Gymnastics confident in new season, keeping expectations high for upcoming meets

The+Kent+State+gymnastics+team+huddles+up+before+going+on+the+uneven+parallel+bars+at+the+annual+pink+meet+against+Bowling+Green%2C+the+College+at+Rockport%2C+and+Ursinus+College+at+the+M.A.C.C.+on+Friday%2C+Feb.+28%2C+2020.+Kent+State+won+the+meet+posting+its+second-highest+score+of+the+season+with+a+score+of+195.450.

The Kent State gymnastics team huddles up before going on the uneven parallel bars at the annual pink meet against Bowling Green, the College at Rockport, and Ursinus College at the M.A.C.C. on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. Kent State won the meet posting its second-highest score of the season with a score of 195.450.

Last season, the Kent State gymnastics team finished in third place in the Mid-American Conference championships in March. 

But coach Brice Biggin is not settling for a bronze medal this time around. 

“We lost to Northern Illinois at the MAC championships by a 10th of a point,” Biggin said. “Meets have come down to those frustrating losses, and we can’t give up those points this year. We have to develop great habits in practice because great habits in practice turn into good results.”

Eastern Michigan won the MAC championships. 

The Flashes also took fourth in the Morgantown Regional, where the top two teams and top competitor from a non-qualifying team advanced to the NCAA Gymnastics Championships. 

KSU finished 31st in the NCAA last season and went 5-7 overall and 2-4 in the MAC. 

Biggin said that every team in the MAC brings a high level of competition, but he “looks at this as a positive” because it pushes his team to perform at its best every meet.

“We’ve seen such a turnaround in the entire MAC, so there’s not really an easy team,” Biggin said. “If we want to be considered good, we have to bring our A game every meet.”

The team has lost several strong gymnasts from last season: graduate student Jade Brown and seniors Sydney Chapman, Abby Fletcher, Nasha Manitkul-Davis and Toshi Richard. 

Fletcher was named the MAC Conference Gymnast of the Year in 2021. 

“We had some really good seniors who we lost that were impact players.” Biggin said. “When you lose those people, you’re always looking for upperclassmen to step up. But really, we need our freshmen to do the same.”

Entering their first college seasons are freshmen Alyssa Guns, Dakota Lee, Cheyenne Pratola, Brynne Tsipis and Grace Wehry.

“I’m really excited for this new team,” senior Madison Iannuzzo said. “Everyone’s really motivated and has the same goal in mind.” 

Iannuzzo is one of the team’s four captains this year along with senior Samantha Henry, junior Olivia Amodei and senior Cami Klein. Each of the gymnasts said they have been improving past routines in the off-season. 

Henry is the team’s lead-off beam performer.

“She goes up and hits her routine really well,” Biggin said. “Her position is one of the most important spots because the first person who goes out there sets the bar.”

Iannuzzo competes on the bars and said she has become more sure of herself as she enters her final college competition season.  

“My confidence level has definitely been raised during my years in the program,” Iannuzzo said. “I used to be really nervous going into meets, but now at practice I pretend that every turn I take is my competition turn, so then when I’m in competition I have the same mindset.”

During the off-season, Iannuzzo had surgery to get rid of bone spurs on her ankle. She first underwent ankle surgery as a sophomore in high school due to overuse. 

Henry also had shoulder surgery during the off-season after she tore her labrum and rotator cuff.

Both women said they are healthy and ready to compete for a conference win.

“I am looking forward to the MAC championships,” Henry said. “I haven’t got a champion ring yet, so I’m very excited to compete again.”

Similar to Iannuzzo, Amodei, who competed on vault, bars and floor last season, said her years of gymnastics experience has given her more confidence going into her third college season. 

“This year I’ve learned that I just need to breathe,” Amodei said. “I’ve done maybe 100 routines, so I just need to trust myself and realize I know how to strongly compete.”

Klein is the team’s anchor, or final, beam performer in the lineup. 

“The anchor is crucial, and she looks really good,” Biggin said. “If someone falls ahead of her, it won’t hurt our team score as much. But if we have a second person fall, that’s when it really starts to affect us, so there’s a lot of pressure on her.”

Biggin also noted junior Karlie Franz, junior Rachel DeCavitch and sophomore Sarah Haxton as strong competitors.

The team’s first competition is its Blue and Gold exhibition meet Dec. 12 at 1 p.m. in the M.A.C. Center.

The Flashes first regular season competition is against Illinois and Northern Illinois Jan. 16 at 1 p.m. in the M.A.C. Center. NIU is the team’s first MAC competition. 

“We have the ability to be good, we just have to train the right way and stay healthy,” Biggin said. “We have a big group of seniors that really want the team to be successful, and it always starts with them. We also have a great junior class who are very talented, and the freshmen and sophomores are filling in enough of those other little spots.”

Isabella Schreck is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]