Confidence high after early-season loss for Kent State gymnasts

Rachel Guida performs acrobatics on the uneven bars at the Wolstein Center for the NCAA Gymnastics Championships on April 14, 2011. Photo by Philip Botta.

Rachel Guida performs acrobatics on the uneven bars at the Wolstein Center for the NCAA Gymnastics Championships on April 14, 2011. Photo by Philip Botta.

Erica Mucci

After losing by 0.625 of a point to Western Michigan in their season opener last week, coach Brice Biggin of the Kent State gymnastics team said he is confident his team will bounce back.

“I think the girls were a little embarrassed by last week, which is kind of what you want them to be,” Biggin said. “We’ve seen a better focus in practice and they’re making changes we’ve been asking them to make.”

The Flashes enter the 2012 season with higher expectations than ever before. In 2011, Kent State made its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in school history and became the first Mid-American Conference team to reach that milestone.

The Flashes finished with the highest NCAA ranking in program history at No. 12 in the country. Cathy O’Donnell, executive associate athletic director, said the team is certainly a point of pride for the University.

“Last year was the epitome of success for them,” O’Donnell said. “They have a hardworking coaching staff and team and a lot of grassroots support from the community.”

Biggin said he and the coaching staff have talked to this year’s team about the pressure and expectations that will inevitably be placed on them due to last year’s success. But this squad has the leadership and experience to be equally successful with more than 10 returning letter winners.

Marie Case, the MAC Freshman of the Year last year, will return to validate her freshman campaign. Case said she went back to the basics in the off-season to polish her skills on bars and tweak some small things in the rest of her arsenal.

Case said her experiences as a freshman will help her step up as a leader.

“I try to push the team and lead by example,” Case said. “I’ve started to be more vocal too.”

Senior specialist Erin Rothrock returns on bars for the Flashes after a knee injury that prevented her from competing in 2011. Biggin said she is capable of putting up huge bar scores, and the team will be counting on her to do that.

“It’s bittersweet,” Rothrock said. “I was sad about missing last year, so I’m going to make this season that much better.”

Rothrock is one of four captains (three seniors and one junior) who will encourage the team to live up to last year’s success, but understand they cannot live off of it.

“We have to strive to beat last year,” Rothrock said.

This week the Flashes will take on Eastern Michigan in hopes of earning their first win. The Eagles have not had a meet this season, so Biggin considers them a bit of a wildcard.

“We don’t know what their strengths and weaknesses are,” Biggin said. “We have a bulls-eye on our backs, especially from MAC teams, so we expect everyone to come with their best effort.”

Biggin said fans can expect to see “big gymnastics” from the Flashes. He said the team has prepared dynamic routines with a high level of difficulty.

“We feel like we have very good, explosive gymnastics that you’re going to see in the rest of the country,” Biggin said. “We just have to be consistent in putting that together.”

Contact Erica Mucci at [email protected].