Southern Utah University gymnastics is preparing for one final performance before regionals in the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference Championship. The four teams from the MRGC will gather in the America First Event Center on Saturday, March 18, for one last shot to lift their National Qualifying Score before the path to nationals begins.
Currently No. 21 in NQS with 196.765, the Thunderbirds have dominated this year. In conference dual meets, the team is 5-1, with their only loss being a tumultuous trip to Boise State University. To add to their resume, SUU also took second place to beat out Brigham Young University and Utah State University in the Best of Utah quad meet, which makes them 7-1 against conference opponents this season.
The No. 34 BYU Cougars and No. 35 Boise State Broncos are barely clinging to their spots in the top 36, so this meet could potentially punch their ticket to the play-in round. With this being a crucial crunch-time meet for their competitors, it will take a consistent and well-rounded performance from SUU to overwhelm their scores.
Expectations from the gymnasts
In a tough conference, the Thunderbirds currently stand at the top. According to junior Aubri Schwartze and graduate student Karley McClain, the encouraging bond between the gymnasts motivates them to perform at the highest level they can.
“What sets our team apart is the genuine love and support that we have for one another. You can see it on the competition floor. It’s palpable,” Schwartze said. “We put a lot of hard work into getting to know each other. We pride ourselves on being there for each other inside and outside of the gym.”
Schwartze faced trouble with illness at the beginning of the season, but she overcame the challenge and has been an integral piece of the team in their closing stretch. In the Thunderbirds’ performance last week, she posted a 9.900 on the beam, a 9.875 on the floor and a 9.850 on the bars.
Even though SUU is thrilled to host the meet and have the crowd boosting the team’s spirits for the conference championship, Schwartze wants to make sure that the audience only adds extra fuel to the fire the gymnasts bring.
“Our team does our best when we stay in the moment,” Schwartze said. “The crowd definitely gives us a boost at home, but when we bring the energy ourselves and we step in there knowing that we’re ready to hit, I think that’s when we do our best.”
Another gymnast with an incredible performance last week, McClain tied her season-high in the all-around. She has to juggle several different routines every week, but it helps her to establish and maintain a rhythm that she can stay in each meet.
McClain also leads as a team captain, setting and meeting high expectations for herself as an example to her fellow athletes. She believes the key to the team’s success in the upcoming weeks will be consistency.
“We need to keep things the same, do what we do every day in practice, have fun and hit 24 for 24,” McClain said.
The Thunderbirds will host the conference championship on Saturday at 6 p.m. MST. Student tickets can be retrieved for free from the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership.
Story by: Kale Nelson
Photos courtesy of SUU Athletics