Iowa State gymnastics sneaks into third place finish at Big 12 Championship

Iowa State sophomore Laura Burns competes on the bars during the Big 12 Championships. Burns scored a 9.275 as the Cyclones finished in third place.

Austin Anderson

What appeared to be the end of Iowa State’s chances began with a fall.

Junior Madeline Johnson missed on a release move that sent her falling to the mat. The team looked on as she briefly collected herself and jumped back on the bar to finish her routine.

Her teammates weren’t worried. They didn’t need to be. One routine from each rotation gets dropped, so as long as the remaining five gymnasts hit their routines, it would be like nothing ever happened.

Sophomore Laura Burns was up second. In order to hit a clean routine, she was focused on not missing the bar on the far side, and she didn’t. But she over corrected herself too much. She missed the bar short and she, too, fell to the floor.

Senior Kelsey Paz was due up next. She watched Burns take her time and reapply chalk to her hands before she finished her routine. Paz, like all of her teammates, knew the second fall hurt. The team had just built off two strong performances on the floor exercise and balance beam to take a substantial lead over West Virginia for third place.

The Cyclones knew they weren’t going to win the meet and take down two-time defending champion Oklahoma. They knew it would take the best performance of their season to contend with No. 13 Denver.

The team wanted to beat No. 25 West Virginia but they were more focused on adding a score that would help their regional qualifying score.

Yet, the seniors knew that in each of their four years at Iowa State, they had finished in last place at the Big 12 Championships.

They also knew that Saturday was the last meet of their careers inside the walls of Hilton Coliseum.

“I definitely was in my head,” Paz said.

Before Paz went, fellow senior Hilary Green approached her to calm her down. “You do you,” Green told her.

When Paz looked around, she saw assistant coach Nilson Medeiros Savage on the side. He nodded his head, an unspoken sign of confidence.

She scored a 9.850, a score that would turn the page on two falls that could have easily solidified another last place finish. Junior Meaghan Sievers followed with a 9.875. Senior Haylee Young matched her with a 9.875 of her own, before Green finished off the meet with a 9.800.

The Cyclones were able to salvage a score of 48.675, which would keep them in contention for third place, depending on how West Virginia did.

West Virginia’s score, a 195.625, was posted on the electronic screens in Hilton, but roughly 10 minutes passed before Iowa State’s score was displayed.

“My math skills are terrible,” said coach Jay Ronayne. “I’m staring up [at the scoreboard on the screen] and there were two scores that were not up.”

Ronayne tried to calculate the scores.

“We kept coming up with that we just won,” Ronayne said.

As the teams gathered awaiting the awards ceremony, Iowa State’s score finally flashed onto the big screen. 195.625.

The screen showed the two teams had tied for third place.

“We were talking to West Virginia and we’re like ‘Are we going to [play] rock, paper, scissors or what?’” Paz said laughing. “We didn’t really know what was going on either.”

Ronayne didn’t think the tie score was correct. Young’s mom had done the math in her head from the crowd and signaled to her daughter that Iowa State should have a 195.650. The Cyclones should be in third place by themselves.

Ronayne went to the official scorer. They pulled up the sheets that had the judges handwriting on it.

It turns out Young’s score on the uneven bars was transferred from the judges wrong when the scores were counted up.

The score on the big screen changed.

Iowa State 195.650. West Virginia 195.625.

“It was exciting,” Young said. “We left so much out there. It was a little bit frustrating but at the same time, I’m super proud of how our team didn’t give up.”

Iowa State didn’t win the Big 12 Championship or get one of their six best scores of the season to improve their RQS in order to get a better seed for regionals in two weeks. They did, however, accomplish something nobody on the team had before with the third place finish.

Another positive for a senior class that has already helped change a culture.

The meet ended with the awards being handed out for the Big 12 Champions on individual events.

Paz tied for third on the floor exercise and was called up to be recognized on the stage.

“Being up there with the best in the country was pretty cool,” Paz said.

Paz wasn’t the only Cyclone on the stage.

Five people won a share of the Big 12 floor title with scores of 9.900 on floor. The last name announced drew the biggest cheer of the night. “Haylee Young.”

“I literally cannot even explain the honor it’s been to represent Iowa State,” Young said. “When they went crazy when they said my name, that was really special to me.”