Gymnastics’ Cinderella Moment: Regional Finals Recap

Denver Gymnastics officially sits at #8 in the national ranking. After winning the Denver regional as the fourth seed, and knocking out Michigan and Oregon State, Denver gymnastics is in the Elite 8 of NCAA gymnastics. LSU will also be advancing and is ranked #6.

Looking at NQS, Denver ranks 13th with a 197.445. Looking at the overall season average, Denver ranks 9th at 197.32. But none of that matters anymore. Denver eked out a big win at home and advances to the National Championship for the first time since 2019.

The Regional Final was incredibly close and there was no clear winner until the last routines were done. Ahead of the meet, anyone who follows NCAA gymnastics would have told you it was a meet to determine who would finish second to Michigan. The difference between first and fourth place at the Regional Final was only 0.225. Second and third-place teams tied, and NCAA tiebreaker rules needed to be implemented to determine if Michigan or LSU would advance to Nationals.

Here’s a recap of the excitement in Magness on Sunday:

The meet started with LSU on vault, Michigan on bars, Oregon State on beam, and Denver on floor. Throughout the day they rotated in Olympic order: vault, bars, beam, then floor (all teams but LSU went from floor to vault in Olympic order).

First Rotation

For their second meet of the weekend, Denver started on floor.  Graduate student Alexandria Ruiz, who is normally an extremely consistent lead-off, went first. But she took a bad fall on a really low double back in her first pass and was visibly disappointed with herself for the rest of the routine. She watered down the rest of her tumbling, knowing her score would be dropped anyway. After that, the judges had an extremely long conference to determine the abysmal score of 8.225.

Luckily the rest of the team had great floor routines. After dropping Ruiz’s score, Denver ended the rotation with a 49.425. In the end, this tied LSU for the best floor score of the day. The rest of the meet was all clawing uphill, and Denver had no more falls the rest of the day, and never had to count a score below 9.8.

On bars in the first rotation, Michigan was able to drop a 9.1 from Gabby Wilson who had a fall in the second slot, but this would end up cementing Michigan’s third-place finish in the end. But during the meet, Michigan ended the first rotation with a two-tenth lead. I assumed this was the beginning of Michigan pulling away from the pack.

LSU was on vault and some normally solid gymnasts had steps on their landings. I swear there is something about the vault setup at Magness that makes it hard to stick. But the lack of sticks from opponents would end up helping DU.

OSU was on beam. Olympian Jade Carey was amazing to watch and scored 9.975. But she was really the only one I watched.

After the first rotation, DU was in second.

  1. Michigan 49.65
  2. Denver 49.425
  3. OSU 49.4
  4. LSU 49.375

Second Rotation

Denver moved to vault in the second rotation where sticks were still rare.  I was super glad to see Alexandria Ruiz rally, uninjured, to perform a very clean Yurchenko full. Lynnzee Brown had the only stick with her Yurchenko 1.5, but it lacked distance and she took a 0.05 deduction for a 9.95. After sitting down her vaults twice recently in competition, Rosie Casali downgraded her vault to a Yurchenko full. With Rylie Mundell still out and in a boot, DU then only had two 10.0 start value vaults.  I expected the steps on landings and lack of 10.0 start value vaults to doom them to 3rd place. Denver moved to last place as the rest of the teams put up their scores. I began to mentally prepare myself for this being the end of the season.

Michigan had another fall from their lead-off on beam, which was dropped. They also had a few uncharacteristic bobbles and struggled with stuck landings. I thought, maybe the door is still open for Denver. I asked myself, could Denver come back and beat Michigan? I told myself, don’t get your hopes up.

On bars, LSU was great. Really strong routines and great landings. Maybe LSU would win and Denver could take second?

OSU was on floor. Lead off Savannah Miller scored a 9.9 and I got nervous for Denver again. Olympic Gold Medalist, Jade Carey was their anchor and it was great to see her out of this world tumbling live in Magness. I secretly, silently cheered when her front foot shifted after landing her double-double. Jade Carey notched a 9.9.

After 2 rotations, the standings were:

  1. Michigan 98.975
  2. LSU 98.9
  3. OSU 98.75
  4. Denver 98.7

Third Rotation

And then everything changed. Denver started sticking. Everything. They had a solid bars rotation. It wasn’t without form breaks, but there were no misses. Lynnzee Brown scored her third 9.95 of the day. Freshman Cecilia Cooley made her NCAA debut in the anchor spot and scored a 9.9. Every counted score was a 9.9 or higher. The team bars score was just 0.05 below their season high.

Michigan went to floor and I think the pressure got to them. There were steps and even one out of bounds. A few tenths here and there, and Michigan lost their lead.

LSU was on beam and while they were good, they weren’t great. They struggled to stick dismounts.

OSU had a great vault rotation with three 9.9s. But they were losing ground to Denver.

After the third rotation, Michigan and LSU were tied for first. We all thought, how crazy is that?! What on earth would happen if there was a tie after four events? Nah, that’ll never happen.

  1. Michigan 148.325
  2. LSU 148.325
  3. Denver 148.25
  4. OSU 148.15

Cinderella Moment: Fourth Rotation

Denver ended on beam. The beam that had troubled everyone else with landings. But like I said, everything changed in the third rotation, and Denver kept sticking! Stuck landing after stuck landing after stuck landing!

While all that excitement happened on beam, Michigan was on vault. They couldn’t stick their vaults in competition. They finished their meet first because vault is typically the fastest event. Their team score was the lowest they’d seen since Feb 24. They had to wait to see what everyone else did.

LSU ended on floor. They hit all six routines, but none were perfect. They matched Denver’s floor score from first rotation.  Their last score was a 9.95 from Haleigh Bryant and the team score shown was tied with Michigan!

Back on beam, Lynnzee Brown earned her fourth 9.95 of the day! Bella Mabanta hit a career-high 9.975. Jessica Hutchinson hit for another 9.95. Denver’s team score was only 0.025 below its season-high beam score. Denver’s beam score was 0.2 above Michigan’s beam score. Denver was on the TOP of the leaderboard.

Everyone kept looking and thinking, and waiting for the scores to be finalized. Denver had WON! Beam sealed the deal and they were on top!

  1. Denver 197.875
  2. LSU 197.75
  3. Michigan 197.75
  4. OSU 197.65

The arena went wild! Denver won! We beat unbeatable Michigan! We beat three teams seeded above us. Denver prevailed under pressure and turned in a solid second half for the win! Holy cow!

Tie Breaker

But there was a tie between LSU and Michigan for second place.  Who would advance to Nationals?

NCAA tie-breaker rules are that all six scores will be counted on every event. So the officials got out their calculators. They pulled up spreadsheets and Googled how to write a new formula. (Honestly, it took forever. Half the crowd was gone before the results were announced.)

For anyone paying attention, they knew Michigan had had two falls (one on bars and one on beam). LSU had no falls. It was kind of a no-brainer that LSU would win the tiebreaker. But I don’t think the gymnasts on LSU’s team knew that, so they all waited. Michigan knew they had two falls and they all stood with tears in their eyes.

Interestingly, if you added all six scores on every event for all four teams, Denver would have lost. If Denver had been in a tie, that very first routine on floor earning an 8.225 would have totally knocked Denver out.

Counting all 6 scores:

  1. LSU 237.05
  2. OSU 236.825
  3. Michigan 235.725
  4. Denver 235.575

But that’s not how the results panned out. Denver took the win. The meet officials had to turn in hand-written notes with the meet results. (Hand-written with the wrong tie score recorded…but whatever, we won!)

Electric Crowd

Head coach Melissa Kutcher-Reinhart remarked that the crowd was “electric,” and she and the team thanked everyone for coming out. This really was a special moment for Denver Gymnastics. Although our crowd hype guys didn’t get to run the mic and interact with fans like they do for a regular home meet, they were in their seats, still leading the cheers for our home team. I was across the arena from them, but could still hear them without mics or megaphones. Chants of “Denver” and “Let’s Go DU” could be heard throughout the meet and even on the ESPN+ stream. Even without free t-shirts and crowd interaction games, the DU fans were engaged. It was loud. It was joyful. We all made an impact on the teams. Maybe we can take credit for all of the confounding extra steps and falls from Michigan.

Either way, Denver is on to Nationals! They are sitting at their highest ranking of the season. They have shown they have depth and those gymnasts can step up in clutch situations.

We’ll have another blog to preview Nationals and take a look at the field. But with the semifinals set, there are real possibilities that Denver wins a spot to the finals. We’ll just have to cheer extra loud from Denver to support them!

2 thoughts on “Gymnastics’ Cinderella Moment: Regional Finals Recap”

  1. It was almost as exciting on tv. Announcers were spot on. After we finished our final routine, they declared: Denver is winning this meet. They cannot be caught. It caught me off guard. Thrilled. Great recap Jill. I like our Nationals draw. Everyone there is great. We know we can beat LSU. Florida and Cal are ranked higher, but the pressure is on them to be clean yet crisp. Anything can happen. Dunker ends with Go Pios.

Leave a Reply