No. 11 Hilltoppers Prevail in Season Opener
Acrobatics & Tumbling Team Holds Off Upset-Minded Bobcats
WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – The No. 11-ranked West Liberty University acrobatics and tumbling team had to fight off a determined upset bid from a much-improved West Virginia Wesleyan team here Thursday night to pull out a 235.45-234.05 victory in a mutual season opener inside the ASRC.
A huge crowd turned out to see head coach Kelsey Kyle’s Hilltoppers competing as a nationally-ranked squad for the first time in the brief history of the WLU program and those spectators were treated to a tightly-contested match that wasn’t decided until the final event.
“I’m very thankful to get out of here with a win tonight but I was so impressed by the size of the crowd,” Kyle said. “We looked up in the stands at the start of the match and saw our families, students and professors. We are so appreciative of all the support.”
West Liberty opened up an early lead with convincing wins in the first two events, Compulsory and Acro. The Hilltoppers won the Compulsory event by a 34.25-31.20 margin – keyed by a 9.45 score in the Toss heat – before stringing together three consecutive heat scores of 9.15 or better to win the Acro event, 27.60-25-75.
The Bobcats, who traveled without head coach Alexa Johnson, took advantage of a WLU major deduction during the Pyramid event to close the gap significantly before halftime. Wesleyan won the Pyramid event by a 27.65-23.90 margin and trailed just 85.75-84.60 at the break.
“I have to give Wesleyan a lot of credit for competing as hard and as well as they did tonight without Alexa being able to make the trip,” Kyle said. “Alexa and I were teammates at Fairmont State and we’re still great friends. It’s an excused absence since she just gave birth to a beautiful baby last week. She has to be really proud of her team.”
The visitors continued to close the gap when action resumed with the Toss event. Wesleyan won all three heats to take the Toss event by a 25.65-24.45 count and took the overall lead by the slimmest of margins –110.25-110.20 – heading into the Tumbling event.
“We do have several veterans back who have been with us for a while,” Kyle said, “but with a large freshman class and several sophomores filling expanded roles, half my team probably hasn’t ever competed before a crowd like this before tonight. I expected some first-match jitters – maybe not to this extent – but in the end our tumblers came through for us.”
West Liberty eked out a win in the Tumbling heat, 47.40-46-95, which enabled the hosts to take a narrow 157.60-157.20 lead into the Team event.
Both teams experienced highs and lows during their Team event routines and spent the next few minutes on pins and needles awaiting the final scores from the 3-person judging panel.
When the numbers were in, West Liberty had won the Team event by exactly one point – 77.85-76.85 – and could begin celebrating a 235.45-234.05 victory.
“We made a lot of mistakes tonight but in the end we were able to come away with the win and that’s what matters,” Kyle said. “All the mistakes I saw were correctable and we had several girls make really strong impressions.
“Abbey Horvath was awesome. She’s just a freshman but she’s in almost every event and performed really well in her first collegiate match. Mareena Scalia is a returning MEC champion and her tumbling was beautiful tonight. Avery Ray is another freshman who did really well tonight.”
The Hilltoppers have a week to work out the kinks before they return to MEC competition. Next up for the Black and Gold is a tri-match on Feb. 24 when West Liberty takes on Alderson Broaddus and Davis & Elkins on the Battlers’ home mats in Philippi, W.Va.
“Everybody gets an off day tomorrow so they can relax, think about tonight and maybe take a few deep breaths,” Kyle said. “We’ll get back to work on Saturday and start preparing for that tri-match.”