Ronayne, Cyclones hungry for Big 12 Championships


Photo: Yue Wu/Iowa State Daily

Celine Paulus, front, and Michelle Browning are both seniors on the ISU gymnastics team.

Isaac Hunt

The ISU gymnastics team won its first conference championship in 2000. The banner from that championship hangs in the practice gym that coach Jay Ronayne walks into almost everyday. 

The season before Ronayne became coach, the Cyclones won another conference title in 2006. With the window open and his team peaking, the coach is itching for a title.

“We’ve won two [conference] championships,” Ronayne said. “There’s a [2000] team picture [in our gym]. I love that picture because of what it represents.

“But I would also love to replace that picture.”

“Satisfying” is a word Ronayne continued to repeat when asked what it would mean personally to win. But he does not want to win for his own personal gain, he wants to win for the gymnasts he has seen put in so much hard work.

“I want their picture to be up there,” Ronayne said. “I want them to join that crowd. Those alumni mean a lot to Cyclone gymnastics. To join them would be an incredible feeling, and I want them to have that feeling. Now’s the time.”

The time is now

“It’s up to us to do our job,” Ronayne said. “Focus on things we can control, and let other teams make a mistake.”

“Mistake.” A word that followed this team, like Mary’s little lamb, wherever they went. In the past four meets, however, this team has only had to count a fall once. 

“Our plan for this week is to go out and hit 24 routines that are great-looking,” Ronayne said. “Stick a bunch of dismounts, and we have a shot, especially if Missouri or Oklahoma make one mistake. We plan on being there to capitalize.”

Ronayne said if Oklahoma is able to stay near perfection and not count a fall, it will be the Big 12 Champion. But Missouri will not be an easy out. 

“From top to bottom, everyone sees it as the most important meet of the year,” said Missouri coach Rob Drass. “To win that is one of those huge victories.” 

The gymnasts who will take him there

“At this point in time, competing seems to be about focus and a mental edge,” Drass said. 

No athletes have been more focused than the two senior all-arounders Michelle Browning and Celine Paulus, who have combined for four Big 12 Gymnast of the Week awards this season.

“We haven’t won the Big 12 since 2006,” Paulus said. “It would show everyone that we’re capable of big things.”

The two have been on fire the whole season and are familiar names to those who follow ISU gymnastics. Their last time out, they scored their highest all-arounds of their careers.

Browning and Paulus have worked four years for this moment, and they are not going to let it slip out of their hands. 

“[Winning] would mean the world to me,” Browning said. “This is the team, this is the year.”

No. 25 Iowa State will match up against No. 19 Missouri and No. 2 Oklahoma at 4 p.m. on March 24 at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.