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WVU Shines in Regular-Season Finale

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (March 14, 2021) – A pair of 49.0+ event performances propelled the West Virginia University gymnastics team to a season-high score in a 196.100-193.400 win over regional rival Pitt in its regular-season finale on Sunday afternoon, at the WVU Coliseum, in Morgantown.

The Mountaineers (2-7, 0-6 Big 12) defeated the Panthers (6-10-1, 5-7-1 EAGL) on all four events. WVU ended the meet with a 49.15 on floor exercise and a 49.125 on balance beam. West Virginia also scored a season-high 48.925 on vault and a 48.9 on uneven bars.

“It’s been a long journey getting to this point, but it’s been a fun journey,” Mountaineer coach Jason Butts said. “I told them that we have to peak at the end of the season, and that is what they are doing. Friday night was not our best overall performance, but we saw some bright moments, and we were able to capitalize on that today.

“We are peaking at the right time going into Big 12’s, and we need to do this same performance next weekend. We have landings and other issues that we can still fix, adding another half point or so to this score, so that is what we are going to focus on next week.”

Individually, six Mountaineer gymnasts earned 11 podium finishes. Freshman Kiana Lewis won the vault and floor titles outright, while sophomore Emily Holmes-Hackerd placed first on bars.

Lewis captured the vault title with a personal-best mark of 9.875. She also tallied a matching career-high score of 9.875 on floor for the event win. For the fourth consecutive meet, the Hampton, Virginia, native has scored a 9.8 or higher and has finished inside the top seven on both events. With today’s finishes, Lewis owns six career podium finishes and three event wins.

Holmes-Hackerd, a native of Ipswich, Massachusetts, posted a winning, 9.85 performance on bars. Her mark was good for a personal best, as she earned a podium finish in the event for the first time in her career.

Additionally, junior Rachel Hornung competed in the all-around for the second time in three days, posting a 39.0 and placing second. The mark was just short of her career high (39.1) set at Pitt on March 12.

“I’ve seen tremendous leadership from Rachel,” Butts said. “Her goal was to compete this year, and then her goal turned into competing in three events. Now, she is competing in all four, and to be able to do that two times in one weekend is asking a lot. She went eight-for-eight. She stepped out of bounds today on floor, but overall, she had a great performance. She has really stepped up as a leader, and I think that is something that she is going to carry over into her senior year.”

The Mountaineers opened the meet with their best vault score of the season, tallying 48.925. Pierson followed Lewis in second place with a matching season-high score of 9.825. Sophomore Kayla Yancey and Hornung tied for fourth place with matching 9.75s. Additionally, sophomore Kianna Yancey and freshman Ellen Collins added marks of 9.725 and 9.55, respectively. Hornung’s mark was good for a season high, while Collins hit a career high in the event.

Five Mountaineers finished in the top five on bars, as WVU scored a 48.9 in the second rotation for its second-best total of the year. Junior Kendra Combs and Kianna Yancey tied for third overall with matching 9.775 marks, with Kianna Yancey matching her season high for the third time this season. Junior Esperanza Abarca and Kayla Yancey scored matching 9.75s and tied for fifth, while Hornung tied for seventh with a 9.7 total.

All six gymnasts scored 9.8 or higher in the third rotation, as WVU notched a 49.0+ performance on beam for the third time this season. Hornung and Combs tallied matching season-high scores of 9.85 and tied for second. Of note, Combs competed on beam for the third time this season and for the first time since Jan. 31. Lewis posted a personal-best mark of 9.825 and tied for fourth, while freshman Chloe Asper, Holmes-Hackerd and Pierson rounded out the Mountaineers in the event standings, as each gymnast earned a 9.8 total and tied for sixth.

Pitt’s Lauren Beckwith earned the event win with a 9.875.

The Mountaineers have scored 49.0 or higher on floor in seven of their last eight meets, registering a 49.15 in their final rotation against Pitt. Kianna Yancey and Combs followed Lewis in a tie for second place with matching 9.85s. Of note, Kianna Yancey matched her season-best total in the event. Pierson tied for fourth with a 9.825, while Holmes-Hackerd tied for sixth with a 9.75. Hornung added a 9.7 mark and tied for eighth.

Looking ahead, the Mountaineers’ postseason slate starts with the 2021 Big 12 Gymnastics Championship, set for March 20, at the WVU Coliseum, in Morgantown.

WVU was set to host last year’s event, but its season was cut short just before the conference championship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. West Virginia previously hosted the event in 2014, with Hope Sloanhoffer becoming the first Mountaineer gymnast to win a Big 12 title in the all-around event.

“We have three days of practice this week,” Butts said. “We are just going to focus on doing what we did today, hitting those 24 routines and the consistency of it. I think it is exciting that our lineups are not as solid as they have been in the past. That makes them work even harder in the gym, having to prove that they deserve those spots or a chance to warmup.

“They have all bought in. I tell them all the time, even if they are in the eight or nine spot, them pushing is making everyone in front of them better. Everyone is having to fight harder to keep their spot. That is going to be the focus this week going into Big 12’s. We can only worry about the things that we can control.”

Press Release Courtesy of West Virginia University Athletics Communications

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