SPRING SPORTS: Rocky road ahead of ISU gymnasts

Isaac Hunt

Chocolate ice cream, marshmallows and almonds make up the famed flavor known to all as rocky road ice cream.

Substitute those ingredients with the final regular-season meets against No. 18 Minnesota and No. 6 Nebraska — along with the Big 12 Championships, NCAA Regional and NCAA championships — and the ISU gymnastics team’s remaining schedule is anything but vanilla.

“I think they’ve done a really good job the past three weeks at focusing on their job and the task that is on hand,” said coach Jay Ronayne. “We keep reinforcing that that’s what Cyclones do. I don’t see the other teams being a factor.”

Factor or not, fans want to see more tallies in the win column and Ronayne said he understands that. The 5-5 Cyclones will see four top 20 teams, including No. 2 Oklahoma, before the NCAA Regional. 

“If I was an outside coach, I would hope we score 192 for the rest of the season,” Ronayne said. “We’re on the rise mentally and physically.”

The sixth-year coach said he expects his team to peak at regionals, which will be key to reaching the team’s goal of traveling to Duluth, Ga., in late April for the NCAA National Championships. 

In many interviews throughout the season and its highs and lows, the team’s goal never changed. It’s the championships or bust. 

“We need to keep performing how we have been performing and even improve on it,” said senior co-captain Michelle Browning. “We need to keep riding our confidence as we move forward.”

Some of the team’s confidence has come from its most recent victory against Minnesota in its home finale last week. Ronayne and co-captain Elizabeth Stranahan said the victory on senior night was the highlight of the first part of the season.

“Some highs have been our 9.9s this season,” Stranahan said. “Celine Paulus got a 9.95 at Denver [and] that was huge.”

Ronayne’s picks for most improved and most valuable gymnast so far this season have gone to Paulus.

A story that keeps popping up is Paulus’ ability to peak at this stage in her career. The senior owns this season’s record-highs in each event for the Cyclones.

With Paulus, fellow seniors Browning, Stranahan and Shea Anderson, four sophomores and lone freshman Caitlin Brown all performing well, this team can see the light at the end of the NCAA tunnel no matter how rocky the road is.