Women's gymnastics: Pioneers send Air Force tumbling

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TWU senior Brittainy Johnson performs on the balance beam Saturday night at Kitty Magee Arena. Johnson tied a career high with a 9.900 in the event.

In its first home meet of the season, TWU came out focused and eager to improve. After a subpar opening meet at Auburn, the Pioneers arrived at Kitty Magee Arena on Saturday wanting to set the tone for the rest of the season and posted a 194.250-191.900 victory over Air Force.

The Pioneers set a school record for points in a home opener, breaking the mark set against Oklahoma in a 196.175-193.050 loss Jan. 23, 2011.

“One of the things we talked about tonight was to break the home opener record, and we did that by a couple points, so it feels good,” TWU coach Lisa Bowerman said. “I told them their success tonight was a tribute to their training, their preparation and what they had in their hearts and minds today. It has nothing to do with the equipment or the building. They need to carry it with them, and that’s what we’re going to do next week.”

Senior Brittainy Johnson provided the concrete for the Pioneers’ foundation as they won three of four events.

Johnson tied a career high with a 9.900 in balance beam, which was the top score of the meet.

“Since she’s been here, she’s set the tone,” Bowerman said. “She is a fierce competitor, and she just has a presence about her whenever she steps into the gym wherever we are. Last week was a little bit of a fluke for her; she had an off week. To have her out there performing the way she did on three events tonight, I know she’s going to continue to lead the team in a way that only she can.”

Johnson took the top spot in uneven bars with a score of 9.825, helping the Pioneers take the event 48.825-47.375.

“I feel very relieved,” Johnson said. “Last weekend definitely did not go the way we planned and today we did so much better and it still wasn’t our best, so I’m really excited for next weekend. I had a couple of mess-ups on bars and on vault. I didn’t do the vault I was supposed to do, so this weekend I came back and did everything I was supposed to.”

TWU took the vault 48.325-47.425 and floor exercise 48.325-48.275, with senior Bethany Larimer pacing the Pioneers with a 9.825 in vault and senior Brittany Montalbano leading the way on floor with a 9.775.

“Tonight was a huge, massive improvement in everything — in the way we carried ourselves, the way we performed and the routines that we hit,” Bowerman said. “It was a great stepping stone for us. I know there is still more to come. We weren’t flawless tonight, and I know we have improvements to make.”

Bowerman said she thought the team’s ability to thrive in the environment and communicate with the home crowd was a huge component of its success.

“We have a team of girls that love what they do and want more than anything to be successful,” Bowerman said. “Sometimes they let that overtake their minds in a not so positive way. They tend to overthink and tend to overanalyze. We had a great week of practice. The energy was great and they were happy to be out there.”

Johnson echoed Bowerman’s sentiments and said there was a noticeable difference between Saturday and last week.

“I think when we are having so much fun and we’re not exactly thinking about what we have to do — we have to hit this or we have to hit that — it helps relax and calm people because they are focused on that person that is going and more of the fun atmosphere,” Johnson said. “Then, when they step up to their turn, I think that’s when they finally start thinking instead of overthinking. I think when we are having fun is when we are doing our best gymnastics.”

The Pioneers will head to Raleigh, N.C., on Friday to face North Carolina State and William & Mary.

PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.


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