Fans of the TWU gymnastics team and the sport in general will get the rare opportunity to see the country’s No. 1-ranked team when the Pioneers play host to Oklahoma on Friday night in the season’s final home meet.
The dual meet is set to start at 7 p.m. at Kitty Magee Arena.
The Sooners come to town unbeaten (12-0) this season and ranked in the top 10 nationally in all four events — bars, balance beam, floor exercise and vault. TWU posted a season-high team score and placed second in a four-team meet last weekend at home.
“Oklahoma is usually here every year and generally they are ranked fairly high,” TWU coach Lisa Bowerman said. “But I don’t believe they have ever been in that No. 1 spot when they came here.”
The Pioneers have already competed once this season against the Sooners when the two squads were part of the four-team Bart Conner Perfect 10 Challenge two weeks ago in Oklahoma City. OU won that meet with a score of 197.450, while TWU placed fourth at 191.425.
The streaking Sooners are coming off a record-setting performance in a dual meet against No. 5 UCLA last weekend. OU won the meet with a school-record team score of 198.375.
“It’s exciting for our program, for our university and for me as a coach,” Bowerman said. “What a great opportunity we have to have the No. 1-ranked team in the nation competing here. That says a lot about our program and our facilities.
“We’ve always known they’re a great team and great opponent,” she said. “I think our girls tend to rise to the occasion when competing against these top-ranked teams. So, hopefully it will fuel us and help us to step up our game a little bit.”
Bowerman doesn’t think playing host to the nation’s top-ranked squad will be intimidating to her team, since TWU regularly competes against OU once or twice a year and many of the girls know each other from high school or club competition.
“The fact that we’ve already seen them and already competed against them helps,” Bowerman said. “They’re still Oklahoma, the team they see every year. The girls have friends on the team, and I’m sure they’re going to talk before the meet. So I think there is a level of comfort there to where it’s not going to be overwhelming for the girls.”
TWU will compete in two final regular-season meets on the road before gearing up for the Midwest Intercollegiate Conference Championships in Shreveport, La., on March 23.
Two seniors will be honored prior to Friday’s meet in senior night activities. Kristin Edwards is wrapping up her collegiate career in all-around, while Sara Grunert is serving as a student assistant after having her career cut short due to medical reasons.
Closing out the season
After two losses last week mathematically eliminated the Pioneers’ shot at a spot in the Lone Star Conference tournament, the team will close out the 2012-13 season with two games this week.
After visiting second-place Midwestern State tonight, the Pioneers return home for a 2 p.m. Saturday contest against Cameron. Saturday’s game at Kitty Magee Arena also will showcase former TWU players in an alumni game and picnic prior to tipoff.
“We still have two opportunities to play, and we need to make the most of these opportunities,” coach Beth Jillson said. “Of course, we’re disappointed that we’re not going to the conference tournament. Regardless, we have the opportunity to play twice more.
“We’ll be playing in front of former players, and that’s pretty special.”
TWU is stuck in an eight-game losing streak that has dropped the Pioneers to 6-18 overall and 4-14 in the LSC. It’s a unique position for the team and Jillson, who in her six seasons has never had a team lose as many as eight straight. Just two seasons ago, the Pioneers captured the school’s first LSC title and NCAA tournament berth.
But a small roster of just nine players that was hampered throughout much of the season with various injuries made things tough for the Pioneers.
“We’ve really been inconsistent,” Jillson said. “We’ve seen glimpses in games where we were really good and then segments where we couldn’t get it all together. This has been an unusual year and it’s been tough. But we’ll get to work this offseason and get better and learn from it.”
One good thing to come from the season is the fact that all 10 players on this season’s roster are underclassmen with eligibility still left.
The alumni game is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Kitty Magee Arena. Among the former players expected to participate in the festivities are Kayla Weaver, who was named MVP of the LSC tournament in 2010-11 after leading the Pioneers to the school’s first conference championship; Dr. Tammi Julch-Williams, a TWU Athletics Hall of Famer who recently was named to the NCAA Division II Tribute Team recognizing the 40-year history of Division II; Peggy McCoy, who played from 1987-91 and is No. 1 in TWU’s career points, rebounds and blocks; and Andrea Johnson, who played at TWU from 1972-73.
Tuning up for LSC play
The Pioneers opened a three-series homestand Tuesday that served as their final tuneup before Lone Star Conference action begins next week.
Following Tuesday’s doubleheader sweep of Oklahoma Christian, the Pioneers are scheduled to play host to St. Mary’s on Thursday in a single game (5 p.m.) and then face Northeastern State in a doubleheader on Monday. All games are at Pioneer Field.
The Pioneers will open LSC play March 8 with a three-game weekend series at Texas A&M-Kingsville.
Last weekend, the No. 14 Pioneers — after earning their first Top 25 ranking since 2004 — did nothing to harm their national standings in Division II.
After going 3-1 at the St. Edward’s tournament in Austin, the Pioneers improved to 13-5 behind stellar pitching from a trio of starters who all pitched shutouts.
After dropping Friday’s tournament opener, 3-1 to St. Edward’s, Katie Hines tossed five strong innings to lead the Pioneers to an 8-0 victory against Texas A&M-International.
On Saturday, Brandie Lander and Larisa Garcia pitched complete games to spark TWU to a 7-0 win over A&M-International and a 6-0 win over St. Edwards, respectively.
All three pitchers lowered their ERA to less than 3.00, with Lander improving to a team-best 6-2 record while Hines (4-1) has the team’s lowest ERA at 2.10. Garcia (3-1) owns a 2.65 ERA.