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Season Preview: Gymnastics Ready for First Season in the Big 12

Denver Gymnastics opens its 2016 season at home on Saturday, January 9, at 6 p.m.
Jan. 6, 2016

DENVER – The 2016 women’s gymnastics season gets underway this week and marks the University of Denver’s first season as an affiliate member of the Big 12 Conference. The Pioneers will kick off conference competition during the season opener on Saturday, January 9, in Hamilton Gymnasium.

Head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart will lead the Pioneers for her 18th season in 2016 with one goal in mind: a team berth to the NCAA National Championships, set for April 15-17 in Fort Worth, Texas.

DU returns 10 student-athletes from its 2015 squad, including two-time All-American Nina McGee (Cincinnati, Ohio). Joining McGee and the Pioneers in 2016 are four freshmen from Colorado, Florida and North Carolina.

“This is going to be an exciting year,” head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart said. “Building off the character this team has shown the last few years and adding in this year’s talent, I think we’re primed to make some waves on the national stage.”

SENIORS

DU’s senior class brings team leadership, passion and success to the 2016 squad. Returning for her fifth and final season is Nina McGee, who finished tied for second on floor and No. 11 in the all-around at the 2015 NCAA National Championships. She earned conference Gymnast of the Year and DU Female Athlete of the Year honors, and tied the third highest all-around score in program history (39.625) in 2015.

Katie Menhinick (Paramus, N.J.) will look to build on a successful 2015 season in which she won her first all-around title, and set career highs on all four events and in the all-around. Emily Barrett (Norman, Okla.) posted career highs on vault, bars, floor and in the all-around in 2015, and competed on vault and bars in every meet.

Maggie Laughlin (Scottsdale, Ariz.) also set numerous career highs in 2015, including a 9.950 on floor, an event in which she competed every meet and earned two conference Specialist of the Week honors. Morgan Tolman (Northridge, Calif.) returns as a floor specialist who performed an exhibition routine in 2015.

“I can’t be more proud of the senior class this year,” said Kutcher-Rinehart. “They’ve show tremendous leadership during the preseason already and will continue to be effective and valued leaders throughout the year.”

JUNIORS

The three Pioneer juniors contributed heavily to Denver’s line-ups in 2015 and will look to continue that trend in 2016. Rachel Fielitz (Walden, N.Y.) finished the regular season tied for No. 24 nationally on vault and earned first-team all-conference honors on vault—in addition to her three consecutive conference Specialist of the Week awards in March.

Julia Ross (Henderson, Nev.) won her first collegiate all-around title in 2015 during her first all-around appearance since high school, helping earn her conference Gymnast of the Week honors. She also earned second-team all-conference on bars during the conference championships.

Two-event specialist Leah Lomonte (Katy, Texas) competed on beam in every meet in 2015, posting a career high on the event (9.950) in February and earning first-team all-conference honors on the event.

“I’m excited for the juniors’ contribution,” said Kutcher-Rinehart. “They had a lot of success competitively last year, and they’ll only continue to grow this year. It’s been exciting to watch them mature as a class this preseason.”

SOPHOMORES

Denver’s two sophomores look to bring depth to the team’s line-ups in 2016. Nikole Addison (Fort Myers, Fla.) competed in all but one meet for DU in 2015, appearing in 33 routines and contributing all but four of her scores to the team’s total.

Claire Hammen (Loveland, Colo.) returned from injury midway through the season, performing in all four exhibition routines on February 21 before making her collegiate debut with a 9.725 on beam on March 9.

“We’re excited to have Nikole back. Her competitive consistency gives confidence to the team,” said Kutcher-Rinehart. “And we’re looking forward for Claire to contributing to line ups this season, especially after how confident she’s been performing during the preseason.”

FRESHMEN

The Pioneers welcome four freshmen in 2016: Grace Broadhurst (Broomfield, Colo.), Diana Chesnok (Charlotte, N.C.), Claire Kern (Charlotte, N.C.) and Kaitlyn Schou (Orlando, Fla.).

Broadhurst finished fifth on bars at 2015 JO Nationals and qualified to Level 10 Regionals in each of the last three seasons. Chesnok graduated high school early to join the Pioneers in 2016 and qualified twice to JO Nationals, finishing second on vault and third on beam in 2014.

Kern qualified to JO Nationals three times, and placed third on bars and sixth in the all-around in 2011, and ninth on vault in 2012. Schou, too, qualified three times to JO Nationals and competed at Level 10 Regionals every year since 2011, finishing first on beam and third in the all-around and on floor in 2013, as well as second on floor in 2014.

“We have a wealth of talent from the freshmen class—coming from some of the top gyms around the country,” said Kutcher-Rinehart. “We expect them to contribute on all four events for the team right out of the gate.”

PRESEASON COACHES POLL

Denver comes in at No. 16 in the Preseason Coaches Poll, the team’s highest preseason ranking since 2011. On the Pioneers’ schedule in 2016 are 10 teams ranked inside the top 36, including No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 4 Alabama.

All four Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 36. In addition to Oklahoma and Denver, Iowa State is ranked No. 28, and West Virginia is No. 31.

"We’ve had a very successful preseason,” said Kutcher-Rinehart. “Our 14 student-athletes trained with a sense of pride and love for gymnastics that will inevitably show throughout the year.”

2016 OPPONENTS & SCHEDULE

The Denver squad will compete against teams from its own conference (Big 12), as well as the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences—five of which finished the 2015 season ranked in the top 25 final rankings.

DU will host West Virginia, Southern Utah and Washington in January; Utah State, Iowa, SE Missouri and Illinois-Chicago in February; and Minnesota and Air Force in March. Denver will make trips to Iowa, Bowling Green, Penn State (with Alabama and Cornell), Air Force (with Minnesota) and Washington (with Seattle Pacific).

In February, the Pioneers will join Oklahoma, George Washington and Utah State at the Perfect 10 Challenge meet, hosted at a neutral site in Oklahoma City.

The 2016 season will be Denver’s first as an affiliate member of the Big 12 Conference. DU will compete against two of the three other Big 12 teams during the regular season: West Virginia at home and Oklahoma at the Perfect 10 Challenge. All four teams (including Iowa State) will meet at the 2016 Big 12 Gymnastics Championship on March 19 at a neutral site in Frisco, Texas.

NCAA Regionals meets are set for April 2 at six locations across the nation: Gainesville, Fla.; Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Salt Lake City, Utah; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Iowa City, Iowa; and Minneapolis, Minn.

Tickets are now on sale for the 2016 season. Season tickets for all five of DU’s meets are only $35, and single-meet tickets are $9. For ticket information, visit denverpioneers.com/tickets or call the Ritchie Center Box Office at 303-871-2336.


 

 

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