MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University gymnastics team suffered a 195.100-194.675 loss at Pitt on Friday evening, inside Fitzgerald Field House, in Pittsburgh.
Despite the loss, the Mountaineers took home the team titles on three events, defeating the Panthers on vault (48.8-48.65), uneven bars (49.075-48.725) and floor exercise (49.15-48.95). Pitt claimed the team victory on balance beam (48.775-47.65).
Of note, WVU scored a season high on bars and matched its season best on vault. The squad also has posted a 49.0 or better on floor in six of its last seven meets. Individually, six Mountaineer gymnasts earned 10 podium finishes, with freshman Kiana Lewis winning the vault title outright.
“It was a tough night,” Mountaineer coach Jason Butts said. “Obviously, I am disappointed in our overall performance. We came out of the gate strong, very strong, hitting a season high on bars. We kept our momentum going through vault and floor, and then we imploded on beam. We failed to capitalize on an opportunity to come away with another victory and a great road score. No athlete messes up on purpose, and it’s hard as a coach to watch a team that works so hard lose its mental edge under pressure. At the end of the day, we have to regroup and get ready for a quick turnaround on Sunday. We can’t afford a repeat performance of tonight.”
West Virginia opened the meet with a season-high 49.075 on bars, with all six gymnasts either matching or posting a season best in the event. Junior Esperanza Abarca paced the Mountaineer lineup with a season-high score of 9.875 and placed second. Juniors Kendra Combs and Rachel Hornung tied for fifth overall with matching 9.825s. Hornung’s mark was good for a career high, while Combs matched her season best. Additionally, sophomores Emily Holmes-Hackerd, Kianna Yancey and Kayla Yancey finished in a three-way tie for seventh with matching 9.775 marks. Holmes-Hackerd competed in the event for the first time since Feb. 11 and recorded a new personal best, while Kianna Yancey matched her season best and Kayla Yancey earned a season high.
Pitt’s Olivia Miller finished first on bars with a 9.9.
The Mountaineers posted a 48.8 on vault for the second straight week. Lewis finished first with a personal-best mark of 9.85 to capture her first career event win. Of note, the Hampton, Virginia, native has posted a 9.8 or better on vault in her last three meets. Sophomore Abbie Pierson scored a season-high 9.825 and placed second, while Kianna Yancey tallied 9.775 and tied for third. Kayla Yancey registered a 9.7 and tied for seventh, followed by Hornung in 11th with a 9.65. Freshman Ellen Collins made her Mountaineer debut in the anchor position, earning a 9.525 and placing 12th.
West Virginia gained momentum in the third rotation, tallying a 49.15 on floor and pushing their running total to 147.025 for the lead. Five-of-six Mountaineers scored 9.8 or better, with Combs and Pierson earning 9.85s and tying for first overall. Kianna Yancey and Hornung tied for third with 9.825s, while Lewis tied for sixth with a 9.8. Holmes-Hackerd added a 9.75 score and placed 11th.
The Mountaineers ended the meet on beam and were forced to count a pair of falls. Pierson paced the event lineup and tied for first overall with a 9.825. Hornung tied for fifth with a matching season-high score of 9.8, followed by Holmes-Hackerd in seventh with a 9.775.
“Beam has been one of our most consistent events in practice and in competition,” Butts said. “It’s an event that we are absolutely prepared for mentally and physically. That’s why tonight was such a shock. I know this team and staff will not allow this performance to be repeated. We have come to far through a crazy year full of challenges. We will be prepared on Sunday to get our climb back on track. It’s been a long few weeks of travel, and we are ready to be back home in the Coliseum.”
Additionally, Hornung competed in the all-around for the third time in her career and second time this season, posting a career-high 39.1 and placing third.
Despite tonight’s results, WVU continues to hold a 66-17-2 all-time advantage over Pitt. The Mountaineers also are 20-4-1 against the Panthers inside the WVU Coliseum.
Looking ahead, the two squads will close out the Backyard Brawl series with a meet in Morgantown on Sunday, March 14, as the Mountaineers play host to the Panthers in their final regular-season contest. Competition is set to begin at 2 p.m.
“We had some bright moments tonight,” Butts said. “We had a lot of things go right. We have athletes step up every meet, fighting to improve our performance, and tonight, was no difference. We have an incredible staff, so determined to always climb higher. We are determined to make this year a success for our program. We can get there, but are going to have to dig deep. I will definitely be asking this team to push itself to the max going into our next two competitions.”