Ballet’s loss is gymnastics’ gain

Doug Gulasy

Gymnast Jill Kowalski isn’t perfect, but her skill level makes her seem inhuman

PHOTOS BY BRIAN MARKS | DAILY KENT STATER Junior Jill Kowalski was named MAC Co-Gymnast of the week after her dominant performance at Bowling Green Sunday.

Credit: Adam Griffiths

Had a class of ballet been more exciting, the Kent State gymnastics team may be without the services of Jill Kowalski today.

Ballet was “too boring” for the five-year-old Kowalski, so after one unbearably dull session, her mother put her into a gymnastics class, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Kowalski, a junior tri-captain for the Flashes, has become a full-fledged star. On Monday, she was named Mid-American Conference Co-Gymnast of the week for her performance in Sunday’s meet at Bowling Green. Two weeks before that, she won the award outright after a strong performance in a five-team meet at West Virginia.

“It’s an honor and really special to be recognized like that,” Kowalski said. “But it really helps to have a team behind me that pushes me, helping me to be successful.”

Kowalski, who was named to the All-MAC First Team for gymnastics as a sophomore, had success before coming to Kent State as a member of Midwest Gymnastics. She finished second in the all-around at the 2004 Illinois state meet and won all-around titles at the Buckeye Classic and Bravo Classic.

A recruiting trip to Kent State, including meetings with the coaches and the team, made her want to become part of the program.

“I met with the coaches, and they were really nice and talked highly of their program,” she said. “Then I met the team, and I felt a strong bond with them; I liked the family feel.”

Kowalski is the only member of the Kent State gymnastics team to compete in all four events (vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor) in every meet this season, a responsibility she does not shy away from.

“Competing in all four events can put pressure on me, but it’s a good pressure,” Kowalski said. “Knowing the coaches and team have confidence in me to go out and hit all four events helps with my confidence.”

Coach Brice Biggin said the confidence in Kowalski is merited.

“Jill is a competitor; she has experience and can handle pressure,” Biggin said. “It’s a feeling of comfort for us as coaches and also for the team, knowing she can go out there and hit 98 percent of her routine.

“The two percent off we understand, because everyone’s human, but sometimes we wonder how human she is,” he said. “She’s so consistent and steady all the time.”

Kowalski ranks in the top 10 of the MAC in three of her four events. She ranks second on the bars, fourth in the floor exercise and ninth on the balance beam. But Kowalski derives the most pleasure from the floor exercise.

“The floor is my favorite because you get to perform for the crowd and get the audience into the meet,” she said. “But I love all four events because I just love gymnastics.”

Biggin said Kowalski’s ability to lead by example makes her a valuable asset and leader for the team.

“Jill goes out and gets the job done,” Biggin said. “She doesn’t get too excited and doesn’t let the pressure get to her, which is something I think younger gymnasts can learn from her.”

Kowalski said her leadership comes from the experience she has competing at the collegiate level.

“I feel I do have some leadership, mainly because I’m an upperclassman with experience,” she said. “I can help freshmen and sophomores with less experience and guide them.”

While Kowalski acknowledges her leadership, she also said much of her success relies on the support of her teammates.

“Without the team, I would not be where I am,” she said. “We always have each other’s backs, both on and off the floor.”

Kowalski seems to be a lock for a second consecutive All-MAC First Team selection, as she ranks third in the MAC in overall scoring. She has won the all-around title in five of the six Kent State meets this season, including wins in all four conference meets.

Although she said she is happy with her individual success, she said the team’s success is more important to her. The team is currently 7-2 overall, 4-0 in the MAC.

“Individual success is always nice to boost your confidence, but the team success is better,” she said. “It’s great to be undefeated in the MAC right now because it helps our team confidence, and the more confidence we have, the more successful we’ll be.”

Contact gymnastics reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].