TWU coach Lisa Bowerman and gymnast Brittainy Johnson drove to Denton late Saturday following Johnson’s record-setting performance at the NCAA regional meet at Arkansas for one specific reason: to start team preparations Sunday for this week’s USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships.
TWU will be attempting to break a streak of four consecutive second-place finishes at the national meet, which Brown will host Friday through Sunday in Providence, R.I.
The Pioneers will be aiming to add to their collection of national championships, which stands at nine USAG crowns. The last time TWU returned home with a USAG title was 2008.
“There are very high expectations for them, not only from us as coaches, but the university, the community and our alumni,” Bowerman said. “All those people see that we have a good shot at bringing home No. 10 this year, so we want the girls to know the expectations are high but we don’t want it to be a negative pressure.”
In recent years, the Pioneers have built a rivalry with Bridgeport, which has captured the last four championships. This season, the Pioneers beat Bridgeport in a four-way meet at Arizona in March, but Bowerman expects another tough battle.
“They want to keep it and we want to get it,” she said.
The third-year head coach said Seattle Pacific and Air Force also have had solid seasons and could contend for the USAG title.
“There’s a lot of history amongst many of the teams that compete,” Bowerman said. “It should be intense.”
The competition begins Friday with team semifinals, followed by team finals on Saturday and individual finals Sunday.
For the record books
From the time Johnson’s hands touched the uneven bars to her perfect landing at the end, Bowerman knew her senior standout had performed a routine for the record books Saturday.
Johnson scored a 9.850 for a fourth-place finish, which became highest score and finish for a TWU gymnast at an NCAA regional.
“Simply put, it was a great routine,” Bowerman said. “It was one of her best performances of the season. From the minute she touched the bars, she was right on. We knew we had something good going.
“There was really nothing surprising about it,” she said. “Brittainy is such a strong competitor. She’s one who thrives in that big-meet environment. She doesn’t get nervous or intimidated. Instead, she gets motivated by performing in that kind of environment.”
Johnson completed the routine with a flawless landing on her dismount, Bowerman said. The coach added that Johnson didn’t have a particularly solid warm-up but was able to overcome it during her performance.
“Probably her biggest struggle consistency-wise throughout the season has been sticking her dismount,” Bowerman said. “But it was perfect. And in all honesty, her performance in warm-up was not very good. She knew she had to get focused and do her job — and she did.”
The Pioneers (27-13, 13-8 Lone Star) play their final nonconference doubleheader today at St. Edward’s before facing their final two LSC series of the regular season.
On Saturday, the Pioneers will play their final home doubleheader when they host Tarleton State at 1 p.m. TWU closes out the season with a doubleheader at Tarleton on April 17 and a three-game series at Cameron on April 25 and 26.
TWU is entering the stretch run toward the May 2-3 LSC tournament. The conference’s top six teams advance to the single-elimination tournament to be hosted by the regular-season champion. Angelo State is in first place and followed closely by West Texas A&M in second and the Pioneers in third.
The upcoming games against Tarleton and Cameron are particularly important because Cameron is in fifth and Tarleton is sixth. TWU defeated the Aggies (25-13, 11-9) 4-3 in eight innings at last month’s Lone Star Conference Showcase.
Saturday’s games will be the first meeting of the season between the Pioneers and TexAnns (19-23, 9-11).
Senior Katie Hines has her name featured prominently in the TWU record book, but last weekend her power at the plate gave her one more spot amongst the all-time Pioneer greats.
In the opening game of a Saturday doubleheader against Midwestern State, Hines drilled a two-run home run to up her career total to 50 and earn her a share of TWU’s all-time mark.
Hines shares the record with former teammate Jordan Readicker, who played from 2010-13.
Hines, who also holds the TWU record for career grand slams (three), is the school’s single-season record holder in home runs with 25.
Last year’s LSC Female Athlete of the Year, Hines owns the school record for total bases in a season (125), single-season RBIs (85), games played in a season (65) and games started (65).
Impact much larger
Pitching her first TWU no-hitter Saturday might have been the most exciting part of the weekend for senior Brandie Lander, but her impact on the series win over Midwestern was much larger.
Lander tossed a pair of shutouts, including the no-hitter, to help the Pioneers win three out of four games against the Mustangs and solidify their third-place position in the conference.
“Brandie was in a zone,” coach Genny Stidham said.
Lander’s no-hitter came in the first game of a doubleheader, an 8-0 run-rule win. On Friday, Lander allowed two hits in an 8-0 win to open the four-game series and secure Stidham’s 500th career victory.
TWU’s Kendra Sancet and Lander swept the weekly Lone Star Conference awards with their play against Midwestern State.
Sancet led the Pioneers’ offense with a .714 batting average, 1.714 slugging percentage and .750 on-base percentage. She drove in four runs on two home runs and a double and scored five runs, including two game-winning runs.
Lander became the first pitcher to record a no-hitter against the Mustangs. She walked the first batter but faced the minimum number of batters.