No. 35 gymnastics is gunning toward the national stage.
The Colonials will go head-to-head against No. 36 Lindenwood in the first round of the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional in hopes of securing a spot in the second round of the national championship. The competition Thursday will mark the team’s fifth consecutive appearance in the postseason meet in a year when GW’s lineup lacks experience with 12 underclassmen.
But with a win at Towson and a second-place finish at the East Atlantic Gymnastics League Championship last week, the Colonials are heating up at exactly the right time – a trend that head coach Margie Foster-Cunningham attributes to the development of the underclassmen on her roster.
“The underclassmen, what they’re doing right now, that’s going to put us in a really great position to advance,” Foster-Cunningham said. “We’re right on target as a team to enter this week and be very consistent and battle for a spot in the second round.”
The Colonials’ second-place 195.825-point finish at the conference championship last week punched their ticket to the national competition. Six of the 10 Colonials who earned EAGL All-Tournament Team Honors were either freshmen or sophomores.
“I think we’re getting really strong at the end because our underclassman are really getting some traction, some confidence and some refined focus for what it’s like to be an NCAA athlete,” Foster-Cunningham said. “They’re extremely talented, but now they’re kind of into the groove here and people are seeing us just get better and better because of that.”
GW enters competition ranked 15 spots lower than its No. 20 national ranking at the meet last season. Per a change in the NCAA tournament structure this season, GW will compete against Lindenwood for a spot in the second round of the tournament. If the Colonials advance, they will compete against No. 3 LSU, No. 13 Auburn and No. 21 Arizona State in the next round.
Fifth-year gymnast Alex Zois and sophomore gymnast Hannah Cohen automatically qualified for the second round of competition as individuals after their performances at the conference championship. Cohen earned a score of 9.875 on the balance beam, tying her season-best score, while Zois’ 39.400 mark in the all-around competition topped the field and earned her a second day of competition.
“I’m very excited that I qualified individually,” Zois said. “I think that’s a huge accomplishment, but right now I’m focusing solely on the team because we do have a really good opportunity to qualify to the second round, and I think that it’s more beneficial.”
Foster-Cunningham said the work ethic her team has demonstrated over the course of the season gives her confidence heading into postseason competition, saying there is no team “outworking” the Colonials in the field. The next step for the Colonials, she said, will be for the 12 freshmen and sophomores to take their level of competition one notch higher.
The Colonials are set to bring five gymnasts – including three rookies – to their first national competition at the NCAA Regionals. Freshman gymnasts Simone Bannen, Olivia Raymond and Olivia Zona have been consistent contributors to GW’s success all season. At the conference championship, the trio garnered all-conference honors on both the uneven bars and balance beam events.
“Looking at it like just any other meet, even though the stakes are a little high,” Cohen said. “But if you take it normally and if you take things one at a time, then the moment doesn’t get so big.”
Even though GW already has a pair of gymnasts set to advance to the next round of the national meet, the Colonials are not ready to end their season yet.
“Our focus is to get the team to the second round, and Hannah and Alex are the same way,” Foster-Cunningham said. “They want to be with their team. Yes, it’s an honor and it’s amazing, but they want to be there with their team.”
The Colonials return to action April 4 in Baton Rouge, La.