The West Virginia University gymnastics team opens its 2021 campaign with a dual meet against 2019 NCAA National Champion and reigning Big 12 Conference champion Oklahoma on Friday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m., inside the WVU Coliseum, in Morgantown.
Friday’s action will be carried live on Big 12 Now on ESPN+, the conference’s digital platform, with Michael Minnich and Julia Merwin on the call. Fans can subscribe to ESPN+ for just $5.99 a month (or $59.99 per year) at ESPNplus.com, ESPN.com or on the ESPN App (mobile and connected devices). It also is available as part of The Disney Bundle offer that gives subscribers access to Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu (ad-supported) — all for just $12.99/month.
Direct links to the video stream and live stats can be found on the gymnastics schedule page at WVUsports.com.
Of note, due to safety precautions from the COVID-19 pandemic, only essential game operations personnel and families of the gymnasts and gymnastics staff will be admitted into the arena.
“We never had a schedule quite like this,” Mountaineer coach Jason Butts said. “All four teams in the Big 12 are very strong. Oklahoma and Denver have recently been on the national stage, but we need to focus on what we can control and that is our own performance and how we approach our training. We’re trying not to let anything from outside our bubble get to us. There is no offense or defense in gymnastics. We can’t control what the other team does or what the judges do. Whatever the environment may be like, it is all going to be different. Our whole focus has just been doing what we have been doing.”
WVU opens its season at home for the first time since Jan. 5, 2018, when WVU played host to No. 2 Florida. The Mountaineers are 6-10 in season-opening meets under Butts, who enters his 10th season as WVU’s head coach.
Looking for their first conference regular-season win since 2017, the Mountaineers are 1-19 all-time against the No. 2-ranked Sooners. Last season, OU earned a 198.4-195.575 win over WVU, at the Lloyd Noble Center, in Norman, Oklahoma.
The Mountaineers return to competition following an 11-win season and a 6-1 record at home. WVU registered four top-50 scores last year, including a season-high 196.425 in wins over Pitt and Rutgers on March 1, 2019, at the WVU Coliseum.
All nine returning Mountaineers earned time in at least one lineup last season, with eight reaching the podium. Classmates Abbie Pierson and Kianna Yancey paced WVU with 10 podium finishes each in their first season as a Mountaineer.
West Virginia will follow the lead of two veterans this season: McKenna Linnen and Michelle Waldron. Combined, the duo has competed in 61 career meets.
Linnen is the most experienced Mountaineer on the roster, having competed in 37 meets in three seasons at WVU. The Canton, Michigan, native surpassed the 500-point threshold on Jan. 26, 2019, and now shows 671.225 career points.
Six freshmen look to make their Mountaineer career debuts on Friday: Chloe Asper, Ellen Collins, Gillian Fletcher, Agatha Handono, Kiana Lewis and Nicole Norris.
The Sooners (2-0, 0-0) are ranked No. 2 nationally with a 197.238 average after the first two weeks of competition. OU most recently knocked off No. 3 Utah on Jan. 17 by a score of 197.025-196.55, inside the Lloyd Noble Center, in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma won three of four event titles against the Utes, with senior Anastasia Webb taking home vault, freshman Audrey Davis taking home bars and junior Emma LaPinta earing a share of the floor title.
Looking ahead, the Mountaineers will head to Norman, Oklahoma, next weekend to compete against the Sooners in back-to-back meets for the first time in program history. The two teams will face each other at the Lolyd Noble Center on Sunday, Jan. 31. Competition is set to begin at 8 p.m. ET on ESPNU.