The West Virginia University gymnastics team competes against Penn State in the first round of the NCAA Morgantown Regional Championships on Thursday, April 1, at 3 p.m. ET, inside the WVU Coliseum, in Morgantown.
The winning team advances to Friday’s evening session against No. 4 Michigan, No. 13 UCLA and Kent State at 7 p.m. Friday’s competition gets underway at 1 p.m., featuring No. 5 Cal, No. 12 BYU, Ohio State and Towson. The top two teams from each session will advance to the regional final, which will be held on Saturday, April 3, at 7 p.m.
The top two teams from Saturday’s meet and the top all-around competitor (who is not on an advancing team) will receive an automatic berth to the National Championships, as will the top event specialist at each regional site who is not a part of an advancing team. Results from Friday’s competitions will be used to determine individual qualifiers.
“We’ve had a great week and a half of practice,” Mountaineer coach Jason Butts said. “They have been really positive and really upbeat, working very hard. They know what we have to go through to keep advancing, and it starts tomorrow afternoon. I told them that it is just like any other NCAA Championships. We have to do our job, and if we do that, we will advance. We will keep going until we are told we are not allowed to compete anymore. They are really excited, and they are excited to be here at the Coliseum. I think they are peaking at just the right time, and we have to show up tomorrow and get the job done.”
All three days of competition will be streamed live on ESPN3. Direct links to the video stream and live stats can be found on the gymnastics schedule page at WVUsports.com.
Due to ongoing COVID-19 protocols, and for the overall safety of spectators at indoor events, attendance will be capped at approximately 2,700 spectators.
Fans can purchase tickets by visiting WVUGAME.com, calling 1-800-WVU-GAME or at the Mountaineer Ticket Office, located at the Gold Gate of the WVU Coliseum. Tickets are $8 each on Thursday, $10 each on Friday and $12 each on Saturday. A limited number of WVU students will be admitted for free with a valid Student I.D. for sessions that feature the WVU gymnastics team. The ticket office, as well as the Gold Gate, opens an hour before competition.
All tickets are reserved in blocks, ranging from one to six seats, and socially distanced. When purchasing tickets, the system will allocate the best seats available based on the quantity selected.
Thursday will be a tight battle between the Mountaineers (2-7, 0-6 Big 12) and the Nittany Lions (3-11, 2-7 Big Ten), as the two teams show nearly identical rankings in the most recent Road to Nationals Rankings. PSU edges WVU in the overall standings, owning a 195.813 National Qualifying Score (NQS) to rank No. 33. The Mountaineers’ NQS is 195.769 and rank two spots behind the Nittany Lions in a tie for No. 35.
West Virginia bests Penn State on floor exercise, coming in at No. 25 with an NQS of 49.256, while the Nittany Lions check in at No. 39 (49.088 NQS) in the event. PSU comes in at No. 33 on balance beam (49.100 NQS), while WVU sits at No. 35 (49.088 NQS). Penn State also sits ahead of West Virginia on the uneven bars and vault, ranking No. 19 (49.231 NQS) and No. 37 (48.950 NQS), respectively. West Virginia checks in at No. 37 on bars (48.925 NQS) and is tied at No. 42 on vault (48.881 NQS).
“Once we get the ball rolling, I noticed that the energy becomes infectious,” Butts said. “If we can get into that mode tomorrow, I feel very confident that we will hit 24-for-24. That goal never changes, but if for some reason we falter that goal, then we have to make sure that we are still pushing to hit 23 or 22. We are not going to go down without a fight.
“Penn State is a very good team, historically. We haven’t seen them this year, and we are ranked pretty close together. I think it is going to be a great competition, and I think it is going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully, we will come out the victor, so we can advance as a team, but to do that, we definitely have to bring our A game.”
The Mountaineers open Thursday’s meet on bars. WVU’s complete rotation order is bars, vault, floor and beam. Since PSU ranks higher than WVU in the latest rankings, the Nittany Lions will rotate in Olympic order: vault, bars, beam and floor.
The Mountaineers are 8-40 all-time against the Nittany Lions, with the two squads last meeting in dual action on Jan. 11, 2020. Penn State claimed a 195.325-195.75 victory inside Rec Hall, in University Park, Pennsylvania. Despite the loss, West Virginia recorded its highest season-opening meet score in program history.
West Virginia’s regional bid is its 41st championship berth, their 36th in NCAA competition, and the team’s sixth consecutive qualification. In 2019, West Virginia finished fourth in the second of two second-round meets at the 2019 NCAA Ann Arbor Regional Championships, posting a 195.425 total. The Mountaineers’ final score was WVU’s fifth-best mark earned in 35 NCAA Regional appearances.
WVU plays host to a regional championships for the 11th time in program history. The last time the squad played host to the NCAA Regional Championships was in 2017, when the Mountaineers earned a program regional-record score of 196.325 and finished third.
The Mountaineers have advanced to the NCAA National Championships three times (1995, 1999, 2000) since 1983.
West Virginia returns to competition Thursday after finishing fourth at the 2021 Big 12 Gymnastics Championship on March 20, with a 195.725 total. The Mountaineers posted a trio of 49.0+ performances, finishing as high as third on floor with a 49.275 showing to mark their second-best floor total of the season. WVU finished fourth on bars (49.025), vault (49.0) and beam (48.425). Sophomore Abbie Pierson earned West Virginia’s highest individual finish of the championship, matching her season-best total of 9.9 on floor to place fourth overall.
Individually, a trio of Mountaineers rank inside the top 100 nationally on floor, paced by junior Kendra Combs, who is tied at No. 71 with an NQS of 9.888. Freshman Kiana Lewis and Pierson are tied at No. 94 with a matching NQS of 9.875.
Should WVU not advance to Friday’s competition as a team, the Mountaineer trio will compete as individual event specialists on floor.
For more information on the Mountaineers, visit WVUsports.com and follow WVUGymnastics on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.