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DU Gymnastics Aiming for Return Trip to the National Championships

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Jon Stone

Media Relations Manager

Jon Stone

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2024 DU Gymnastics

Photo Courtesy: Brittany Evans

“Right now, 100% the goal is to compete at the NCAA National Championships.”

Expectations can be that high when a team continues to achieve its goals year in and year out. Now, Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart, the Joy S. Burns head coach of women’s gymnastics at the University of Denver, is hoping for a return trip to the national championships for a second consecutive season.

The Pioneers finished last year ranked No. 8 in the country following the team’s sixth appearance in the NCAA National Championships. It was the second highest ranking to finish a completed season in program history, only behind the 2019 team, which finished No. 4. It’s that success that fuels the team for this season.

“When I think back to winning regionals, it just reminds me of all the things we are capable of and all the boundaries we can push and all the people we can prove wrong,” says sophomore Mila Brusch, who posted the team’s second highest vault score at last year’s nationals. “I definitely think that Denver is a place where we can continue to push those boundaries and get better every year.”

For the first time in six years, Lynnzee Brown, the most decorated gymnast in program history, is no longer on the roster. However, that doesn’t mean the student-athletes have forgotten the impact she had on each of them.

“Lynnzee had such a big role in the culture of the team,” says junior Momoko Iwai. “The seniors this year have really carried that on, and the team has done a good job of keeping that culture that she brought to the team.”

This year’s class of five seniors is a big reason why the Pioneers enter the season ranked No. 10 in the country. Captains Jessica Hutchinson and Rylie Mundell, along with Rosie Casali, Bella Mabanta and Abbie Thompson, have a lot of competition experience.

“They have had pretty much every experience that you could probably have,” says Kutcher-Rinehart. “They are all incredible leaders, and they all have tremendous work ethics.”

During their sophomore season, the five gymnasts helped lead the team to the NCAA Regional Final after three teammates missed a majority of the season, all with torn Achilles. Fast forward two years, they are now the veterans on the team, but with the long season, Kutcher-Rinehart believes it’s important to make sure other student-athletes are also seeing competition time.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” she says. “We want to make sure we are peaking at the right time.”

For the student-athletes, they know the preseason recognition means nothing if they don’t go out and perform at a high level.

“It’s important to know it doesn’t define where we ended last year or where we will be this year,” says Brusch. “It feels good to start that high, but I think we all know we could end even higher.”

Their season begins this weekend in Las Vegas when DU competes in the Super 16 Gymnastics Championships. The tournament features a field of 16 teams, though DU will only face Washington, Illinois and San Jose State. The following weekend, on January 14, they host the first home meet of the season against Arizona State. The Pioneers will face six preseason top 20 programs, four of them at Magness Arena.

“Twenty-five years ago, people maybe didn’t want to schedule with us. Now that is not the case,” Kutcher-Rinehart says. “Home and away, we can now attract the level of competition that speaks to where we are as a program.”