Seniors compete in last home meet

Katie Corbut

Gymnasts battle Bowling Green in run for MAC title

The Kent State gymnastics team will host Bowling Green in a dual meet at 1 p.m. Sunday in the M.A.C. Center, which will be the final home meet for four Flashes.

The Kent State coaches said the senior class of Lydia Barrett, Carly Conroy, Brittany Kopp and Sam Heydlauff will be difficult to replace.

“Ever since the girls got here, they’ve been a group that we’ve never had problems with,” assistant coach Sharon Sabin said. “A lot of freshman classes have that transition phase of balancing school and gymnastics, but this group wasn’t like that. They were just as driven in the gym as they were in class.”

Kent State coach Brice Biggin and Sabin got to know the seniors very well over the past four years. Spending more than four hours with them every day, they see the athletes more often than their parents do. Sabin said she hopes she has led them in the right direction in more ways than just gymnastics.

“It’s great to see them when they’re seniors. They might be getting married, they know their career, they have job interviews … after not knowing how to get a parking pass on campus!” Sabin said. “You coach these athletes in life too, in everyday situations.”

Sabin said the senior gymnasts have been leaders from the start and consistently improved every year, making them role models to the underclassmen.

In typical lead-by-example style, the seniors have been key contributors to the team during competitions this season.

Kopp has provided a solid routine on the beam in every meet except the Flashes’ season opener, and her coaches said they could not be more proud of the amount of versatility she has shown in her career. When Kopp first came to Kent State, she was not the dominant beam performer that she is now.

“She’s doing great on the vault and beam,” Biggin said. “She’s very consistent. Obviously she had a little trouble the first meet of the year, but that’s been it since then.”

Conroy will also be hard to replace as a beam specialist. Biggin said he feels her current struggles on beam are disappointing, but he is thankful for the numbers she has scored in previous meets.

“She’s been someone who’s been there for us on beam for three years and is certainly a capable backup,” Biggin said. “She’s competed floor a few times this year for the first time in her career, which says a lot about what she’s able to do.”

Sabin and Biggin agree Heydlauff has been the team’s “unsung hero.” Biggin worked with Heydlauff at a summer camp, and Sabin also worked with her at a camp in Michigan. She walked on the team as a freshman unable to tumble backwards and was transformed into a Division I gymnast.

“She’s become such a better gymnast since she’s been here,” Sabin said. “Sometimes it’s just getting in a different environment. Coaches can be saying the same thing, but in different words.”

Biggin will also miss Heydlauff, and he continues to be impressed with her progress, which earned her a scholarship.

“I think she had a setback in club gymnastics, and it was a matter of getting her confidence back,” Biggin said. “It was nice to see her get through it, and now she’s one of our tough floor people.”

Although a back injury prevents Barrett from competing at beam, Sabin said the senior has consistently developed throughout her career in the other events.

“She’s been a strong performer,” Sabin said. “We feel that her priority is to have her healthy on the three (other events).”

With both teams undefeated in Mid-American Conference competition, a win for the Flashes would guarantee at least a share of the conference for Kent State. Bowling Green is scoring in the 192-point range, which trails the Flashes’ average by more than two points. Despite the advantage, Biggin said he would not overlook the opponent.

“We’ll get a test out of the weekend,” he said. “The more you get tested, the better the girls will perform in different situations.”

Sabin said because Bowling Green is hosting the MAC Championships this year, she is wary the Falcons will be gunning for a winning record for the season.

“They’ll probably have more fire under them and desire to do well,” she said. “I’m sure they have extra motivation going into this year.”

Contact sports reporter Katie Corbut at [email protected].