Kent State gymnastics looks to continue MAC Championship tradition


Junior Samantha Gordon leaps across the floor in the senior night competition against Cornell on March 5. The Goldend Flashes beat the Cornell Big Red Bears 196.000-193.175

Elise Kogelnik

Senior Kayla Kosmerl said the Kent State gymnastics team has one last thing to do before they leave to compete in the Mid-American Conference Championships Thursday: paint the rock.

“(The rock) will say ‘Everything earned, nothing given. MAC Championships 2016,’” Kosmerl said. “Everyone writes a letter, so we’ll go in age order all the way down. Everyone plays a part in it. It’s tradition.”

Coach Brice Biggin said winning championships is part of Kent State tradition, too.

“I started out as a graduate assistant and an assistant coach, and when you look at the wall (in the practice gym) the (championship) banners spread out through a long time,” Biggin said. “Our (gymnasts) understand that there is a tradition and history of success (at Kent State). We talk a great deal about that history because it’s important.”

That history began in 1981 when Rudy and Janet Bachna hosted the first gymnastics MAC Championships in Kent. Since then, the Flashes have earned 12 tournament titles. Biggin said the team strives to bring home another win Saturday.

“We’ve built a tradition of competing for championships year in and year out,” Biggin said. “We feel like we’ve got a team that, any year, they should be able to contend (for championships). This team is no different. They’ve won the regular season championship, which is really important because it says that we’ve beat everyone in the MAC.” 

Sophomore Rachel Stypinski and junior Jordan Hardison have been recognized individually for their accomplishments this season. Stypinski was named to the All-MAC First Team for the second consecutive year. Hardison’s average score on the floor exercise earned her a spot on the All-MAC Second Team.

The Flashes went 5-1 at home, but their 3-2 away record proves they faced challenges on the road. Kosmerl said she doesn’t think traveling to Ball State University will cause the Flashes to lose focus.

“Ball State is a really nice school,” Kosmerl said. “It’s a really nice atmosphere and a good program. We get along with them really well. For the meet to be away, this is the kind of atmosphere we would want.”

“As a team, we just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing. There’s just a night and day difference between (the Kent State team) at away meets in the beginning of the season, and the way we’ve been doing now.”

The team took second place in a quad-meet at Ball State earlier this season.

Junior Skyelee Lamano said she expects Saturday’s crowd to be seven times the size of their normal audience. But Kosmerl said the noise will only help the Flashes.

“I think (bigger meets) are more fun,” Kosmerl said. “There’s just so much more going on, and it’s so much louder. I think it’s easier to stay within ourselves when there’s more going on because it’s a lot easier to just block it all out. When it’s quiet, we start looking around.”

In terms of preparation, Biggin said the team has treated the MAC Championship as if it’s just another meet. 

“We’ve tried to not change anything,” Biggin said, “Because, ultimately, if we start putting more pressure on ourselves or start to make a bigger deal out of it than what it is, then I don’t think (the gymnasts) respond quite as well. We’ve been trying to really focus on just keeping low-key and taking it as another meet because, basically, that’s all it is.”

Hardison said the MAC Championship is not just a meet, but a celebration. The Flashes’ parents decorate the bus they’ll take to Muncie, Indiana. The parents will get to the hotel and decorate the rooms before the gymnasts arrive, too.

Kosmerl said the Flashes are grateful for their parents’ hard work. 

“The amount that (parents) do is insane,” Kosmerl said. “We don’t even realize what they’re doing. Just thinking back, if the parents weren’t there, we wouldn’t have had so many things. They play a really big role home and away. It means a lot to have a big crowd away from home.” 

Kent State won the MAC Championship in 2015 in Kent with an uncontested 196.375. Hardison said the team’s goal is to stick every landing again this year.

“We all want to go 24 for 24 like we did last year,” Hardison said. “We were the only team at (the MAC Championships) last year to not have any falls on any events.”

The Flashes will take on the other MAC teams at 2 p.m. Saturday. Their score will likely guarantee them a spot in the NCAA Regionals.

Biggin said, at this point, it’s up to the gymnasts.

“We’ve had some home meets where we can just tell that (the gymnasts are) locked in,” Biggin said. “(The coaches) kind of just sit back and think ‘Okay, we’ve done everything we can, now it’s up to them.’ I think we’re about in that position right now. Hopefully we’ll just sit back and enjoy the ride on Saturday.”

Elise Kogelnik is a sports reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].