DU Gymnastics Looks to Top Last Year’s Record Performance
2020 season begins this weekend in California
Spend one practice session with the student-athletes on the University of Denver’s gymnastics team and the confidence in the room is palpable. But don’t confuse confidence with arrogance.
The squad is coming off its best finish in program history after advancing to its first-ever NCAA team final and finishing fourth overall. The Pioneers now enter the 2020 season ranked No. 7, the highest Denver has ever been ranked at the beginning of a season.
“We strongly believe that the best is yet to come,” says junior captain Mia Sundstrom. “Last year was incredibly special to be a part of. To me it was just a testament that hard work, character and a strong culture really can be more powerful than talent. It was a glimpse of what Denver gymnastics is capable of.”
The team has talent. NCAA national floor co-champion Lynnzee Brown, and postseason All-Americans Maddie Karr, Alexandria Ruiz and Alexis Vasquez are all back. However, the team does lack the overall depth that larger schools such as Oklahoma and Florida bring to every meet. This is a challenge the team has embraced and plans to overcome.
“The same culture foundation intangibles that were there last year are there again this year,” says head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart, who, by vote of her peers, was named national head coach of the year for 2019. “We have different athletes and a different team, so we are continuing to emphasize genuinely the same things we emphasized last year — stay in the moment, one meet at a time.”
Fans will see a lot of new faces this year. Five first-year student-athletes joined the team this fall, and only four upperclass gymnasts return — led by Karr, the lone senior.
“We have some truly spectacular upperclassmen, but we also have that freshman energy that’s coming in,” she says. “They bring a whole different vibe to the team, and I think that is going to set us apart from last year, that fun energy. When you are having fun, you are doing your best work. The freshmen are expected to come in and do their job. They are expected to compete, and we will count on that right away.”
The Pioneers begin their season on the road this weekend in Anaheim, California, competing against Auburn, Penn State and Arizona State. They return home Jan. 12 to host Minnesota for their first meet of the season at Magness Arena.
The goals for this year’s squad remain high — return to the NCAA regionals and compete to make the program’s sixth appearance in nationals. This year, DU is a host site for regionals, a tremendous opportunity for the team to compete in front of the home crowd in the postseason.
“It does mean so much for our student-athletes that when they get to senior night, they’re not done, that’s not their last home meet of the year,” says Kutcher-Rinehart. “They are so looking forward to staying home and representing their school here on campus.”
The support the team has received at home the past few seasons has been impressive. Denver set an all-time attendance record last season and finished ranked No. 10 in the nation for average home meet attendance.
For now, however, the Pioneers are focused only on Saturday.
“The beginning of the season is the only thing on our horizon right now,” Sundstrom says. “We are going to pace ourselves and make sure we remain directly in the moment of what we are doing in the journey and the process.”
To support the gymnastics team this season at Magness Arena, please click here for tickets.