All of West Virginia’s proverbial horses for the winter will be out of the gate on Friday once the Mountaineer gymnastics squad embarks on its season. They will be the last team to get started in this part of the calendar, joining an already full schedule of WVU athletics.
Here’s what you missed last week, and here’s what to keep an eye out for this week:
Current record: 1-0
Last week: WVU earned a victory in its season-opening meet against Akron, 4715-4665.
Freshman Molly McGhin was the star of the event, finishing in first place with an aggregate score of 1180. She was closely followed by sophomore Calista Smoyer, who notched an 1178.
McGhin wasn’t the only fabulous freshman for West Virginia against the Zips. Tal Engler and Matt Sanchez also shined, topping the standings in individual smallbore and air rifle, respecitvely.
Despite the team victory, WVU slipped in the national rankings due to a three-way tie for the top spot between Kentucky, Ole Miss and TCU.
This week: The fourth-ranked Mountaineers have their first ranked matchup of the season — twice — against Ohio State. They face the Buckeyes in a home-and-home, in Morgantown on Jan. 23 followed by a trip to Columbus on Jan. 26.
Current record: 3-2 (0-1 Big 12)
Last week: The Mountaineers hosted Bucknell and Oklahoma over the weekend, snagging a win over the Bison but falling to the Sooners.
“I think we’re getting better,” Coach Tim Flynn told ESPN+ after the meet. “We have a young team. It hurts to lose….But we had a chance to beat a good team, we’ve just got to get a touch better. They’re just a touch better, but I liked what I saw.”
Noah Adams stayed on his tear to start the season, defeating BU’s Luke Niemeyer, and edging OU’s Jake Woodley (the 12th-ranked wrestler at 197 pounds) to remain the top-ranked grappler in his class.
Freshman Peyton Hall also performed well enough to stay in the rankings at 165 pounds for the second week after defeating 26th-ranked Jake Stiles of Oklahoma. Killian Cardinale (125 pounds) also held onto his spot in the rankings after beating Bucknell’s Brandon Seidman.
This week: The Mountaineers are off this week, and return to the mat when they host Northern Colorado on Jan. 31.
Swimming and Diving
Current record: 0-1
Last week: WVU didn’t compete last week, but some individual Mountaineers received honors from the Big 12.
Swimmer David Dixon was awarded as the Big 12’s co-swimmer of the week after taking two wins against Pitt, while also contributing to the second place finish of the 400 freestyle relay team. He was also on the 200-meter medley relay team that finished third.
Dixon earned the nod alongside Carson Foster of Texas.
Diver PJ Lenz got the diver of the week honor after setting a program record against Pitt on the 3-meter springboard with a score of 396.98. He also snagged a win on the 1-meter springboard.
This week: WVU doesn’t compete this week and returns to the pool on Jan. 29 and 30 when they host Notre Dame.
2019-20 record: 11-8 (0-2 Big 12)
The offseason: The story of the last ten months or so for WVU gymnastics is a familiar one across the college athletics world — just as the season was about to reach its climax, everything ground to a sudden halt.
“Our first major hurdle was the way that season ended last year right before we were getting ready to host the Big 12 Championships and start the postseason,” said Coach Jason Butts. “That in and of itself was devastating for our graduating seniors last year, and also for our team that was at that time hitting its stride.”
Butts isn’t kidding — the Mountaineers finished the season winning five of its last seven meets, and was set to host its final meet of the regular season when it all stopped. Then, came the isolation.
“The next challenge that came up was that most of [our student-athletes] had to take four or five months off of training,” he said. “Because even the club gyms that they come from back home were closed down as well.”
Now, of course, the squad has set its own precautions to make sure everyone stays safe — which is another obstacle altogether. That’s allowed them to get their season rolling, and Butts is excited to get started.
There are nine returners in this year’s team. McKenna Linnen brings the bulk of WVU’s experience, alongside Michelle Waldron. This senior duo combines for 61 meets in their career. Linnen is also the most prolific on the squad, with 671.225 points in her career.
Juniors Esperanza Abarca and Rachel Hornung are on a quest to reach the 500 career-point milestone, with each sitting just around 42 points away from hitting the milestone. Sophomores Abbie Pierson and Kianna Yancey are also back in Morgantown after combining for 10 podium finishes as freshmen.
Butts is also excited to debut six freshmen this season.
This week: WVU opens its season when it hosts No. 2 Oklahoma on Friday at 7 p.m.