Zaakira Muhammad

Zaakira Muhammad competes on the dance mat in Sunday’s meet against Kentucky.

The West Virginia University gymnastics team put forth a strong effort in its meet against the No. 22 Kentucky Wildcats Sunday but fell with a score of 195.6 to 195.8 in a closely contested battle.

The Mountaineers held a lead after the first rotation, putting up strong numbers on the vault. Sophomore Zaakira Muhammad had the second-best vault score of the day with a mark of 9.857.

Freshman Kirah Koshinski and senior Jaida Lawrence also helped bolster the team’s vault score with individual marks of 9.875 and 9.8, respectively. West Virginia ended the first rotation with a score of 49.0.

Wildcats freshman Sidney Dukes started her stellar day with a season-high 9.875 on the bars during the first rotation. After Dukes’ impressive performance, there was a significant drop off in scores during Kentucky’s first rotation, finishing with a team score of 48.925.

Kentucky caught fire in the second rotation, scoring a season-high 49.125 on the vault. The impressive team score was thanks in large part to Stuart’s 9.9, her highest mark in vault on the season.

During the Mountaineers’ second rotation, junior Alexa Goldberg tied her season-high score of a 9.9 on the bars, leading all competitors on the day. Freshman Tiara Wright also had a solid performance, beating her season average of 9.667 with a mark of 9.8.

The Wildcats led 98.05-97.825 after the second rotation.

Senior Melissa Idell led West Virginia’s third rotation with an incredible performance on the beam, finishing with a score of 9.85 and setting a career-high in the event.

“I tried to go in with the mindset that I was in practice and I just had to do one skill at a time, not think about the whole routine,” Idell said.

“Mel was incredibly smart today on the beam and saved an incredible score. I think that goes back to her training in the gym and her consistency in practice,” said WVU head coach Jason Butts.

The Mountaineers finished with a score of 48.575 on the beam, their third lowest team score on the season.

Kentucky responded with three floor routine scores of 9.8 from Dukes, junior Taylor Puryear and freshman Alex Hyland. The team finished with a score of 48.825 and led West Virginia 146.875 to 146.40 going into the fourth and final rotation.

The Mountaineers finished the day strong with an amazing all around performance on the floor. The top five floor scores on the day belonged to West Virginia gymnasts, led by Koshinski with a score of 9.875 and a routine that got the home crowd excited.

Idell and Muhammad both finished with scores of 9.85, tying for second on the day. West Virginia finished with a team score of 49.2 on the floor, 0.1 shy of tying its season record.

The Wildcats solidified their win with an admirable performance on the beam that was led by Stuart, who scored a 9.85 and tied for first with Idell. Dukes also had a standout beam performance with a mark of 9.25.

West Virginia had hoped to leave this meet with a score of 196.0 for the first time this season but unfortunately fell short. However, Butts was encouraged by the team’s overall performance

“We’ll be okay. We hit 24 out of 24 routines, which has been our goal all year long,” Butts said. “We still have two more home scores coming up and three on the road. That 196.0 is always the goal, but I think it’s far more important that we’re being consistent right now and staying on the equipment.”

The Mountaineers are back on the road next weekend and will be in Philadelphia for the Unite for Her Pink Invitational. They will be competing against Penn State, West Chester, Southern Connecticut and Temple.