The Arizona GymCats had come out victorious over one Pac-12 team this season when they defeated Oregon State in a tri-meet in January. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t during the Pac-12 season. Arizona’s 196.150 to 195.225 victory over the Stanford Cardinal on Sunday finally got them in the win column in Pac-12 competition.
“I think it means a lot,” Arizona head coach John Court said. “Because one of the things that we talked about this week, we’ve been very consistent, but we would like to see a scoring spike. We just had the brutal part of the Pac-12 schedule. And the Pac-12 is hard, from top to bottom, but there are certain meets that you want to be competitive in, and certain meets you want to be competitive and win. We felt that this meet was one of those opportunities to do that. So the winning part is important. It is important to our program, and it’s important to the athletes. It’s something that they wanted to do.”
Freshman Sirena Linton, who made her home debut against the Cardinal, was a big reason the GymCats got that first Pac-12 win. Linton put up a 9.75 on vault and a big 9.875 on balance beam. That beam score tied her with teammate Kennedi Davis for the meet high on the apparatus and helped Linton earn the designation of Arizona’s Athlete of the Meet. The score was a personal best for both Linton and Davis.
“Balance beam is her event,” Court said of Linton. “She’s a beamer. You look at the difficulty, she had the hard three-flight series and the double toe turn and stuck the dismount. That was her first time in the beam lineup competitively... And, thankfully, she went in and did a great set.”
Linton wasn’t the only one to put up big numbers in an unfamiliar situation. Junior Payton Bellows performed a Yurchenko 1.5 for 9.85 to tie teammate Jenny Leung for second on the vault, both falling just .025 behind Stanford’s Kyla Bryant. It was Leung’s personal best on the event.
“We put (Bellows) in in Seattle,” Court said. “Right now we’re vaulting pretty well, and if we can get to a 49 before Payton goes or close to 49 and she’s making them in warm ups, then we’re going to go ahead and we’re going to do that, because it’s what’s right for the team score. And she had a good day warming it up. We changed what she does in the four-minute touch to give her a little bit more comfort. And then she went and remembered her cues and executed a pretty good vault for this time of year and she was very happy.”
Bellows is one of only two Arizona gymnasts performing the Yurchenko 1.5, which requires the athlete to perform an extra half-twist in the air and make a blind landing.
“Maddi (Leydin) wanted some company,” Court joked.
The start value of 10.0 means the Yurchenko 1.5 is more likely to earn a big score than the Yurchenko full performed by most of the GymCats. That vault has a 9.95 start value.
The meet win is a positive development for the GymCats as they prepare to travel to Berkeley next weekend to face California. However, it won’t play into their postseason fate. That relies on National Qualifying Scores (NQS) which will go into effect beginning this week.
Prior to the week that NQS scores kick in, NCAA gymnastics teams are ranked according to their overall average score for the entire season. The GymCats were at No. 22 going into this week based purely on that overall average. Beginning this week, teams will be able to drop scores to arrive at their NQS.
The NQS is figured by taking a team’s top six meets of the season, three of which must be on the road. The high score is dropped, and the remaining five are averaged.
“We very well could drop in the rankings,” Court said. “I would expect us to because our away scores need to be higher. When we go to Berkeley we need to really knock it out of the park. Or in Berkeley at least get that same score we got at Washington, if not a little bit higher, and we’ll all feel better about our NQS.”
When it comes time to qualify for regionals, the teams who rank in the top 36 according to NQS will qualify as teams. Individual gymnasts can also qualify based on their all-around or individual event scores, even if their teams do not.