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Women's gymnastics: TWU to be tested by slate that starts today at Auburn

Profile image for By Randy Cummings / For the Denton Record-Chronicle
By Randy Cummings / For the Denton Record-Chronicle

TWU has never shied from scheduling the heavy hitters of gymnastics — a philosophy that’s paid dividends for the Pioneers, both during the regular schedule and during the postseason.

For the 2014 Pioneers, third-year head coach Lisa Bowerman may have created a loaded schedule that will challenge her squad throughout the season and prepare the gymnasts for conference, regional and national competitions in April.

Starting today with a dual meet at Auburn, No. 13 in the preseason coaches poll, the Pioneers take on a slate that has them competing against nine opponents that advanced to the NCAA regional or national meets a year ago.

TWU will be competing against squads from the Big 12 (Oklahoma and Iowa State), Big Ten (Michigan State and Minnesota), Pac-12 (Arizona), Southeastern Conference (Auburn), Atlantic Coast (North Carolina State), Mountain West (Air Force) and American Athletic (Rutgers).

“It’s the same every year,” Bowerman said. “If you want to be your best, you have to compete against the best. We want the best teams here in our arena on our home floor for our fans, and we want to go to the best schools.

“It helps our reputation, it helps our school and it helps our recruiting. I think it’s a huge benefit to our team and our university in getting our name out there and letting people know who we are.”

The Pioneers have an experienced squad that returns 12 letter winners from last year’s team, which sent two gymnasts to the NCAA regionals and placed second as a team at the USA Gymnastics national meet. Eight seniors and three juniors should provide leadership, while five incoming freshmen and one returning sophomore round out the squad.

On Jan. 18, TWU will host the first of six home meets when it faces Air Force. Other teams coming to Denton include Rutgers (Feb. 1), Bowling Green (March 1), and Oklahoma, Michigan State and Minnesota in a four-way meet that wraps up the regular season March 9.

The sport relies heavily on a scoring and ranking system that leads to qualifying berths in the NCAA meets. Since there are no conference standings to dictate postseason participation, college gymnasts worry foremost about their individual scores and improving those scores throughout the season to better position themselves for postseason competition.

“We keep our eyes and our focus on the big picture — the end of the season,” Bowerman said. “Each year, with every team, we always have the goal of getting stronger than the year before, because one of our goals is to be at the NCAA regionals as a team.

“In order to do that, we have to be in the top 36 in the country. And with the way scores are calculated, it means we have to have some strong meets early on.”

Bowerman is relying on the skills and experience of her upperclassmen. Returning seniors Courtney Cochefski, Bethany Larimer and Ciara Maradiaga were first-team All-Midwest Independent Conference performers a year ago, with Cochefski qualifying for the NCAA regionals for the second straight year in uneven bars.

Cochefski’s 9.800 on bars tied her for 15th place at regionals and matched the second-highest score for a TWU gymnast at that level.

Junior Spencer Jones, a Calvary graduate, was one of TWU’s cornerstone performers at last year’s USAG national meet, where she placed fourth in all-around. Junior Stephanie Repp tied for third at nationals in floor exercise, while Maradiaga finished in a tie for 10th on balance beam.

“There’s a lot of experience on our team,” Bowerman said. “A lot of the same individuals are in the same lineups as they were last year. A lot of what we do is going to rely on those juniors and seniors using their past experience and picking up where they left off.

“With our first meet being at Auburn, it’s vital that our experienced girls don’t get intimidated,” Bowerman said. “If they are intimidated, it trickles down to the others.”

One of Bowerman’s strategies during her first two seasons as the Pioneers’ head coach was to train her girls toward improving their scores meet-to-meet, gradually building their routines so that their performances are best at the end of the season. That’s why the Pioneers don’t do much scoreboard watching while competing against big-name schools.

“In gymnastics you’re not strategizing against another team; you’re going out there to do your job,” Bowerman said. “Sure we want to compete with them — that’s why we’re there. But our focus is on us, not the fact that those schools were at the nationals last year.

“We have to focus on our routines and our scores and improving those each week.”

In addition to mixing five freshmen into the mix this season, Bowerman has a new coaching staff alongside her, with new assistant coach Garrett Griffeth, coach’s assistant Courtney McCool-Griffeth and graduate assistant Michellee Cooper.

“Though this is my third year, it’s like a new first year because it’s a lot of learning and teaching — teaching the staff, the staff getting to know the girls, plus the girls getting to know the staff,” Bowerman said.

The MIC meet will be hosted by Illinois State on March 22, prior to the NCAA regionals and USAG national meet in April.





Friday, January 10


7 p.m., Auburn, Ala.

Saturday, January 18

Air Force

7 p.m. Kitty Magee Arena

Friday, January 24

North Carolina State, William & Mary

6 p.m., Raliegh, N.C.

Saturday, February 1


7 p.m., Kitty Magee Arena

Sunday, February 9

Centenary, Lindenwood

2 p.m., Kitty Magee Arena

Friday, February 14


7 p.m., Chicago

Sunday, February 16

Northern Illinois, Iowa State

1 p.m., DeKalb, Illinois

Sunday, February 23

Centenary, Southeast Missouri

2 p.m., Kitty Magee Arena

Saturday, March 1

Bowling Green

7 p.m., Kitty Magee Arena

Sunday, March 8

Oklahoma, Michigan State, Minnesota

2 p.m., Kitty Magee Arena

Saturday, March 15

Arizona, BYU, Bridgeport

5 p.m., Tucson, Az.

Saturday, March 22

MIC Championships

4 p.m., Normal, Il.

Saturday, April 5

NCAA Regionals


Friday-Sunday, April 11-13

USAG Collegiate Nationals

Providence, RI