MORGANTOWN — WVU senior gymnast Zaakira Muhammad isn’t the least bit stressed coming off a season of advancing to the NCAA championships and earning second-team all-America honors on floor exercise.
“I feel like there isn’t pressure,” the all-arounder said after her 16th-ranked Mountaineers fell to No. 14 Arizona State, 196.475-195.875, on Jan. 14, at the Coliseum.
“After nationals, I thought there was a lot of pressure, but coming in knowing that I have teammates who have my back I know that there isn’t pressure on me because if I mess up someone will pick up my slack.”
Nobody needed to pick up the girl they call “Z” on this day.
A home crowd of 1,171 watched as she tied her career high on beam (9.875), tying for second overall there and on vault (9.85). Muhammad also tied for third on bars (9.825).
Muhammad placed second in the all-around (39.35), coming up just shy of her career best (39.4)
“As a senior, to be doing your best gymnastics is incredible,” WVU coach Jason Butts said.
Butts, though, doesn’t want Muhammad fixating on scores. He’s more interested in her savoring every moment of her final season of college gymnastics.
Besides, she’s already secured the honor of having a life-sized photo of herself going up on the wall at the team’s Cary Gym training facility.
That’s a perk every WVU gymnastics all-American receives.
“We’ve just told her to relax and have fun this year and enjoy your senior year,” Butts said. “She has such a positive attitude.
“I told her to let that be out there for your teammates and you. That’s one of the things that make her such a strong leader.”
Her teammates understand that.
“I am super proud of ‘Z,’ and the leader that she’s been for this team,” said junior Jaquie Tun, who tied for second overall on bars (9.85). “She’s our senior, and so I really look up to her and everything that she does.”
Muhammad never moped after what was, by her high standards, an uneven performance in WVU’s season-opening loss to No. 2 Florida, on Jan. 5.
She simply returned to Cary Gym and went to work.
“Last week, my floor was a little messed up,” Muhammad said. “I went in and tried to fix that.
“On the beam, I had some bobbles and focused on that. On the other two events, I focused on the little things to get those tenths (of points) back.”
Muhammad hopes that correcting those little things will ultimately add up to big things for her and her teammates.
Her goal is not just to make it back to the NCAA championships, it’s to make it back with her teammates.
There’s a big difference there.
“I feel like we have the same potential as last year,” Muhammad said. “The team is basically the same team as last year, only with a few additions. I feel like the gymnastics ability has grown a lot, so I feel like we are definitely capable of getting there and that is the goal.”
Junior Kirah Koshinski won the vault (9.9), and freshman McKenna Linnen placed third on floor (9.85). WVU hit 23 of 24 routines, improving its scores on all four events. “They worked really hard to make sure we could show tremendous improvement, and we did,” Butts said. “You can’t ask for more than that, especially with this being our second meet here.”
WVU (0-2) returns to the Coliseum Sunday, hosting George Washington and Towson, at 2 p.m. It’s the Mountaineers’ third straight home competition to open the season. “Since I’ve been here, this is the first season we’ve started at home, and I feel like that is an advantage because we are more comfortable in our home arena,” Muhammad said. “We can get all those jitters out, so once we do start going into different arenas and different equipment then we’ll be able to know how to cope with everything that is going on.”