TWU’s two qualifiers for the NCAA South Central regional, Courtney Cochefski and Kristin Edwards, are different in terms of age, event and experience when it comes to this weekend’s meet in Norman, Okla.
But Pioneers coach Lisa Bowerman sees plenty of similarities in her standout gymnasts who will be attempting to earn spots in the NCAA national meet.
“They’re both very diligent in their training,” Bowerman said. “They’re both very focused and determined girls. They have that ability to get in that zone and compete and not be concerned with what’s going on around them.”
Cochefski, a junior from Chicago, will be making her second consecutive trip to regionals to compete in bars. Edwards is a senior from Minnesota making her debut as a regional qualifier in floor exercise at what amounts to the next-to-last meet of her collegiate career.
“Last year I didn’t know what the regionals were and I didn’t know how I made it,” Cochefski said. “It was, ‘OK, I guess I’m good at bars.’ When I went there, I was taken aback. It was overwhelming and very intimidating. It was an honor, but at the same time it was kind of overwhelming.”
A year ago, Cochefski was one of three TWU gymnasts to qualify for the meet, so she had teammates around to calm her nerves and get her focused on competing. This year, Cochefski is the veteran handing out advice to Edwards.
“She’s told me what it’s like,” Edwards said. “I love to compete, so I’m going into it as just another opportunity to compete. I typically don’t get a lot of anxiety over competition because I love it and view it as a show. I get to go in there, compete and have fun.”
A regional qualifying score of 9.850 earned Cochefski her second straight trip to regionals. This season, she averaged 9.766 on bars and recorded scores of 9.800 or better at six meets. She tied for first place two weeks ago at the Midwest Independent Conference meet with a 9.850.
“This year she has more confidence because she knows what to expect and knows what kind of competition she’s going to be up against,” Bowerman said.
Edwards recently took a trip down memory lane by watching the recruiting video that she compiled as a high school senior. She was stunned by the improvement she’s made during her TWU career, which is winding down.
“I get one big, huge competition under my belt before I graduate, which is really exciting,” she said. “My coaches here have taught me so much. I’m leaving a so much better gymnast than when I came here.”
Edwards said she hopes to register a new career high on floor, meaning anything above 9.000. Cochefski, meanwhile, has set her goal as earning a berth at the NCAA national meet.
Cochefski and Edwards will be paired with Southern Utah at regionals, with Cochefski competing on bars in the sixth rotation and Edwards participating in the third rotation on floor.
Support from home
With the South Central regional just up Interstate 35 in Norman this weekend, Cochefski and Edwards will have plenty of support from coaches and TWU teammates expected to make the short trip from Denton to the Lloyd Noble Center.
TWU’s two qualifiers will get an opportunity to practice at Oklahoma on Friday afternoon before competing in the one-day meet. Cochefski and Edwards will be joined by Bowerman and her staff on Friday, and several teammates are expected to arrive Saturday.
“We have off Saturday, so I know a lot of the girls are planning on coming up because it’s such a quick, easy trip,” Bowerman said. “They should have some good support up there.”
The entire TWU team, meanwhile, is preparing for the USA Gymnastics national meet April 12-14 in Shreveport, La.
Open tryout Thursday
Head coach Beth Jillson and her staff will host an open tryout at 7 p.m. Thursday at Kitty Magee Arena.
The tryout is for any interested high school seniors, junior college players or current TWU students. Prior to the tryout, all participants must submit signed participation forms available at www.TWUathletics.com.
For more information, call TWU assistant coach Michael Madrid at 940-898-2621.
Tough LSC challenge
The Pioneers will face perhaps their toughest Lone Star Conference challenge to date when they travel to Midwestern State for a three-game series beginning Friday night. The Pioneers boast three pitchers ranked among the LSC’s top four in ERA, while the Mustangs have four of the league’s top five hitters in their lineup.
A single game at 7 p.m. Friday will be followed by a noon doubleheader on Saturday.
The No. 8 Pioneers (33-7, 11-1 Lone Star) have plenty of offensive power to go with outstanding pitchers Brandie Lander, Katie Hines and Larisa Garcia.
Midwestern State has the LSC’s top hitter in Elena Bennett (.523 batting average) as well as the conference’s No. 2 (Katelyn Vinson, .500), No. 4 (Kim Jerrick, .432) and No. 5 (Kelley Schaefer, .429) batters.
TWU will counter with Lander, who owns a 14-3 record and tops the LSC in earned run average at 1.98. Hines (9-2) is third in the league with her 2.26 ERA, while Garcia (10-1) is fourth at 2.30.
The Pioneers’ lineup features the LSC’s leaders in hits (Bailey Vrazel, 57), runs batted in (Hines, 55) and home runs (Hines, 18; and Jordan Readicker, 13).
Chance to move up
The Pioneers have an opportunity to move up in the Division II Top 25 when it’s released today, after three teams above them suffered losses over the weekend.
No. 1 West Texas A&M dropped two of three games against Angelo State in an LSC series, while No. 3 Valdosta State and No. 5 Southeastern Oklahoma State each split weekend series.
The highest the Pioneers have been ranked in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll is seventh.