DU Gymnastics Hosts the NCAA Regionals at Magness Arena
For the first time since 2011, the University of Denver gymnastics team is hosting the NCAA Regionals at Magness Arena. The No. 13-ranked Pioneers will compete this Friday evening after earning a first-round bye.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to compete in an environment that we are familiar with and for us to capitalize on it being here at home. [That] is really important for our team,” says junior Abbie Thompson. “It’s nice to be able to sleep in your own bed the night before the competition and maintain the same rhythm of what you are used to.”
No. 3-ranked Michigan, No. 18 Minnesota and the winner between Arizona and North Carolina on Thursday afternoon will compete Friday evening in the same session as DU. No. 6-ranked LSU, No. 11 Oregon State, No. 19 Georgia and No. 23 Nebraska will compete Friday morning in a different session. The top two teams from each session will compete on Sunday in the NCAA Regional Final. The top two teams from Sunday will advance to the NCAA National Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 13–15, meeting the top two teams from the other three regions.
“When I saw our region, my first thought was excitement,” says Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart, the Joy S. Burns Head Women’s Gymnastics Coach. “This is going to be such a fun regional, and honestly, there’s a lot of fun teams. It is insanely, crazy competitive, but I like that. I like the competitive piece.”
DU competed earlier in the season against Michigan and Oregon State, finishing second to both. However, since those meets in January, the Pioneers have posted multiple program records, and in their home finale, Denver’s overall score of 198.150 marked the first time the program ever eclipsed the 198 mark.
“It does not really matter to us who the other teams are, because we are just going to do the gymnastics we know how to do no matter who we are going up against,” says gymnast Alexandria Ruiz. “These teams are some of the best in the nation, and it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
Ruiz and Lynnzee Brown are both graduate students and the only two student-athletes remaining from the 2019 team that advanced to the national championships and finished a program-best fourth overall.
“It’s a different team, but at the same time I can feel that same passion and that same drive, and I can just feel how special it is and I remember that feeling from 2019,” Ruiz says. “Everyone wants it really badly, and we are all so capable of doing what it takes.”
Kutcher-Rinehart echoes that sentiment and says the hard work that her team started back in September has them prepared to face other top teams in the country.
“I know that our team is motivated, passionate, excited, and I know that they will give their heart and soul to continue to move forward and put everything they have into it,” she says.
One advantage DU will have this weekend is support from the home crowd. The student-athletes know the impact it can have when they compete in front of their families, friends, alumni and the Denver community.
“The fans do a lot for the energy and making Magness feel electric,” Thompson says. “A lot of time our team tries to keep things in perspective, and when you can look at the crowd and see a little girl, it makes us want to do it for them and do it for our fans.”