This season, the Denver Pioneers have seen a huge amount of success, breaking multiple program records and ending the regular season ranked fifth in the nation, their highest ever program ranking. With a roster of just thirteen gymnasts, the Pioneers are a small but mighty team and will be making a run for their first appearance in the Final Four Team Final at this year’s NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth.
After struggling to fill all six spots in each event lineup in 2017 and 2018, the arrival of a strong freshman class has added depth to the program and provided backup routines on each event. This added depth along with striking a good balance between athletics and academics has helped the Pioneers reach new levels of success. Head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart saw the potential in this team early in the year, stating that the “phenomenal leadership” from team captains Claire Kern and Maddie Karrhas really pulled the team together.
The gymnasts are incredibly supportive of their teammates and a favorite memory from this year was Grace Broadhurst’s bar routine on senior night in front of a home crowd. Battling knee injuries throughout college, Broadhurst’s routine on senior night was her competitive debut. Kutcher-Rinehart stated that Broadhurst is an excellent role model for the team, showing persistence, grit, determination, and acting as “the glue that keeps everything together.”
The Pioneers are a tightly knit team that spends a lot of time together. Getting to experience life as a team is one of Karr’s favorite parts of college gymnastics, and Kutcher-Rinehart believes that this is part of what has made this team so strong. The team is built around a philosophy of “teamwork, character, and excellence.”
The gymnasts on the team are much more than just athletes. They focus on having a “growth mindset” and on building character, stated Karr. Kutcher-Rinehart wants to prepare her gymnasts for life after college, making sure they are academically and professionally prepared.
Rather than pushing for perfection in gymnastics during postseason, she wants to make sure every athlete gets the recovery time she needs. Going into regionals, Karr stated that she is focusing on consistency in academics, getting proper nutrition and sleep, and making sure she balances school with gymnastics.
Among the excitement of competing and breaking records, Kutcher-Rinehart emphasizes being present and staying in the moment. By focusing on one competition and one day at a time, the team can focus on “being proud of their gymnastics.”
Watching the team’s pre-season training this season, Kutcher-Rinehart knew this could be an exceptional team. They just needed to perform up to their full potential in competition. Throughout the season, Kutcher-Rinehart stated that she loved seeing the athletes “capitalize on their training” and seeing their competition performances match their training sessions in the gym. She credits the athletes for continuing to push the program to new heights, as they are “self-driven” and show great teamwork and character, both on and off the mat.
Behind the incredible success that the Pioneers have had in 2019 are hours of work, both in and out of the gym. In Kutcher-Rinehart’s 21st season as head coach, the Pioneers will look to continue their tradition of excellence and break more records as a program. The Pioneers moved up to number four in the nation following their win at the NCAA Corvallis Regional last week, defeating three-time national champions Florida and advancing to nationals over the typical powerhouse Gators.
Denver comes into the national championships having a very good opportunity to achieve a program-best finish at nationals, with the Final Four a very realistic possibility, though that doesn’t seem to be the focus of their preparation. They continue to work day by day, meet by meet, working to become a better team, better student-athletes, and performing calm, confident gymnastics and that mindset might just be why the Pioneers are paving the trail for Denver gymnastics teams to come.Tags: 2019 Final Four Team Final, 2019 NCAA Regionals, 2019 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships, Big 12, Claire Kern, Denver, Denver Pioneers, Final Four Team Final, Grace Broadhurst, Maddie Karr, Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart, NCAA Corvallis Regional, NCAA Gymnastics, NCAA Regionals, NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships