Chemistry leads to victories

Amanda Vasil

Gymnastics team’s close bond helps women compete on the mat

The team cheers after junior Amy Presan performed on the uneven bars during Kent State’s victory over Northern Illinois Mar. 12. The Flashes won the meet 193.950-193.300. The Flashes will compete in the MAC Tournament at 2 p.m. tomorrow in Kalamazoo, Mich

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Anyone who has been eating at the Hub and has been approached by someone who wants to taste your food, watched a 5-foot girl stand on a chair and sing or been included in a game of a duck, duck, goose, has probably been the victim of a prank by the Kent State gymnastics team.

“Pretty much everything that we do reminds me of the team because we are each other’s best friends,” senior gymnast Carrie Mayle said. “When we go out and everything we do is together. Those are the only memories we really have.”

The Flashes (6-4, 5-1 Mid-American Conference) have a strong bond with one another that goes beyond the gym, Mayle said. The team is often found making dinner, watching television and hanging out together not only as teammates, but as friends.

But their friendship didn’t appear out of thin air.

The team began the season with eight freshmen on a team of 17 and took three of its four losses in the first four meets. Because of so many new faces, it took a while for the team to learn to work together and build trust, Kent State coach Brice Biggin said.

“Once we started coming together as a team and started trusting each other and working with each other and wanting everyone to do well and just being able to understand what a team is, then we started seeing success in meets,” Mayle said.

Another reason the team has developed a strong bond is the “noise factor,” Biggin said.

“We do a lot of yelling, and I expect them to yell a lot in practice,” he said. “I want them cheering for each other and yelling out encouragements.”

During practices, the gymnasts perform in pressure sets where they run through their routines. These sets not only put gymnasts in real-meet situations, but also puts their teammates behind them for encouragement and confidence, Biggin said.

While some gymnasts easily adapt to the loudness in the gym, others take a while to adjust because in high school they are expected to be quiet in practice, Biggin said.

But the “noise factor” doesn’t occur only during practices.

“We’re a very vocal team, which pretty much most other athletic teams know,” Mayle said. “We cheer for each other on every event. We like it loud in the gym, and that brings the team close together.”

Both Mayle and Biggin said they feel their chemistry and team mentality gives them an advantage going into the MAC Tournament at Western Michigan this weekend in Kalamazoo, Mich.

“You can’t have a bunch of individuals go into a competition like that and do well together,” Biggin said. “I’ve seen too many teams that fight and bicker and just don’t get along well, and when that happens, you’re really pressing your luck to see if you’re going to have a good meet.”

Not only do the Flashes have chemistry on their side, but high conference scores as well.

Sophomore Kristin Peters is No. 1 on the uneven bars with a regional qualifying score of 9.815, and sophomore Jill Kowalski is behind Peters with 9.745. Junior Amy Cucinotta is No. 1 on the floor exercise with a 9.805 RQS, while freshman Laci Hendress is No. 4 with 9.750.

Mayle is No. 3 on the vault with a 9.750, and Peters and Kowalski are No. 5 and No. 8 with 9.680 and 9.635, respectively.

As a team, Kent State holds the top RQS of 192.885, along with top scores on the bars and balance beam. The team is also third on the vault and floor.

The MAC Tournament is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. tomorrow.

Biggin said he doesn’t plan to prepare any differently than usual for this seven-team meet, but hopes to continue the same focus and encouragement to allow each gymnast to perform her best.

“You want to see them accomplish what they’re capable of,” Biggin said. “And sports are a funny thing. Sometimes luck’s on your side that day, and sometimes it isn’t. You just hope that they’re going out there and doing what they’re capable of.”

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