Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

Gymnasts aim for NCAAs as a team

Last season, the University of Denver gymnastics team sent two Pioneers to the NCAA national championships as individual all-around qualifiers. This year, the student-athletes are determined to go as an entire team.

Senior Kelley Hennigan and graduate Jessica Lopez represented DU at the NCAAs and helped DU finish the regular season ranked No. 18 in the nation. But head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart believes this year’s team has a chance to compete for a top-10 position.

“We have a very good team and very good chemistry,” Kutcher-Rinehart says. “Successful teams possess more than just athletic ability. They have an intangible quality — a ‘fierceness’ to improve, ability to push beyond the limits, and accountability to be the best every day. This team is showing that kind of character.”

Kutcher-Rinehart says this year’s squad will be driven by juniors and seniors determined to build team chemistry. Perhaps the team’s biggest challenge, the coach says, will be keeping everyone healthy. The team does not have a tremendous amount of depth, and Kutcher-Rinehart says, “as with most teams, injuries would not be good for us.”

Last year, Pioneer gymnasts earned the 11th highest team GPA in the country, and seven Pioneers won Scholastic All-America Awards. The Pioneers compiled a 3.4 GPA, making them one of just six schools to rank in the top 18 in the nation both competitively and scholastically. Kutcher-Rinehart says a team goal is to move into the top ten academically, too.

This year, the team hopes to continue its dominance at home — the Pioneers went 7-1 at Hamilton Gym last season.

“We are so fortunate to have the ability to compete in such an unbelievable facility,” Kutcher-Rinehart says. “When our fans come out to watch us compete, I believe they feel a part of the action and that motivates our student-athletes.”

The Pioneers opened their season Jan. 9 with a victory at Minnesota. The home opener will be Jan. 16th at the Denver Winterfest Classic.

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