Eyeing new Heights

Amanda Vasil

Individual gymnasts to represent Kent State at regionals without support of their teammates

Sophomore Kristin Peters performs on the uneven bars during last month’s meet against Northern Illinois. Peters will be competing as an uneven bars specialist in tomorrow’s NCAA Central Regional Championships in Baton Rouge, La. Teammates senior Carrie Ma

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

For the first time since 2002, the Kent State gymnastics team will not be competing in the NCAA Central Regional Championships but instead will send three gymnasts to compete in individual events.

The regional competition will begin at 6 p.m. tonight in Baton Rouge, La.

Senior Carrie Mayle and sophomore Jill Kowalski will compete in the all-around competition, while sophomore Kristin Peters will compete as an uneven bars specialist.

The Flashes finished their season by taking third at the Mid-American Conference Championship with an overall record of 6-3 and a MAC record of 5-1. They also became regular season MAC Co-Conference Champions along with Western Michigan.

But despite its finish, Kent State fell short in its regional-qualifying score, causing teams such as Ohio State and No. 5 Oklahoma to make their way into the top six teams of the region.

And for Mayle, this could have been her last chance to compete in regionals with the Flashes as a team.

“It’s sad that this is the first year I’m not going down as a team, and it’s disappointing,” Mayle said. “But with the circumstances that we have, it’s going to be really fun and successful.”

Mayle, who has been suffering from a pinched sciatic nerve for the past four weeks, captured first place on the floor exercise at the MAC Championship on March 25 with a score of 9.850. She also finished the season with a 38.570 regional-qualifying score and held the highest all-around score in the MAC.

While her injury kept her from competing in the all-around competition in the final meets of the season, Kent State coach Brice Biggin said he doesn’t anticipate her backing out tonight.

“I think it would take an act of God for her not (to) compete,” he said. “This could be it for her, and she’s had a good career. I think she’s a very determined young lady. It’s just too bad that (the injury) happened this time of the year because you want to see her strong and healthy when she finishes.”

For Peters and Kowalski, Biggin said the greatest opportunity for them lies in their return to the team next year as veteran competitors and leaders.

“They’re two that really have the backbone to hopefully bring another MAC Championship and hopefully lead the team back to regionals,” Biggin said. “Being two out of the three that qualified, I think they’re both very good leaders and will be able to have some of the younger kids step up and demand a little bit more from them next year.”

Kowalski finished the season with a 38.555 regional-qualifying score and competed in all four events every meet of the season, which is highly unusual for a gymnast, Biggin said. Her quiet leadership and focus led her to successful practices and, in turn, successful meets.

“She’s got a quiet determination about her that almost surprises you because you don’t notice her a whole lot in practice,” Biggin said. “But at the end of the meet or the end of the day, when you turn around, she’s there all the time. And that’s what she’s done all season for us.”

Peters earned six first-place finishes on the uneven bars this season and finished at the top of the MAC with a 9.820 RQS. She shares Kowalski’s focus and competitive attitude but shows it more vocally, Biggin said.

“She has an inner confidence and inner excitedness, and she wants the best for herself and for her teammates all the time,” he said.

The ultimate goal for the three gymnasts is to move on to the national competition, but in order to do that, Biggin said they need to fine-tune their routines.

“If they have a chance at making nationals, it’s the little things that are going to decide if they make it,” Biggin said. “If they want to qualify, it’s going to come down to a tenth or two-tenths of a point, and there’s so many little things you can do on each event to either help gain or lose those.”

Contact assistant sports editor and gymnastics reporter Amanda Vasil at [email protected].