About four weeks ago the West Virginia gymnastics team concluded its regular season competition in the Morgantown NCAA Regional Championships. The Mountaineers posted their second highest regional score ever of 195.65.
Seniors Beth Deal, Dayah Haley and Lia Salzano finished their final seasons in the Gold and Blue on a high note.
Haley was recently awarded the Linda Burdette-Good Award as the team’s Most Valuable Gymnast. The seniors led the team this season, although Salzano did not compete most of the regular season, she has competed each of her four years.
Head coach Jason Butts reflected on the impact they made including that Haley “exemplified” doing the best gymnastics until the end, when she posted her career-high all-around score at the Morgantown Regionals.
“They had a very tall task, it was a year in the making,” Butts said. “We sat down this time last year and said 2014 was not acceptable and I kind of gave them the task of leading this team and being the go-between, between me and the rest of the team. They did an incredible job and they set a really high standard.
You can’t replace them actually, so (we’re) not sure what we’re going to do with captains next year, thinking about switching things up because these guys did such a great job.”
All season long something Butts talked about was reaching a score of 195 and his team achieved that goal 11 times total over the season. The first time West Virginia hit that high was in a quad meet with William and Mary, N.C. State and North Carolina, a winning score of 195.53.
Once the goal of hitting a score and winning with that score was achieved, the Mountaineers focused their attention on advancing a gymnast through the regional meet on to the National Championships.
“Going into regionals we knew nationals was probably going to be a long shot,” Butts said.
In the six-team meet, West Virginia was given the sixth seed and finished fifth in the meet. There was stiff competition like No. 2 ranked Florida and No. 11 ranked Stanford and other individual competitors who wanted a shot at the national tournament.
Even though West Virginia posted a team-best second highest score there, it wasn’t enough to advance the team or anyone individually.
Following that meet, West Virginia jumped in the rankings to finish the season at No. 28. Final season rankings are based on combining the team’s regional qualifying score and NCAA Regional Championships score.
“Gymnastics is subjective, so the judges needed to see us finish the year strong so then next year they are willing to score us in the level we want to be in,” Butts said. “We knew we needed to maximize our regional score. To go from 36 to where we ended up at 28, that’s a huge accomplishment for the program after not being in the mix at all last year.”
Heading into summer break and looking toward next year, Butts said the work never stops. Gymnasts are always training year-round so the team will continue to work out on their own individually and try to get some skills down for next year.
West Virginia is also anticipating six incoming freshmen, some of whom are posting serious numbers at the junior level competitions right now. Although four seniors are leaving the program, including Pitt transfer Brittney Harris, there are underclassmen who performed well all season.
Nicolette Swoboda, Alexa Goldberg, Melissa Idell, Jaida Lawrence and Zaakira Muhammad are just some of the names sure to pop up next season in meet recaps from West Virginia.
“They’re excited, we know what routines we want, the new skills, we already started them in the gym,” Butts said. “Their goal is to be competition-wise ready by October 1st and that gives us three months to get the kinks out.”