MORGANTOWN, W.Va. –Individual career-high scores on balance beam pushed the West Virginia University gymnastics team to a first place, 195.95 showing this afternoon in the Wendy M. Roach Invitational at the WVU Coliseum.
No. 24 Iowa State scored 195.725 and finished in second place, while Maryland tallied a 195.45 mark and placed third.
Trailing the Terrapins by 0.175 points following two events, the Mountaineers (8-5, 2-1) surged ahead in the third rotation thanks to a season-best 49.1 showing on balance beam. WVU secured its two wins with a 49.125 point total on floor in the fourth rotation.
“Overall, I thought today was a great day for this team,” Mountaineer coach Jason Butts said. “We are lucky we have depth right now – we haven’t had this much depth in past seasons, and it allows us to juggle the lineups. We are going to need to solidify these spots soon, as we want the gymnasts to gain more confidence, but it is working right now.
“Ultimately, I was again happy to see this team overcome adversity. We had a lot thrown at us today, but they all handled everything really well.”
WVU’s victory against the Cyclones was its second of the season against a ranked opponent. The team is now 2-2 this year against ranked opposition.
Junior Zaakira Muhammad was the story of the day for the Mountaineers, finishing on the podium for three events and placing first overall with a career-high 39.4 showing in her first all-around appearance of the season. The Pennsauken, New Jersey, native scored 9.825 or better on all four events, giving her a point total which ranks No. 42 in the Mountaineer record book. Muhammad’s winning score is the top mark for a WVU all-around gymnast since Hope Sloanhoffer won the title at the 2014 Big 12 Gymnastics Championship with a 39.425 total.
“I grabbed Zaakira’s hands after she accepted her awards today, and I asked her if she was ready to believe in herself as an all-arounder,” Butts explained. “It’s so nice to see her confidence shining through. She’s an incredible athlete, and I can see her earning All-America accolades before she graduates. Zaakira performed today exactly how I thought she could, and it was great to watch.”
WVU won bars (48.825), beam (49.1) and floor (49.125) today and placed second (48.9) on vault.
Muhammad anchored the Mountaineers’ vault lineup in the first rotation with a second place, 9.875 score. Ranked No. 21 nationally, she has scored 9.85 or better seven times this season. Today’s point total was her best score inside the WVU Coliseum this year. Junior Robyn Bernard opened the lineup with a 9.825 score, also a season-high home mark, and finished tied for fourth place. Freshman Julia Merwin finished in seventh place with a 9.775 score, while sophomore Kirah Koshinski earned 9.75 and placed ninth overall. Senior Alexa Goldberg and freshman Chloe Cluchey each chipped in scores of 9.675.
Goldberg earned her fourth bars win of the season today with a 9.85 score. The Ivyland, Pennsylvania, native has scored 9.825 or better five times since making her season debut in the lineup on Jan. 21. Muhammad and sophomore Tiara Wright tied for second place with matching 9.825s, and Bernard tied for eighth place with a 9.75 score.
WVU secured the lead for good in the third rotation with its season-best 49.1 beam score. The mark is 0.275 points better than the previous season high of 48.825, earned last week at Ohio State.
In her season debut, Muhammad anchored the lineup with a winning, career-best 9.875 score. Koshinski and Wright tied for second place with matching career-best scores of 9.85. Junior Jordan Gillette placed sixth overall with a 9.8 mark, while freshman Abby Kaufman made her career WVU Coliseum debut and finished 13th with a 9.725 score. Goldberg opened the lineup with a 9.7.
“We had a great week of practice,” Butts said. “The coaching staff really stressed mental cues and fundamentals on beam, and I think it showed. We have a lot of depth on that event – there are so many great routines. I was happy to see this team mentally step up to the plate today. This is a good testament that the training and hard work is paying off.”
The Mountaineers showed grit in the fourth rotation. Competing in the lineup’s No. 3 spot, Wright took a stumble on her second pass and was unable to complete her routine. Muhammad, Cluchey and Koshinski followed with three scores of 9.825 or better, pushing the team score to 49.125, which equals the Mountaineers’ second-best point total of the season.
“These gymnasts are best friends. Emotionally, it’s hard to see a best friend go down,” Butts said of Wright’s fall. “We told the three remaining competitors to compete for Tiara. Zaakira, Chloe and Kirah stepped up with a ton of energy. Our athletes on the sideline provided a lot of energy, too. It was an incredible way to cap off a special meet – they competed for their teammate.”
Koshinski anchored the lineup with a winning 9.9 mark, her fifth event victory of the season and her sixth career floor score of 9.9 or better. She is now tied with assistant coach Kaylyn Millick at No. 10 in the Mountaineer Record Book. Cluchey and Merwin tied for third place with 9.85 marks, a career-best matching score for Merwin, while Muhammad finished fifth overall with a 9.825 score. Bernard added a 9.7.
With the win, WVU evens the all-time series against ISU at 5-5-1. The Mountaineers also pushed their series lead against UMD to 39-18-1.
WVU competes in its first two-meet weekend of the season next week. The Mountaineers first make a return trip to Pitt on Friday, March 3, and will compete against the Panthers, as well as Towson and Michigan State, at 6:30 p.m., inside Fitzgerald Field House. The team closes the weekend against the Panthers, No. 16 George Washington and Eastern Michigan in its home regular-season finale on Sunday, March 5, at 2 p.m., in the WVU Coliseum. Sunday is a Dollar Day, and all tickets will be available for $1 each.