Tips and advice from those who know
A Florida Gator gymnast from 1989-92, Kutcher-Rinehart was a Michigan assistant for five years before
taking over the Denver University team in 1998. She led
the Pioneers to NCAA appearances in 2007 and ’08,
and helped Jessica Lopez to become the program’s first
three-time All-American. Kutcher-Rinehart spoke with
IG Editor Dwight Normile about her challenges of building a top program at a private university.
Jessica Lopez of Venezuela was
an All-American for DU. Is recruiting foreign students tricky? Part
of the mission of the university is to
diversify the campus culture. Our
admissions office actively recruits
international students, so we’re merely an extension of [that]. The school
systems in each country are so different; getting international student-athletes through the NCAA eligibility
center is our greatest challenge.
DU qualified a full team to the NCAAs in recent y ears. How have
you been able to crack into that elite group of women’s college
teams? Just plain nose-to-the-grindstone, hard work. Our student-athletes are extremely dedicated and work very hard. We’re building a
championship tradition at Denver, the pillars of which are Teamwork,
Character and Excellence. We have high expectations for our program
and our student-athletes.
Does training in the mile-high city
increase the endurance of your
gymnasts over time? Are visiting
teams at a disadvantage? Gymnastics is an anaerobic sport, so the
benefits of training at altitude are not as great as they might be for a
runner or a cyclist. I believe it’s beneficial to our athletes, because the
natural adaptations that occur while living and training at altitude help
them process oxygen better. I think it can be a mental obstacle for
opposing teams, but physiologically it shouldn’t make a difference.
What is the most difficult part of the recruiting process for you,
coming from a private school? Not having a football team can be a
bit of a challenge to overcome in the recruiting process. What a lot of
people don’t know is that DU has been the No. 1 athletics program in
the nation without football for the last three years. Gymnastics has a
great fan base, hockey is a major draw and our basketball team is looking to make a national statement in the next few years. I don’t see a
lack of football as a major deterrent because we have so much more to
The weather in Denver is unbelievable, with an average of 300 days
of sunshine a year. The city offers so much to do year round. There’s a
light rail station which connects our campus with the city and a major
retail center to the south. Academically, the university is outstanding.
“We feel that
some of those
athletes will consider Denver if
they want to
rather than just
be a part of it.”
The Super Six was almost
replaced by a four-team NCAA
final this year. Your thoughts? I’m
an advocate of anything that elevates
our profile in the media and brings
more positive attention and fans.
Through the course of discussion on
this matter I’ve heard pros and cons
on both sides of the debate. I don’t
know if I can say that I’ve made up
my mind on this yet.
Any rules you would like changed? I think our coaches association
does a good job of monitoring the rules and making changes that are in
the best interest of our student-athletes and collegiate gymnastics.
What does DU have to offer that is unique to other sc hools
There’s a personal touch to Denver that you just can’t get at the larger
universities. We’re a mid-sized private school which makes us quite
unique considering the level of our gymnastics program. We’re making
progress on our mission to build a championship tradition at Denver. In
2001 we became the first school of our size to qualify for the national
championships, and we made back-to-back appearances in 2007 and
2008. Also, the learning environment here is more intimate, with a
10:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and class sizes average 21 people.
What will it take for DU to take that next step and challenge for
an NCAA team title? I believe we have nearly everything in place. The
key to our success will always be the hard work and dedication of our
student-athletes. I’m also fortunate to have a tremendous staff. Beyond
that, our facilities are top-notch and we have numerous professional
resources available to us. Finally, we have the support of our fans and
the administration. Recruiting is our life’s blood. We have to continue
recruiting the best talent available.
Do most top recruits lean to ward winning programs such as
Georgia, Alabama, Utah and UCLA? With their rich tradition and history, those programs will draw some of the nation’s top talent. We’re in
the process of building our own history and traditions. There are milestones yet to be had for our program. We feel that some of those athletes will consider Denver if they want to make history, rather than just
be a part of it. If they’re looking for a program that wants to be in the
top 10 academically and gymnastically, they’ll look at Denver.
How do you like your chances this season? We’ve got a fantastic
group of young women this year. As always, our goal is to be a top- 10
program. We have eight athletes returning from the 2010 squad that
finished 15th in the nation. I feel that we have the personnel to fill the
shoes left empty through graduation. Our upperclassmen have returned
with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm. Our freshman class is quite
strong and improves our depth tremendously. Expect to see an outstanding Denver team.