WVU tops No. 9 Denver on beam, floor but falls in meet

Gold and Blue Nation

The West Virginia University gymnastics team suffered a 196.550-195.350 loss to No. 9-ranked Denver on Sunday afternoon, inside Magness Arena, in Denver, Colorado.

Despite the team loss, the Mountaineers (0-5, 0-5) hit 23-for-24 routines to split the event titles with the Pioneers (5-2, 3-2), finishing first on balance beam (49.175-49.125) and floor exercise (49.250-49.050). The Pioneers earned the vault (49.100-48.475) and uneven bars (49.275-48.450) team victories. Of note, WVU’s beam and floor scores were good for season highs. The Mountaineers have now totaled 49.0 or better on floor in every meet but one this season.

“We hit 23-of-24 routines and had very solid performances,” Mountaineer coach Jason Butts said. “I couldn’t ask for more from our team. They did the job that we brought them here to do. I’m not exactly thrilled with where the scores stood on vault and bars, but that’s outside of our control.”

The Mountaineers finished the meet with four podium finishes, including a winning performance on floor and a tie for first overall on beam. Junior Kendra Combs tallied a matching career-high score of 9.9 on floor for the event win. Combs now owns 11 career podium finishes and five event wins, with four of those victories occurring on floor.

Additionally, freshman Chloe Asper and Denver’s Isabel Mabanta tied for first overall on beam with matching 9.9s. The mark was a personal best for Asper, as she previously scored a 9.8 in her beam debut against Denver on Feb. 11.

Freshman Kiana Lewis also tied for second on floor with a career-high 9.875, while senior McKenna Linnen finished in a three-way tie for third on beam with a matching career-high total of 9.85. The last time Linnen posted a 9.85 on beam was March 17, 2019.

“It’s very rare to have a freshman step up and do that kind of performance under pressure, especially with Chloe hitting her routine to help us score a 195 overall,” Butts said. “They (Kiana and Chloe) are working very hard in the gym and making changes to their routines. It just boosts their self-confidence going into training and the rest of the season. After those first two events, I thought we ended on a great note, and our freshmen were a big part of that.”

The Mountaineers opened the meet on bars, with Combs scoring a team-high 9.725 for a sixth-place finish. Junior Esperanza Abarca and sophomore Kayla Yancey notched matching 9.7s in a tie for seventh, while freshman Nicole Norris tallied a 9.675 and finished ninth. Sophomore Kianna Yancey scored a 9.65 to complete the top 10, followed by junior Rachel Hornung in 11th with a 9.6 total. Of note, Kayla Yancey entered the Mountaineers’ lineup for the first time this season.

Denver’s Rylie Mundell and Lynnzee Brown tied for first on bars with matching 9.9s.

West Virginia posted a 48.475 in the second rotation on vault, with sophomore Abbie Pierson tallying a 9.75 in a tie for fifth to lead the Mountaineers in the event. Senior Michelle Waldron posted a 9.725 in a tie for seventh, followed by Kianna Yancey in ninth with a 9.7. Sophomore Emily Holmes-Hackerd and Kayla Yancey added matching 9.65s in a tie for 10th, while Lewis rounded out the event standings with a 9.6.

Brown won vault outright with a 9.95.

WVU tallied a season-high total in its event win on floor, as four Mountaineers scored 9.8 or better for a 49.250 showing in the third rotation. Pierson and Holmes-Hackerd followed Lewis in a tie for fourth place with matching 9.85s. Hornung tallied a 9.775 mark and placed ninth, while Linnen rounded out the top 10 with a 9.75.

“This is probably the most confident floor lineup that I have had in my time here at West Virginia,” Butts said. “It started off slow at the beginning of the year, but I just love to watch them. They know how to have fun out there. (Assistant coach) Zaakira’s (Muhammad) execution on that event is really shining through. She pays attention to all the little things, and we just look forward to watching that event shine every week.”

Five scores of 9.8 or better helped the Mountaineers top the No. 4-ranked beam lineup in the country, as Holmes-Hackerd followed Linnen in sixth place with a season-high 9.825. Abarca and Hornung tied for seventh overall with matching 9.8s, as Hornung posted a season-best score in her routine. Pierson had an unfortunate fall on her series, placing 12th with a 9.275.

“Today’s beam performances were definitely a showcase of different flights,” Butts said. “(Associate head coach) Travis (Doak) is really bringing a different approach to that event, and for us to beat the No. 4 beam lineup in the country is a real confident booster for our team.”

Looking ahead, WVU heads to Ames, Iowa, on Monday, March 1, to wrap up its Big 12 slate with Iowa State. Competition is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For more information on the Mountaineers, visit WVUsports.com and follow WVUGymnastics on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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