The women’s gymnastics team at DU is an incredibly talented program on campus that has and continues to earn rankings and placements in competitions at the national level. The roster consists of 14 gymnasts from all over the country. Each contribute greatly to the team’s 16th seed national rank in the NCAA. Following the 2015 season, the Pios have qualified for the NCAA Regional Championships for the 17th consecutive year. Additionally, the 16th consecutive year in which at least one gymnast for the team qualified for the NCAA National Championships.
The close-knit team is full of enthusiasm and drive that is heavily influenced by the coaches and team leaders. Last season’s team MVP, Mountain Rim Gymnastic Conference’s 2015 Gymnast of the Year, and 2015 NCAA National Championships floor runner-up, Nina McGee, (Cincinnati, Ohio) says, “We’ve really been working specifically on our team chemistry the past two years and it’s been phenomenal.” The team gets together for weekly hangouts, barbecues, movie nights, and the annual team retreat to try to build a strong team dynamic that propels the team to success during competition. Junior English major, Leah Lomonte (Katy, Texas) adds, “I think this is one of the greatest years ever for team chemistry.”
McGee, who is entering her fifth year as DU student athlete after graduating with a psychology degree last June, is pursuing a master’s degree in marketing at the University College. Balancing graduate studies and gymnastics, McGee, comments on the support from coaches and teammates saying, “Our coaches are really supportive. Our head coach, Melissa (Kutcher- Rinehart) will work with you and let you take a day off to re-focus and stay on track after a rough day at school. Which is nice so I don’t feel like I’m doing five-million things at once.”
Supporting teammates with academics, practices and competitions, is essential to the success of the team. McGee comments, “Being the oldest on the team now, it’s great still having my teammates come up and encourage me.” A great portion of the team’s morale and positivity is encouraged through the genuine fun the girls seem to have with one another. Of the 14 gymnasts on the roster, 12 are from out-of-state so the team really relies on one another for a crucial support-system. “We try to incorporate everyone as much as possible, especially the freshmen and don’t let them go into what I call their little, ‘islands’ and keep to themselves. We want everyone to feel completely open and comfortable with each other,” says McGee.
The support from the teammates within the gymnastics program transfers to the overall, camaraderie shared among athletes across all 17 varsity sports at DU. Lomonte adds, “Being a student athlete is tough because it’s so time consuming.” Pioneer athletes share the struggles of competing in Division l sports and balancing the rigorous academic load, by supporting each other within a strong athletic community that has developed on campus. McGee emphasizes, “how open our athletic department is,” across the different programs.
Fan and student attendance is an additional component that feeds the gymnastics program’s success during competitions and staying motivated throughout the season. McGee comments that, “A good base of our fan support is from local gyms.” and Lomonte adds, “The support we get is always great, we’d like to see more student support though. It’s easier [for us] to perform with a larger audience to bounce energy off of.” McGee described a rare occurrence in her career where the team was writing the time of their meet on the pavement outside their facility in chalk and were confronted by a student who wasn’t aware Denver even had a gymnastics team. While that clearly isn’t a common occurrence since the meets are frequently packed and have even required an overflow into Magness Arena, the team still wants the support and recognition for their accomplishments that they are rightfully entitled to. McGee says, “We literally love when we sellout and move into Magness, its a huge accomplishment for the team and means we’re doing everything right.”
After two seasons with the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference (MRGC), the Pios joined the Big XII Conference for the upcoming 2016 season. The decision to join the Big XII Conference, “provides [us] with increased exposure and will help prepare [our] program for postseason success,” according to head coach, Kutcher-Rinehart in an interview.
Denver will host five home meets during the 2016 season, in which the team will compete against other strong, high-ranked teams like Iowa State, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and select teams from the Pac-12 Conference, prior to the Big Xll Championships in mid-March and the NCAA Gymnastics Championships in the beginning of April. Tickets to attend the exciting meets, supporting Denver’s talented gymnasts are on sale now can be purchased online. News and specific details to keep up-to-date with the team can be found via their interactive Twitter and Instagram pages: @du_gymnastics. Make sure to support the outstanding program as they embark on the 2016 season.