if Denver had a chance of repeating its 2019 Final Four finish, I’d have said Absolutely! But watching the athletes fall to injury one by one all season long, I’d now say they were lucky to end up ranked 13th. And so it ends and we say goodbye to our 5th-year athletes, the triple Achilles tear team of Mia Sundstrom, Emily Glynn, and Lynnzee Brown. We also say goodbye to lone senior Alexandria Ruiz, whose smile has added light to Magness for four years, and whose consistency in performance has been a rock for this team. These four are the last remaining team members from DU’s record-breaking 2019 4th place team finish.
Looking to next year, the team will be hungry for success! DU has an outstanding sophomore class who will enter their junior year with a lot of potential to make waves on the national stage. They have been tested in a year where they might have sat on the sidelines were it not for this year’s injuries. They have gained experience in anchoring a team and being relied on, and have shown they can take the pressure! This class includes Big 12 Gymnast of the Year Jessica Hutchinson, National Championship qualifier Abbie Thompson, DU’s highest NQS all-arounder Rylie Mundell, plus two who have shown a ton of potential (if not consistency) Bella Mabanta and Rosie Casali. DU’s future for the next two years is bright if this class all returns next year!
DU had only two freshmen this year. Momoko Iwai and Mia Hebinck have a lot to be proud of in their overall performances. Iwai put up some 9.9s on beam and Hebinck put up some 9.9s on bars. They will need to get more consistent in that range for future DU wins.
And finally, next year’s senior class, Emma Brown, Victoria Fitts, and Callie Schlottman will likely (hopefully) not see much competitive action in 2023. Brown and Schlottman were tapped to fill in this year when DU suffered so many injuries. They provided depth to an incredibly small team, but National contender teams have backups who can score higher than these three. Not to say that this class doesn’t add value to the team. Although Fitts didn’t compete this year, she brought support, joy, and levity to every meeting! She is always dancing, providing hugs, and constantly smiling. In a tense and nerve-wracking sport, every team needs a Victoria Fitts!
Denver announced their four newcomers this past fall. College Gym News has Ava Mabanta (N/R) along with Kiley Rorch and Mila Brusch (4-stars each) and Cecilia Cooley (3-Star) joining the squad for 2022.
In order to take the next step, this team needs numbers and consistency. It is interesting that many of the larger gymnastics programs have recruited higher-rated gymnasts so head coach Melissa Rinehart-Kutcher and her staff will have to develop, rather than inherit, 5-star gymnasts. Though the 2022 sophomore class is great, here’s hoping that next year’s recruits can add some high-scoring depth to the roster. Here is the downside to keeping 5th-year students for their COVID extra senior season: we’re losing two classes next year instead of one. How many recruits can we get?!
I’m hoping next year Denver can do more injury prevention and stop the proverbial bleeding. I have no idea if there is a systemic issue or just a string of bad luck. But a small program like Denver’s can’t afford this many injuries and still be taken seriously in National competition.
I’m hoping for 2023, the NCAA recognizes the progress this DU program has made and schedules us more top competition in the regular season. Even with all of the injuries, Denver still regularly scored above 197 points.
I’m also hoping the returning athletes have a “stick camp” this off-season. In a sport that comes down to tenths of a point, steps after landing killed Denver this year. Yes, it’s hard. Skills are difficult. But sticks are possible.
Finally, (and no, I can’t have a post without calling out the judges) I hope the Colorado judges have some training and watch more National competition replays and take a hard look at their scores compared to the rest of the country. The Colorado judges may think that they are correct in interpreting the rules, but what they don’t realize is they are hurting our local NCAA teams (and Junior Olympic competitors as well). When the rest of the country is doing things differently than you, maybe it’s you that are wrong. I hate to paint judges as the bad guys (guess what, I’m a judge too!), but the inconsistency puts Denver at a disadvantage in national rankings, which means everything for getting to postseason competition. This sport is hard enough as it is! I hope above all else that next year I have nothing to complain about in judging!
Here’s to a healing off-season for the Pioneers to come back strong next year. Here’s to all of the professionals surrounding (and judging) this team to make the improvements necessary to enable the athletes to be their absolute best! Here’s to one of the toughest teams in the NCAA, who dug deep and performed well under pressure. I can’t wait to see what you all bring next season! Let’s go DU!
Photo: Courtesy of the University of Denver – Abbie Thompson