Going into this weekend’s Midwest Independent Conference meet, the anticipated battle for the MIC title again boils down to a handful of teams — including the TWU Pioneers — separated by the slightest of margins at the top of the MIC rankings.
But the Pioneers, ranked atop the six-team MIC, certainly hope a repeat of last year’s result doesn’t happen at Saturday’s 4 p.m. meet hosted by Illinois State.
TWU is joined by Illinois-Chicago and Southeast Missouri State atop this year’s MIC rankings, separated by less than one-tenth of a point in regional qualifying score averages. Lindenwood and Illinois State aren’t far behind with RQS averages less than two points behind the Pioneers’ 194.010.
“Last year it was a similar situation,” TWU coach Lisa Bowerman said. “There were four of us that were extremely close, and we went into the meet and had a good meet but ended in fourth place.
“It didn’t feel like a fourth-place performance.”
It’s been four years since the Pioneers last captured an MIC championship, and if they are to return the trophy to Denton this year, it likely will come on the performances of a core of seniors who have led the team all year.
The Pioneers enter the meet with a good idea of what to expect from the competition, since they competed against four MIC programs during the regular season. In February, TWU won a home triangular with Centenary and Lindenwood. But the Pioneers fell at Illinois-Chicago on Feb. 14 and at home against Southeast Missouri on Feb. 23.
“It’s been close between a few of us all season,” Bowerman said. “We’ve been flip-flopping back and fourth in the conference rankings.”
The Pioneers have gotten consistent performances from seniors Bethany Larimer (vault), Brittainy Johnson (uneven bars), Brittany Montalbano (floor exercise) and Margaret Mayfield (floor).
Larimer was TWU’s top scorer on vault in all 11 regular-season meets, while Johnson turned in the team’s top score on bars in six meets. Montalbano and Mayfield each scored the team’s high score on floor in four meets.
Another returning all-conference performer, Calvary’s Spencer Jones, is rounding into top shape after battling a summer illness that disrupted the first half of her season. A junior, Jones returned on balance beam and later added the floor event. Last weekend, she added bars to her meet itinerary.
“We expected her to come in and pick up where she left off last year and have an even better season this year,” Bowerman said of Jones, an All-MIC all-around performer a year ago. “We really didn’t see much of her at the beginning of the season. Since then, we’ve been bringing her back slowly.
“Because of the competitor she is and the experience she has, she’s stepped right in and done an amazing job every time she’s competed.”
Senior Courtney Cochefski was named all-conference on bars last year and should be in position to repeat in that event, having tied for first place in two of the Pioneers’ last four meets.
Junior Stephanie Repp leads the team on floor with her 9.716 scoring average. She’s turned in TWU’s top score on beam twice this season.
Bowerman says the Pioneers (11-8) are peaking at the right time, with NCAA regionals and the USA Gymnastics national meet scheduled for next month. The Pioneers posted team scores of 194.250 or higher in four meets this season and won five titles.
“We’re excited to get out there this weekend and build on what we’ve been doing and get that last preparation before nationals,” Bowerman said.
After Saturday’s meet, the Pioneers will have two weeks to prepare for the NCAA regionals scheduled for April 5.