With their season drawing to a close, Southern Utah University gymnastics will return home for senior night to face the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and the San Jose State University Spartans for their final meet of the regular season.
The Thunderbirds currently stand at a 12-5 overall record and are locked in at a 5-1 conference record. Their team National Qualifying Score is 196.625, making them No. 22 of the 36 teams advancing to NCAA regionals.
By taking first with a high score in the upcoming SUU tri-meet, the team can regain the momentum they need before tournament play, having lost four of their last five matchups.
Ranked No. 24, the Hawkeyes are coming off of a low-scoring 195.275-194.200 win against Iowa State. Senior all-around JerQuavia Henderson leads the team with a No. 17-ranked floor routine. The bars, however, are the Hawkeyes’ biggest weakness. If Iowa doesn’t rise to the occasion in that event, SUU could pull away from them in the meet to stay ahead in the national rankings.
The No. 32 Spartans have gotten the better of SUU in the last two meets. After scoring 196.600 to SUU’s 196.200 last Friday in the Sacramento State Quad Meet, the Spartans struck again on Sunday to beat the Thunderbirds 195.250-196.175 in San Jose, California.
SJSU’s talented all-around Lauren Macpherson has been on fire as the season has narrowed down. If Macpherson performs like she has been, the Thunderbirds will likely have to balance her out with a talented performance from SUU’s fifth-year senior Karley McClain, who is ranked No. 24 nationally in the all-around.
Coach Bauman’s thoughts
Thirty-two-year gymnastics head coach Scott Bauman, the longest tenured coach at SUU, sees the competitive matchup between talented gymnasts as a great opportunity to improve the team NQS before regionals.
“It’s going to be a tough meet. All three of these teams are very strong, and right now, all three are going to NCAA Championships. Iowa and we are in the top 25, and San Jose State is starting to creep up into that range,” Bauman said. “It’s going to be a fantastic matchup where nobody’s going to be able to pull away from anybody. It’s going to come down to the last kid or two.”
Bauman is confident that by scoring high at the tri-meet as well as the March 18 Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference Championship, SUU can move into the top 20. To perform at such a level, the Thunderbirds will have to eliminate the uncharacteristic falls that have disturbed their rhythm.
“This team has been so solid all year long and hadn’t really counted a fall on anything, and then we had seven falls in the last three meets,” Bauman said. “It was hard to watch, but this team’s going to start coming out of this. I have no doubt in my mind. Sometimes adversity is the best crucible for learning and figuring things out.”
That adversity has been especially challenging in the last two weeks, with SUU on the road for three straight meets. With the home team advantage and the motivation of senior night fueling the gymnasts, Bauman feels the circumstances are great for a bounce-back performance.
“The crowd for our home meets is absolutely one of the best crowds in the entire country, and it really helps push us a lot of the time,” Bauman said. “We’ll have our full lineup there on Friday, and I think we’ll do much better. We’re healthy, and the girls are hungry and motivated.”
On Friday, March 10, the Thunderbirds will host the Hawkeyes and Spratans in the America First Event Center for the SUU Tri-Meet at 7 p.m. MST. The meet can be viewed on ESPN+.
Story by: Kale Nelson
Photos by: SUU Athletics