No. 23 Cyclones drop a spot, gain confidence

Chris Cuellar

After beating visiting Auburn with a 193.475, Iowa State’s highest season-opening score since 2007, the Cyclones dropped a spot in the national rankings.

With No. 11 Nebraska coming to town Friday, it couldn’t matter less.

Gymnastics coach Jay Ronayne was in great spirits at Monday’s news conference, and feeling confident about the progression of his squad.

“The big story is the tale of two Michelles,” Ronayne said with a grin on his face.

Browning and Shealy, to be clear. The two Michelles are Iowa State’s top all-around gymnasts, and helped carry Iowa State to a win.

The Cyclones overcame a slow start against Auburn to come back and grab the victory, but the Tigers’ missteps won’t likely be replicated by the Cornhuskers.

“Against quality oppnents, you usually don’t get the chance to come back from that,” Ronayne said. “Auburn left the door open to do that. I don’t anticipate Nebraska being as generous. I think we have to start off way stronger on vault.”

In home meets, teams start with the vault and finish with the floor exercise. Carried by strong closing scores from junior Michelle Browning and freshman Michelle Shealy, the Cyclones pulled out an all-around individual win and a meet victory.

The floor exercise hurt Auburn in the end, and while Nebraska still finished with a higher overall score than Iowa State in its defeat, the Cyclones feel the squared mat is their place to succeed.

“For years I’ve always thought that floor is what saves the day,” Ronayne said. “You have to have the confidence going into that event, that even if we’re down but a couple tenths of a point that we’re going to make it up right here. That’s the feeling we had.”

Browning, a Houston native who has returned early from an injury that was supposed to have her rehabilitating through March is expected to carry this young squad. She finished with the tenth highest score in the country in the all-around against Auburn, and is one of just six ISU gymnasts in the second half of her college career.

“She’s a special athlete and special person,” Ronayne said. “[Michelle] is a very, very determined young lady.”

Shealy, who tied for the nation’s sixth highest balance beam score against Auburn, is already making noise in her Cyclone debut. Her coach isn’t the slightest bit surprised.

“She’s a superstar in the making — she started the season as probably one of the top 20 gymnasts in the country and she’s going to be in the top 10,” Ronayne said. “Her talent is very apparent.”

Iowa State will meet with Nebraska at 7 p.m. on Friday and it will be the 111th meeting in series history.