Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart enters her 15th season at the helm of the University of Denver gymnastics program in 2013.
Kutcher-Rinehart has compiled an impressive 248-131-2 (.654) overall record in her 14 seasons at Denver. Her goal at DU is simple, to become the first team ever to win national championships at both the Division II and Division I levels. With the first already accomplished in 1983, her ultimate goal gets closer with every appearance at NCAA Nationals.
Kutcher-Rinehart’s teams made program history with back-to-back appearances at the NCAA National Championships in 2007 and 2008. Since arriving in 1999, Kutcher-Rinehart has led Denver to 14-consecutive appearances in NCAA Regionals and three NCAA Nationals berths. In her time leading the Pioneers, she has made believers out of skeptics, that a small private school in Denver could compete alongside traditional collegiate gymnastics powers, and the proof is in those three Nationals appearances.
In the last eight seasons, Kutcher-Rinehart’s team has set team records on two events and broken the previous team record five times, including DU’s first-ever score of 197 or higher, a feat they’ve accomplished five times since 2004. Also during that span, Kutcher-Rinehart has had individuals qualify for Nationals 10 times for a total of 17 individual NCAA qualifiers in her career, 14 more than the Denver program had in its first 16 years of Division I.
The 14-woman squad in 2012 turned in the second-highest Regional Qualifying Score in school history (196.090) to finish the regular season ranked 14th, tying the program’s third-highest mark since the GymInfo Poll began in 1997. Sophomore Moriah Martin extended the Pioneers streak of sending at least one individual to Nationals, tallying a 39.200 in the all-around at the Champaign Regional to punch her ticket to the NCAA Semifinals in Duluth, Ga. Kutcher-Rinehart led the Pioneers to the University’s first Western Athletic Conference Championship, after posting a 196.350 at the event.
In 2011, the Pioneers hosted the NCAA North Central Regional Championships for the first time since 2007, playing host to Arkansas, Florida, Boise State, Arizona and BYU. Junior Brianna Springer recorded a score of 38.250 in the all-around competition to secure her second-straight trip to the NCAA Championships, while freshman Jorie Hall scored a career-best 9.900 on the balance beam which allowed her to make her first appearance at the National meet. At the NCAA Semifinals, Springer finished 17th overall in the all-around, and Hall finished 35th on the balance beam. The Pioneers finished fourth as a team at the Regional Championships, and claimed victories over No. 16 Ohio State, No. 10 Nebraska, and No. 12 Arkansas earlier in the season.
In 2010, Kutcher-Rinehart and the Pioneers posted a season-high 196.175 in the NCAA North Central Regional Championships to finish in third place. Senior Kelley Hennigan and Springer represented the Pioneers at the NCAA Championships as individual all-around qualifiers. Springer and Hennigan placed 11th and 20th in the all-around, respectively, in Session II. DU also recorded a 49.325 on beam at Air Force on March 22, the second-highest beam score in team history.
In 2009, the Pioneers had two individual all-around qualifiers in the NCAA National Championships in Hennigan and senior Jessica López. López, who was the North Central Regional champion, finished sixth on vault in the NCAA Event Finals. Lopez earned All-American honors for her performance.
The 2008 season saw Kutcher-Rinehart lead the Pioneers to a second-consecutive berth to the NCAA Championships. Needing to answer her critics that DU could not sustain its success, her team edged host Penn State in the final rotation of the meet at the Northeast Regional Championships and went on to a 12th place finish at Nationals.
In 2007, and following six-consecutive years of near misses, DU finally returned to Nationals for the first time since 2001 and Kutcher-Rinehart helped López become the first three-time Division I All-America gymnast in school history. The Pioneers finished in fifth place in Session II of the NCAA Semifinals and 10th overall, the best finish in school history. DU scored a 195.575, behind host Utah (197.325), Stanford (197.200), UCLA (196.475), LSU (196.275), and in front of Michigan (195.100).
López finished tied for first on uneven bars to become a first-team All-American, DU’s first-ever on uneven bars, and finished tied for fifth on uneven bars with a 9.9 and tied for third with a 9.85 on floor exercise. She competed in the NCAA Event Finals, finishing15th on beam and 16th on floor.
DU made it to the NCAA Championships thanks to its second place finish at the NCAA North Central Regional Championships in front of 3,876 fans in Magness Arena, the third time DU hosted on its home floor. Kutcher-Rinehart was honored as the North Central Region Coach of the Year.
In 2005, the Pioneers finished with their highest ranking since 2002 and recorded a school-record seven-meet winning streak in which the team went 11-0. DU also upset No. 12 Arizona State on Senior Night and went 20-8 overall, matching the 2000 team’s win total. The Pioneers finished fourth at the North Central Region Championships and finished the season ranked No. 16 thanks to their 195.250 RQS, the fourth-best score among non-advancing teams.
Up until 2007, the 2001 season stood as Kutcher-Rinehart’s shining moment at Denver, as she led the Pioneers to their first-ever appearance at the NCAA Division I Championships, becoming the first small private school in NCAA history to qualify. The Pioneers earned their first-ever berth by virtue of their second-place finish at the NCAA North Central Region Championships, nearly pulling off an unthinkable upset of a Utah team that, at that time, had not lost on its home floor since 1979.
Though the Pioneers finished 12th in their first-ever trip to nationals, Kutcher-Rinehart coached her second-consecutive individual All-American in Ashley Shible, who just missed becoming Kutcher-Rinehart’s first individual athlete to qualify for an event final.
In 2000, her second season at DU, Kutcher-Rinehart had three all-around performers qualify for the national meet and coached her first All-American, as Jenny Ebdon earned second-team honors on the floor exercise at the NCAA Championships.
In her first season with the Pioneers, Kutcher-Rinehart led Denver to a No. 16 ranking and a fourth-place finish at the 1999 NCAA Region 2 Gymnastics Championships, at the time, the highest finish at a Division I postseason competition. For her efforts, she was named Region 2 Coach of the Year in her first season as a head coach.
The Pioneers have finished among the top-25 teams in the country in each of the last 14 seasons, including top-20 finishes every year since 2006. Under her tutelage, the Pioneers have broken the team scoring record on every event - including a team total of 197.875 on February 14, 2004 - and each of the top 15 scores in school history have come under her watch. In 2004, the Pioneers set school marks on vault (49.425) and balance beam (49.525) and recorded the top two road scores in program history.
Kutcher-Rinehart was named the program’s fourth head coach on August 17, 1998. She came to Denver from the University of Michigan, where she was an assistant for five seasons. During her tenure at Michigan, the Wolverines won four consecutive Big Ten Conference championships (1994-97) and placed as high as second at the NCAA National Championships (1995).
In 1997, Kutcher-Rinehart was a key component in Michigan putting out its then best-ever balance beam performance at the NCAA Championships with three gymnasts earning First-Team All-America honors. Kutcher-Rinehart was a two-time recipient of the University of Michigan’s Louise Cooley Sutherland award as the top women’s assistant coach. She is active as a member of the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches for Women (NACGC/W) and has previously served as the awards chairperson for the organization. In addition, she has served as a member of the NCAA Gymnastics Committee.
An all-around competitor with the University of Florida women’s gymnastics squad from 1989-92, Kutcher-Rinehart helped the Gators to four straight top-12 NCAA Championship finishes. The Gators’ best national finish during her career was sixth in 1991.
A native of North Miami Beach, Fla., Kutcher-Rinehart holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida (1993), and earned a master’s degree in athletic administration from Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich. (1996). She is a professional member of USA Gymnastics.
Kutcher-Rinehart and her husband Todd Rinehart, Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment at DU, celebrated their 12th anniversary last August. The couple has two children, William (8), and Ella (7). The family resides in Aurora, Colo.