Is the fifth time a charm?
That’s what TWU is hoping for this weekend as the Pioneers are armed with a No. 1 seed, the talent and experience of eight seniors and perhaps a we’re-tired-of-being-runner-up attitude as they open competition today in the USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships in Providence, R.I.
While the Pioneers’ storied gymnastics program boasts the most USAG collegiate national titles — nine — it’s been six years since TWU captured the crown. Even more frustrating is the fact that the Pioneers have placed second behind Bridgeport in each of the last four seasons.
The team semifinals begin today with sessions scheduled for 1 and 6 p.m. The team finals will be conducted at 6 p.m. Saturday, with individual finals concluding the meet at noon Sunday.
TWU and Bridgeport again figure to be in the running for the title, although Seattle Pacific and Air Force could sneak into the picture.
“We’ve always been somewhat of a target because of the fact that we’ve won the most of everyone who competes in that championship,” third-year TWU head coach Lisa Bowerman said. “There’s a reputation that follows us. But obviously the biggest target has been on Bridgeport because of their recent success.”
The Pioneers earned the top seed based on their regional qualifying score of 194.290. Air Force is second and Bridgeport third. Other teams in the eight-team field are host Brown, Lindenwood, Cornell and Temple.
For the past two weeks, Bowerman has tweaked the team’s workouts from years past, not because of the four straight runner-up finishes but because the makeup of the team is different and features an abundance of talented, experienced seniors.
“There are definitely some differences in the way we are approaching our preparation compared to last year and the year before,” Bowerman said. “They’re changes because every year is slightly different.
“We’ve pushed them harder than they’ve ever been pushed in terms of our expectations from the day we got back from the [Midwest Independent] conference meet,” she added. “The routines are harder than they’ve ever done. We’ve had more focus on team assignments and things like that. We want them to be ready for anything.”
Led by NCAA regional qualifier Brittainy Johnson, the Pioneers’ eight seniors provide a solid core of experience that knows what it’s like to perform under the spotlight of the national meet.
Last weekend, Johnson set school records for finishing position and score at regionals with a 9.850 and tie for fourth. Three of this year’s seniors, Bethany Larimer (vault and balance beam), Ciara Maradiaga (beam) and Amy Winczura (vault) are back at nationals after earning All-America honors at last year’s meet.
Also giving the final performance of their TWU careers will be sisters Courtney and Victoria Cochefski, Margaret Mayfield and Brittany Montalbano.
“The biggest thing that we’re trying to get across to them is to just soak up and enjoy every minute we have together in the gym,” Bowerman said. “We have seven graduating seniors, and this is an important time for them. You can’t really explain what it’s like to know these are going to be your last days in the gym, which has been your home for the last four to five years.
“Emotionally, it can be challenging to enjoy but also stay focused on the task at hand.”
TWU is slated to compete against Brown, Seattle Pacific and Temple in the team semifinals. The top two teams from today’s semifinals advance to the team finals. The top five gymnasts from today’s events, including ties, will qualify for the individual event finals.
Assistant athletic director Jeff Bowerman will engage in a live chat from the national meet. He also will provide updates throughout the weekend on TWU’s Facebook and Twitter pages. TWU will provide a link for live video from the meet. Fans can access the online features through www.twuathletics.com.