Southern Utah University gymnastics dominated their final regular season meet at home on March 10 to send the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and San Jose State University Spartans packing. The Thunderbirds’ beautiful 196.900 team performance topped the Hawkeyes’ 196.425 score and the Spartans’ total of 195.425.
The tri-meet, dedicated as senior night, boosted SUU to a 14-5 overall record and swung momentum back into the Thunderbirds’ favor to prepare them for the upcoming Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference Championship. SUU secured a 5-1 conference record on February 22 that will remain untouched.
Starting on vault, the Thunderbirds immediately stole the lead and clutchted to it for the rest of the meet. Graduate student Caitlin Kho’s 9.900 contributed to a team score of 49.200 on the event.
SUU took their talents to the bars, where they landed the highest team score on the bars with a 49.225. Graduate student Shylen Murakami stole the show with a stunning 9.900. However, at the same time, talented Hawkeye all-around JerQuavia Henderson put up a phenomenal 9.975 on the floor to keep Iowa in range of a potential comeback.
In response, the Thunderbirds yanked out of reach again on the beam with an incredible top-five program score of 49.325. Fifth-year seniors Murakami and Karley McClain both reeled in 9.925 scores, and junior Aubri Shwartze added a 9.900.
On the floor, the team score of 49.150 was lower than usual. The Thunderbirds managed to put up four scores of 9.875 in a consistent and well-rounded team performance; however, two stumbles in their other performances led to a slightly lower score in the final spot.
Before announcing the winners, SUU honored their seniors with flowers and self-portraits from their time in gymnastics. A senior-heavy team, the Thunderbirds will lose some very talented gymnasts at the end of this year.
— Seniors stepped up: On a night appreciating them, the seniors shone in the spotlight. Kho and Murakami both slotted in at three-way ties for first in their events, Kho on the vault and Murakami on the bars. McClain tied her season high in the all-around with an impressive 39.475. For many of these Thunderbirds, it’s their final season, and it’s clear they’re more motivated than ever to claw their way to the top before they go.
— Beam is back: After nearly two weeks of struggle on the beam, SUU silenced the concerns. Tough falls on the beam resulted in losses to the Spartans in the last two meets, but this week, they put head coach Scott Bauman’s plan into action and brought their routines back to the basics. If the Thunderbirds continue to stay clean by keeping their routines skilled yet simple, the beam could easily become their strength once more.
— Floor needs to go through the roof: Typically, SUU’s largest advantage in performance is the floor, and in this meet, it was their lowest scoring event. If not for the stumbles in two of the routines, the Thunderbirds may have managed to put up 9.875s all the way across the board. If the team can manage a 196.900 with a much lower than usual floor performance, one can only imagine how high they can score with the floor team at the top of their craft.
SUU will remain at home to host the MRGC Championship on March 18 at 6 p.m. It can be viewed on ESPN+.
Story by: Kale Nelson
Photos by: SUU Athletics