Marcus Barkley

Gymnasts check MAC Champions off the to-do list

Sophomore Lydia finishes with her signature move at the gymnastics MAC Championship Saturday. Sam Twarek | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

WATCH video of the gymnastics tournament.

In front of a crowd donned in an array of Mid-American Conference colors that extended to the rafters, the Kent State gymnastics team left no doubters in the stands as they captured the MAC Championship title at the M.A.C. Center Saturday with a score of 195.650.

Explanation was slow to come to the mouths of the Flashes after capturing the outright title in landslide fashion in their home gym.

“I can’t even describe what I’m feeling right now,” junior Rachel Stuck said. “I’m just so happy — what a great way to close the season out.”

Even coach Brice Biggin, known for candidness in interviews and his ability to hold a steady demeanor, was stumbling, trying to find the words to say about how his team performed against the six other MAC schools.

“It’s so hard to describe,” Biggin said. “It is so gratifying to see the team accomplish what they set out as goals for themselves.”

Eastern Michigan, last year’s tournament champions, placed second with a score of 193.800. Central Michigan placed third with a score of 193.675. Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Ball State and Bowling Green rounded out spots four to seven with scores of 193.375, 192.500, 192.100 and 192.025 respectively.

Though a 1.775 point differential may not seem like a lot, a victory of such proportion at the championship meet is like a 20 -point basketball win against Akron at home.

Senior Kristin Peters said it was nice to win by such an impressive margin, especially after not receiving a lot of the honors that were given out at the conference awards ceremony Friday.

“We never like to talk about individual credit, but it was kind of like we threw it back in their faces today,” Peters said. “We have so many strong individuals that come together to make us a strong team.”

Peters, who was selected first team All-MAC, led the way for the Flashes on Saturday, scoring an outright first-place finish on the beam with a score of 9.9. She also tied for first on bars with fellow first-team All-MAC selection, sophomore Lydia Barrett.

Barrett, who also placed fifth on the day in floor, said she felt she gave it all she had to help the team win.

“That was pretty much the best I could do,” Barrett said. “I was just feeding off the energy of the whole team.”

Freshman standout Christina Lenny, another first-team All-MAC recipient, placed first on the vault with a score of 9.875, winning her ninth vault competition in eleven meets this season. She also took second on the floor routine.

The floor routine was the final event for the Flashes and the team solidified its victory with one of their strongest event performances of the year and the highest score of the day at 49.100. Along with Barrett’s fifth-place finish and Lenny placing second, senior Jill Kowalski tied for sixth place and junior Laci Hendress placed fourth. Leading the way on the floor was junior Rachel Stuck, who won the event with a score of 9.9.

Stuck, the fourth Flash honored as a first-team All-MAC gymnast, was the final competitor in the championship after all the other teams had completed their final event. After hitting her closing combination, Stuck dropped down to her knees and threw her index fingers up to the sky, signifying the Flashes knew they were champions. Behind her, a wall of sound blasted “We are … Kent State” as the team came together in the middle of the stadium.

“Hearing the crowd as soon as I landed and throwing my hands up for number one, I just knew that we won,” Stuck said. “It was just so loud and it felt great, I don’t even know how to explain it.”

Biggin, who won MAC Coach of the Year honors for the seventh time in his career, said he was proud of his team and especially pleased with the way his five event winners performed because of how hard it is to take first place when 42 gymnasts compete in each event.

“It’s never easy in the MAC because there are a lot of good teams and a lot of good gymnasts,” Biggin said. “They did a great job of staying focused on themselves, their team and the win.”

The only people who seemed able to articulate how the Flashes performed to remain undefeated in the conference and at the M.A.C. Center were the opposing coaches.

“(The Kent State gymnasts) are fantastic,” Northern Illinois University coach Mark Sontag said. “It’s very inspirational to watch them — they deserve to be champions.”

Up next for the Flashes is the NCAA Regional Meet on April 12.

Contact Gymnastics Reporter Marcus Barkley at [email protected].