The West Virginia University gymnastics team finished its season in promising but disappointing fashion, placing fifth at the NCAA Regional Championships in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with a team score of 194.25, its third lowest total of the year.
While qualifying for the regional championships is a great accomplishment in its own right, this team felt it was bound for bigger things. Each gymnast was improving by the week, and the team was riding a huge wave of momentum heading into postseason play.
West Virginia opened up with a strong showing in the Big 12 Championship, earning a team score of 195.925. However, this score was only good enough to earn third place and they didn’t come particularly close to earning one of the top two spots. No.1 Oklahoma finished first with a score of 198.05, and No.10 Denver followed with an equally impressive 196.725.
Oklahoma has been among the top 10 best teams for a decade, and Denver has been a program on the rise for the past few years. Losing to either of these teams is nothing to hang your head on.
The NCAA Regional Championships were a different story. The Mountaineers came out flat in their first two routines, earning some of the lowest team scores of the year on beam and uneven bars due to a few technical mistakes and slip-ups. They recovered on their last two routines with strong performances on vault and floor exercise, but it wasn’t enough to salvage their mistakes from earlier in the meet.
Though the season may not have ended the way West Virginia would’ve liked, the team has a tremendous amount of pieces to build on heading into the 2017 season.
The Mountaineers are only losing three members of the team due to graduation: Melissa Idell, Jaida Lawrence and Audrey Tolbert. Lawrence was a fixture on vault, Tolbert was essential for the team on balance beam and Idell was a two-event competitor, frequently contributing big scores on balance beam and floor exercise.
While this Mountaineer team will certainly miss the high scores and leadership these seniors provided, they are loaded with young talent that’s only going to improve heading into next season.
The top two scorers this year were junior Alexa Goldberg and sophomore Zaakira Muhammad, putting up season totals of 447.9 and 421.35, respectively. The next two in line were a pair of freshmen, Kirah Koshinski and Tiara Wright.
Koshinski finished at No. 12 nationally on vault with a 9.9 regional qualifying score (RQS). She consistently proved she was one of the best gymnasts on the team on vault and floor exercise, finishing with the highest RQS on the team in both events. A hand injury kept her from being able to perform on the uneven bars this season, so expect to see her potentially compete in all events next season.
Wright was a godsend on the uneven bars for the Mountaineers, finishing with the second highest RQS on the team with 9.855. She also proved she can compete at a high level on beam and floor exercise, really coming alive at the end of the year.
A pair of freshmen in Jaquie Tun and Carly Galpin also showed promise over the course of the season. Tun was a big bolster for WVU on the uneven bars and floor exercise, while Galpin provided some much needed consistency on the balance beam.
With the incoming freshman class looking as talented if not more so than the class before it, the direction for this team appears to be nowhere but up.
"We have an incredible group of freshmen coming in, and the class that’s following that is even more incredible," said WVU head coach Jason Butts. "I think we’ll continue to see our rankings climb and our success level climb as we continue to bring in new recruiting classes."