When an athlete shows week-to-week improvement, that’s all a coach can ask for. Three weeks into the season, TWU coach Lisa Bowerman can’t ask for much more from three of her senior gymnasts.
Bethany Larimer, Tori Cochefski and Brittany Montalbano have opened their final collegiate season by raising their scores in each of the Pioneers’ three meets. Less than a month into the schedule, Larimer (vault), Cochefski (uneven bars) and Montalbano (vault) have gotten higher scores each time out.
Bowerman said all three — who entered the season under varying circumstances — put in hard work during the offseason.
Larimer was an All-Midwest Independent Conference performer a year ago, and has led TWU on vault at all three meets. Last weekend in a triangular meet at North Carolina State, Larimer scored a 9.800.
Cochefski struggled in the past while adjusting to changes in her bars routine. Bowerman eliminated those tweaks to Cochefski’s routine this season.
Montalbano has overcome knee, ankle and neck injuries throughout her college career and appears to be as healthy as she’s been in years. She registered a career-high 9.700 on vault to help the Pioneers to a second-place finish at the meet against N.C. State and William & Mary.
“Bethany is one of the most steady, calm competitors that I’ve ever coached,” Bowerman said. “She’s been very consistent.
“Last year Tori had a year with a lot of ups and downs,” Bowerman said. “She had some struggles with her confidence and her routines. We changed her routine a little bit last year to hopefully avoid some deductions; I think mentally she never adjusted. Her confidence wasn’t 100 percent with it.”
Last summer Cochefski returned to her old routine, and she’s found her comfort zone this season.
“She’s been working very hard at finding her consistency in practice and then carrying that confidence into competition,” Bowerman said.
Montalbano spent last summer getting healthy and improving her conditioning, focusing her offseason work on her routines and maintaining her physical well-being.
“She’s been through a lot,” Bowerman said. “She’s always been a hard worker. But now, outside the gym, she’s taking care of her body and is as fit as she’s ever been. It makes my heart happy to see her succeeding.”
Focusing on positives
In the wake of the Pioneers’ impressive effort Sunday in a losing battle against No. 7 West Texas A&M, TWU coach Beth Jillson is ready to focus on the positives and move on.
“I thought we battled for 40 minutes,” she said of the 81-65 loss to the Lady Buffs. “They’re the very best in our conference and we played with them. You learn from it, and you improve and just move on to the next game.”
TWU trailed by just four points midway through the second half, but consecutive turnovers sparked an 8-2 run by West Texas that enabled the Lady Buffs to widen the margin.
The Pioneers outrebounded the Lady Buffs but were hampered by their 20 turnovers.
“That’s a team that’s rarely outrebounded,” Jillson said. “So I was really happy with our effort on the boards. It really came down to turnovers. We had two crucial turnovers with five minutes left in the game that were turned into easy layups on the other end. When you’re playing the No. 7 team in the nation, you can’t do that.”
Jillson has been pleased with the recent play of junior transfer Ashley Salazar and freshman Deja Pointer. Salazar came off the bench to play 18 minutes against West Texas and made three steals to go with four points. Pointer notched 11 minutes and blocked a shot.
“We have some new players in key positions, and it’s taken some time to jell and get the chemistry,” Jillson said. “We’ve just got to keep chipping away every day and get better and know that there’s room for growth.”
Having won their last two road games, the Pioneers should be confident for tonight’s battle at Texas A&M-Commerce.
TWU was winless away from home until Jan. 16, when the Pioneers cruised past Cameron 66-53. A week later, the Pioneers traveled to Eastern New Mexico and raced to a 78-66 win over the Zias.
“The key has been to start quick,” Jillson said. “We’ve done a good job of coming out ready to play. After the Cameron game, we kind of got the monkey off our back. I think we’re playing with more confidence every single game and continuing to improve.”
Today’s 5:30 p.m. battle against the Lions (3-13, 2-5 Lone Star) is one of three regular-season road games remaining for the Pioneers. Beginning Sunday, TWU (8-9, 4-4) plays three straight games at Kitty Magee Arena and five of the next six.
Season begins Saturday
TWU will open the season under new head coach Genny Stidham this weekend at St. Mary’s Division II College Classic in San Antonio. TWU will play two games Saturday, two Sunday and one Monday, opening at noon Saturday against Texas-Permian Basin.