The Kent Stater’s winter sports preview:

Sophomore Tim Rooney grapples with a Central Michigan wrestler during his match Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018. The Flashes won with a 21-13 upset over the Chippewas, who entered the match ranked second in the Mid-American Conference. 

Henry Palattella

McNalley, Rooney highlight final stretch of regular season

When Kyle Conel announced in December he would undergo a surgery that would end his season, it quickly became a rebuilding season for the Flashes. After finishing a surprising 13-9 last season with Conel as Kent State’s first unseeded all-American, the Flashes came into the season looking to build on last season’s success, something that hasn’t really come to fruition this season.

That said, while the Flashes may sit at 6-10 this season, it hasn’t been without some bright spots. Sophomore Andrew McNally sits at 21-5 with an 8-3 record at duals while recording 10 victories via fall and six via major decision. He tallied his 12th pin of the season on Saturday against Lock Haven.

Junior Tim Rooney also put together a solid campaign for the Flashes with a 17-7 record. Rooney won the 133-pound title at the Cougar Clash earlier in the year, and also finished 5-1 at the Navy Classic.

Of the six matchups the Flashes have remaining, four of them are MAC contests. The Flashes take on Ohio on Friday before facing off against Buffalo (Jan. 26), Central Michigan (Feb. 10) and Northern Illinois (Feb. 15). The Flashes also face off against Cleveland State and Binghamton.

Women’s lacrosse team gears up for first season

On Feb. 10, a new era will begin for Kent State Athletics. The Kent State women’s lacrosse team will begin its first season when it takes on the Cincinnati Bearcats. 

The Flashes’ roster consists of 26 freshmen and three coaches. Brianne Tierney serves as the Flashes’ head coach, while Amanda Glass and Morgan Fee are her assistants.

Tierney began her coaching career at Monmouth University as an assistant coach and eventually worked her way to start a women’s lacrosse program at Lebanon Valley College. Fee was a four-year letter winner at Ohio State, where she totaled 10 goals and seven assists with the Buckeyes. Glass was named to the first team all-NCAC and second all-IWLCA team as a goalkeeper at Denison.

Despite the inexperience on the Flashes’ roster, a majority of the Flashes roster won throughout high school.

Goalie Grace Merrill of Canton, who took her team to two state championships, is a three-time all-district selection and has 10 career shutouts.

In one state meet, she faced future teammates Maddy Mead and Megan Kozar, whose Upper Arlington High School won the title. Kozar had 36 assists and 36 goals in her career for the Golden Bears. 

Abby Jones, a midfielder from Coon Rapids, Minnesota, set her school record with 81 goals and 100 points. She has also taken her team to two state championships.

Hailee Andry, a defender from Santa Ana, California, won two championships for her high school, which was ranked No. 8 in the country.

The Flashes’ home opener is Feb. 16 against Robert Morris. They will compete in the Atlantic Sun, with their home games at Dix Stadium. The roster currently consists of seven attackers, six defenders, two goalkeepers and 10 midfielders.

Sports reporter Amanda Levine contributed. 

Young gymnastics team looks to senior leaders

The Kent State gymnastics team is in the middle of a youth movement.

The team currently has eight freshmen on the roster who are led by senior captains Dara Williams and Sarah Lippowitsch, as well as junior Jade Brown.

Williams recorded a 9.800 in bars and vault last year, while Lippowitsch earned a 9.850 on bar and beams. Sophomore Abby Fletcher also returns for the Flashes after scoring 9.825 on vault, 9.875 on beam and 9.925 on floor while winning the floor title in the MAC Championships. She also tied for second on that floor at the NCAA Columbus Regional.

The Flashes competed in the Blue and Gold exhibition on Nov. 30, with the blue team taking home the victory. 

The Flashes opened their season on Sunday at the UIC Quad, facing off against University of Illinois-Chicago, Centenary College and University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

The Flashes will travel to Morgantown to compete in the West Virginia Tri on Jan. 27 and will also host the Kent State Quad, where they’ll face off against Ball State, Rutgers and North Carolina.

Flashes looking to jump-start season in tightly contested Mid-American Conference

Despite suffering its worst conference loss for Kent State under coach Rob Senderoff on Saturday against Eastern Michigan, the Kent State men’s basketball team is in a good place.

The Flashes (12-4, 1-2 MAC) finished their non-conference schedule at 11-2 on the season, which was not only the Flashes’ best start since the 2002-03 season, but also featured wins over “Power 5” opponents Oregon State and Vanderbilt. Jaylin Walker has once again been the offensive catalyst for the Flashes, averaging 21.8 points per game in 11 games this season, only two of which were starts.

Walker also sat out the first four games of the Flashes’ season due to a suspension. Walker’s scoring has been complimented by senior guard Jalen Avery, who has 63 assists compared to eight turnovers on the season. Last year, Avery led the nation in assist to turnover ratio.

Junior center and University of South Carolina Upstate transfer Phillip Whittington has turned in a solid season thus far, averaging 10 points per game and eight rebounds. Fellow newcomer Antonio Williamson has turned in a more up and down season. Williams scored 22 points against Savannah State in November, but has fallen out of starting lineup, with Walker taking his starting spot in the Flashes’ past two games.  

Kent State is currently in a three-way tie for third with Ohio and Akron in a loaded MAC East that features 3-0 Bowling Green and Buffalo. The Bulls, who come to the M.A.C. Center on Jan. 25, are ranked No. 19 in the latest AP poll.

The MAC as a whole is one of the stronger mid-major conferences in the country, and Western Michigan (6-10) is the only team under .500 in the conference. The Flashes take on Ohio in Athens on Tuesday before taking on 3-0 Northern Illinois in the M.A.C. Center on Saturday.

The Flashes’ matchup against the Huskies kicks three straight home games, the only home back-to-back they have left this season.  The Flashes will travel to Akron to take on the Zips on Feb. 9, and end their season against the Zips at home on March 8.

Women’s basketball hopes to build on strong conference start

The Kent State women’s basketball team lost to Wright State on Dec. 2, dropping its record to 3-4. The team hasn’t lost since.

The Flashes now sit at 10-4 and 3-0 in the MAC, with each conference win being more impressive than the last.

First, it was freshman Asiah Dingle’s career-high 29 points in the Flashes’ 71-64 win to open conference season. Next, it was junior Ali Poole’s 28 points that led the Flashes to a 87-78 win over high-scoring Northern Illinois. Then, on Saturday, it was a 24-point fourth quarter that led the Flashes to a 58-47 win over Toledo.

Junior guard Megan Carter leads the Flashes with 15 points per game. Carter only played in 20 games last season (four starts), and it’s clear Carter’s full season of play benefited not only her, but the team as a whole. Carter is paired in the backcourt with Dingle, who is second on the team and averaging 13.8 points per game.

Dingle and fellow freshman Lindsey Thall are helping jump-start the Flashes after a disappointing 2017-18 campaign. Thall is currently first in the MAC with 24 blocks, and she is also averaging 10.1 points per game.

The MAC is arguably better than it’s ever been; the conference currently boasts six teams in the top 100 of the RPI rankings. Central Michigan (12-3, 3-0) and Ohio (13-1, 2-1) both received votes in the AP top 25 rankings. Kent State is one of the eight teams in the conference with more than nine wins.

Kent State is arguably the hottest team in the conference, having won seven straight games. The Flashes will travel to take on Ohio in Athens on Tuesday before welcoming the Chippewas to the M.A.C. Center on Saturday.

The Flashes proved through their first three conference games that they’re one of the top teams in the conference — something they’ll look to continue in their matchups against Ohio and a top-ranked Central Michigan squad.

Henry Palattella is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].