Miller, Coca star in all-around for Pitt gymnastics despite loss to WVU


Thomas Yang | Senior Staff Photographer

Junior gymnast Olivia Miller

By Stephen Thompson, Assistant Sports Editor

This edition of the Backyard Brawl had a different feel to it. Without fans in the stands to witness a Pitt-West Virginia gymnastics meet, the energy was slightly muted. But according to graduate student Katrina Coca, the lack of noise helped her focus, even in the face of dynamic opponent routines.

Coca said she and her teammates are taught to tune out the opposition when they perform, and the relative hush of Friday’s limited crowd made it easier to ignore the impressive floor routines West Virginia showcased.

“That’s one good thing about not having much of a crowd right now,” Coca said. “Because you can’t feel that energy drop with it being a home meet, and if it was an away meet, you can’t really feel the energy rise [for the opponent] either. So it’s easier for us to stay in our own bubble and focus on ourselves.”

Pitt gymnastics (5-9-1) took the floor of the Fitzgerald Field House for the first of three dual meets against rival West Virginia (1-6 overall, 0-6 Big 12) on Friday night. The Panthers were unable to overcome dazzling floor routines from the Mountaineers in a 195.900-194.175 loss, but an event win for junior Olivia Miller and Coca’s first trip through the all-around category softened the sting of defeat.

The Panthers opened on the vault and got off to a hot start. They posted an event score of 48.800, boosted by a career-high of 9.875 from sophomore Emily Liszewski. But in the following events, Pitt was unable to bring similar vigor.

Miller said energy brought during the vault wasn’t sustained through the remainder of the meet. The Panthers were able to finish strong with floor routine — but by then it was too little, too late. Still, Miller was encouraged by how the Panthers closed the meet.

“I think that for us, we got a little bit excited, got a little bit nervous,” Miller said. “So whenever you hold back on some of your routines when you compete, you don’t perform at your best. But I thought we did a good job with that last half of the floor lineup being really aggressive.”

The all-around category proved a bright spot for the Panthers despite the loss. Miller took home the event title and Coca marked another milestone in her return from last year’s season-ending knee injury by competing in the all-around for the first time in her long career.

“It was amazing,” Coca said. “I haven’t done that since [I was in] club. Honestly, I’m at a loss for words because I was so grateful to be given that opportunity and I’m just glad that I did well enough … I’m just very happy.”

It was a highlight of the meet for the Panthers. Head coach Samantha Snider was overjoyed to see Coca complete her inaugural run on the all-around, especially given the adversity she’s faced.

“It was really exciting to see her [in the all-around] because she’s so competitive,” Snider said. “She wanted to leave it all on the floor, so to see that come to fruition tonight and her be successful is so heartwarming and I’m so excited for her.”

Meanwhile, the Mountaineers went deep into their roster, calling upon 12 of their 15 gymnasts on roster for at least one event.

Junior Kendra Combs’ floor routine headlined the evening for West Virginia. She earned a near perfect score of 9.900 by combining extreme difficulty with expert precision. Combs also scored an impressive 9.825 for her routine on the uneven bars.

The Panthers and Mountaineers will square off again this coming Friday at the Fitzgerald Field House beginning at 7 p.m. A third dual meet between the two rivals is scheduled for March 14. Pitt will make the 75-mile trip south to Morgantown for that matchup, which is slated to begin at 2 p.m.