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DU Gymnastics Relishing the Underdog Role for the NCAA National Championships

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Jon Stone

Media Relations Manager

Jon Stone

News  •
DU Gymnastics Advances to Nationals

The Pioneers don’t want to hear talk of being an underdog.

“We had a mindset that we were going to make it, and so from day one we were not expecting anything less than making it to nationals.”

For University of Denver junior Jessica Hutchinson, being under pressure, she believes, puts her  at her best. But as the DU women’s gymnastics team prepares for this week’s NCAA National Championships at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, the team understands why the attention might not be on them.

“People are looking at the top four teams, and they have their ideas of who is going to win,” Hutchinson says. “The great thing with us is that we have nothing to lose, so we are going out there to have a great time. We have put in all the work, so now is the time to enjoy it.”

Last weekend, the team earned a ticket to the championships after winning the regional team title at Magness Arena. The No. 13-ranked Pioneers upset No. 3 Michigan, No. 6 LSU and No. 11 Oregon State. LSU will also join DU in Fort Worth as two of the eight teams to advance to nationals.

The University of Denver will compete in semifinal I this Thursday. They will be joined by No. 2 Florida, LSU and No. 7 California. Semifinal II will feature No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 UCLA, No. 5 Utah and No. 9 Kentucky. The top two teams from each semifinal will advance to the NCAA Championship Final on Saturday.

“All the teams are that strong. There isn’t a team that one is per se better than another,” says Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart, the Joy S. Burns Women’s Gymnastics Coach. “What others do does not really impact what we do. It’s just going to be about us performing at our peak.”

Denver is returning to the NCAA National Championships for a sixth time and the first time since 2019, when the team finished a program best fourth overall. That team was led by then-sophomore Lynnzee Brown, who won an individual national title on the floor. Now a graduate student, Brown and Alexandria Ruiz are the only student-athletes remaining from the 2019 team.

“They have experience being there, and they know what to expect,” Kutcher-Rinehart says about Brown and Ruiz. “Having that leadership from within the team is really helpful.”

Brown downplays their leadership role and instead credits the entire team, particularly the five junior student-athletes, for much of their success.

“There’s a little bit of myself leading, but they’ve also led me,” Brown says. “What it takes to be a good leader is also being a good follower, so they’ve allowed me to fall back and guide them in smaller ways, and I’m just happy that they are making this team their own and creating their own experiences.”

While Brown might be taking a back seat to being the vocal leader of the team, her performance in the gym continues to lead the Pioneers. At last weekend’s regionals, she posted the second-highest all-around score in program history, only .025 points from her own overall record. She knows it will take a similar performance at the NCAA Nationals if the team hopes to repeat the magic of four years ago.

“From 2019 I just remember that anything can happen. It’s all about who competes the best on that day and let’s not worry about what other teams are doing,” she says. “You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to be you; you just have to be Denver.”

Watch DU gymnastics compete in semifinal I on Thursday, April 13, at 1 p.m. MT on ESPN2. If DU advances to the NCAA Championship Final on Saturday, you can watch the coverage at 2 p.m. MT on ABC.