Kent State gymnastics ready for anything after taking on country’s best

Senior+Rachel+Stypinski+on+the+balance+beam+during+Kent+State%E2%80%99s+annual+Pink+Meet%2C+scoring+a+9.925.+The+Flashes+lost+the+meet+against+Eastern+Michigan+with+a+final+score+of+194.875-193.925.+%5BFILE%5D

Senior Rachel Stypinski on the balance beam during Kent State’s annual Pink Meet, scoring a 9.925. The Flashes lost the meet against Eastern Michigan with a final score of 194.875-193.925. [FILE]

Libby Schrack

The Kent State gymnastics team traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, this past Sunday as the underdog in the Masters Classic, where the Flashes (5-7, 2-3 Mid-American Conference) faced No. 2 UCLA, No. 16 Nebraska and No. 23 Iowa State.

Former Olympians Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross compete for UCLA. The Bruins have one of the most respected programs in the world of collegiate gymnastics. Despite this, the Flashes came together and focused as a team.

Senior Rachel Stypinski said the team was all over the place during warmups because the focus was not there and the intimidation was fully alive.

“I have competed against UCLA before,” Stypinksi said, “during my freshman year at regionals. So instead of focusing on them, this time I was more focused on myself.”

The senior gymnast’s main goal was to stay focused on herself and lead her team. Stypinski had an outstanding meet, placing in the top five on both the all-around and the floor exercise.

“It is a compliment toward my gymnastics,” Stypinski said, “that I can be up to par with them. But it definitely shows me that I have a lot to work on if I want to get first at regionals and hopefully continue to nationals.”

Along with Stypinski, freshman Abby Fletcher had a standout performance.

Fletcher tied for ninth with a 9.850 on the floor and tied Stypinski for a team-high score of 9.775 on the vault.

“On bars, I was on the outside taking it all in,” Fletcher said. “It was really nerve-wracking at first with all the noise. But honestly, once I competed, I went deaf to all that and toned in on myself.”

Fletcher said it was a great test and even better prepared her for upcoming meets like regionals and the MAC tournament.

Although Fletcher said the Flashes came together as a team and really focused in on their own events, they still had some difficulty.

“It was really hard when we were on beam,” Fletcher said. “UCLA was on floor at the time, and the noise was hard not to notice.”

Assistant coach Craig Ballard was displeased with the inconsistency of the scores the gymnasts were receiving throughout the meet.

“It was interesting,” Ballard said. “You are never really sure about the judging and what you are going to get. It was a little different having the No. 2 team in the country there, so some of the scores were interesting at times.”

Ballard said the Flashes were facing lower scores on beam compared to how they have been judged all year.

“It is just more things we will focus on and get better by,” Ballard said. “The scores we faced this past weekend will better prepare us for NCAA regionals when we qualify.”

Ballard said competing against these teams was extremely beneficial for the Flashes.

“The crowd was loud and into it the whole time,” Ballard said, “which was really cool. It was also the same rotation we will have at the MAC championships, so it was great to get through that. And overall, the level of competition was great.”

Kent State will be taking on MAC rival Bowling Green (4-12, 2-2 MAC) at 7 p.m. Friday in the M.A.C. Center.

“We hope to get a big home score,” Fletcher said. “We deserve it. We have been working so hard.”

Libby Schrack is a sports reporter. Contact her at [email protected]