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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Feature | Pitt gymnastics navigates major changes in new season

Pitt+gymnasts+celebrate+during+the+NCAA+regionals+at+the+Petersen+Events+Center+in+April.
Pamela Smith | Contributing Editor
Pitt gymnasts celebrate during the NCAA regionals at the Petersen Events Center in April.

Coming into the season with a new head coach and in a new conference, Pitt gymnastics is in completely uncharted territory. 

The Panthers will compete in the ACC for the first time this season, after previously competing in the EAGL for the past 28 years. Casey Jo MacPherson will also lead the Panthers in her first season as Pitt’s head coach.

MacPherson previously coached gymnastics at Missouri for the past 10 seasons. The new head coach had a successful career with the Tigers, and she hopes to install her winning ways into her new team this season. 

“I really want to have an impact on this team by having consistency,” MacPherson said. “Being as consistent as I can, day to day to help build their consistency. I think this helps with preparation. When we get into competition, the more consistent we are, the better prepared we are.” 

Under MacPherson’s guidance, Missouri achieved the eight highest individual beam scores in the school’s history. Additionally, she has guided three of the Tigers’ gymnasts to earn All-American Team honors in the World Gymnastics Association regular season.

MacPherson said she will utilize many of the methods she learned at Missouri with the Panthers. This includes forming deep bonds with her athletes to create a winning culture.

“Something that has helped me in the past is developing relationships with student-athletes, figuring out what they need individually to improve,” MacPherson said. “I think that impacts the overall team culture, not just my relationships with them individually, but how we function as a team, how their relationships work together, with each other and the coaching staff.” 

And her methods are starting to pay off. The new Pitt head coach said she is satisfied with the team’s accomplishments thus far. She has observed that each individual gymnast has a deep-rooted enthusiasm for the sport, and this makes working for the team a great experience. MacPherson said she loves that she is a part of such a passionate team.

“We’re always trying to find ways to get better individually and as a team,” MacPherson said. “When you have that passion and desire to improve and grow, it makes the harder days a little easier. You still find ways to be productive and lean on the people around you to make the most of those hard days. The passion plays into how we do individually, and then as a team as a whole.” 

While navigating the struggles of coaching a new team is difficult, MacPherson is lucky because she already has a solid foundation of returning gymnasts at Pitt. One major returner for the Panthers in 2024 is junior Hallie Copperwheat.

Copperwheat is a decorated gymnast. Last season, the English gymnast earned her team nine individual titles — one in both uneven bars and floor exercise, three in balance beam and four all-around titles. Additionally, she earned EAGL Gymnast of the Week four times. Copperwheat ultimately broke the program record for earned titles from an individual athlete in a season. 

While Copperwheat’s accomplishments are already outstanding, she will have plenty of opportunities to build upon her success in her final two years of eligibility. MacPherson and the Panther gymnastics team is fortunate to have a leader like Copperwheat to guide them into the ACC. 

The junior gymnast said she gained leadership experience by finding success in previous seasons.

“I’ve always focused on leading by example,” Copperwheat said. “I try to be a rock for my team. I am whatever the team needs me, whatever that role looks like. I’m trying to help build our identity as a team and carry that through into the season.” 

It is not only her talent as a gymnast that makes her stand out, but also her academic excellence. Last season, she was named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll and EAGL All-Scholastic Team. Copperwheat said the life of an academic-minded student-athlete is difficult, but teaches her key skills like time management.

“It’s been a challenge,” the junior gymnast said. “But being a student-athlete and having gymnastics on the side makes you very disciplined. This teaches you time management, and having something on the side makes it easier to stay on top of everything.”

Copperwheat also noted that the culture on the team is strong. While the work is difficult, the Panthers always find time to make practices and competitions enjoyable. 

“It’s always a fun time,” Copperwheat said. “The whole team just has a sense of pride about being at Pitt. We have a lot of fun. It’s just so fun getting to bring so many different personalities onto one team and just to get to know more about each other.” 

The Panthers’ first regular season competition isn’t until January, but the team is already looking ahead. Both Copperwheat and MacPherson are excited for the upcoming season and what it has in store. 

“I’m just excited to get started,” MacPherson said. “With a new team in a new conference, it’s just really cool to be a part of that inaugural season and championship.” 

Copperwheat also shared her excitement. 

“We, as a team, have so much fun,” she explained. “This is the best time of the year. I’m excited to travel with the team and be a part of the ACC season.”

Pitt gymnastics will open their regular season schedule on Jan. 5 when they travel to Philadelphia to compete in the Keystone Classic at the University of Pennsylvania.

A previous version of this story incorrectly transcribed an interview with Hallie Copperwheat. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Pitt News regrets this error.

About the Contributor
Lily Peters, Staff Writer
Lily Peters is a sports staff writer for The Pitt News. She is a part of the College of General Studies class of 2027 and is majoring in Media and Professional Communications. Additionally, she is pursuing a certificate in Television and Broadcast Arts.