Gymnasts leap forward into a new season with many new teammates

Amanda Vasil

After finishing first in the Mid-American Conference and capturing the first place crown at the MAC Championship last season, the Kent State gymnastics team has a lot to defend this season.

This may be hard to do, as the team lost four tough competitors at the end of last season. Fortunately, the team retained senior Carrie Mayle, as well as juniors Shawntelle Thompson, Amy Cucinotta and Julie Huynh.

“Right now we have a lot of question marks because there aren’t as many upperclassmen,” Kent State coach Brice Biggin said. “We definitely have a lot of good talent, and we’re looking to see who steps up.”

One blank that can be filled comes from Mayle, who placed second in the all-around competition at last weekend’s All-Ohio Championship with a composite score of 38.325. She helped lead the team to a second place finish behind Ohio State.

Biggin said he expects a lot of leadership and talent from Mayle this season to help set the pace for the rest of the team.

“She has a ton of experience competing, so we’re going to look to her to set the bar for the rest of the girls,” Biggin said. “We’re looking to see her continue to do well and challenge herself at every meet.”

Mayle said she doesn’t feel as much pressure being a lone senior and tri-captain as she expected because of the support she’s gotten from her coaches and co-captains. It also helps that the team is very tight-knit, she said.

Team cohesion is going to play a large part in recapturing the MAC Championship. Most importantly, the team needs to come out strong in all areas of competition, Biggin said.

But before the Flashes begin planning for the MAC Championship, they must first prepare both physically and mentally for their first regular season meet at 1 p.m. against Western Michigan Sunday.

“We’re not as ready as we would like to be,” Biggin said. “It’s going to take a couple of weeks to learn how the gymnasts compete. It’s a much different feeling than what most kids are used to. The individual scores matter to everyone (in high school), but now it’s about the whole team.”

Western Michigan saw Jennifer Sturgis named MAC Specialist of the Week for her first place finish on the beam at Michigan on Jan. 14. Sturgis’ 9.825 score on the beam is also her personal best.

The Broncos are hosting the MAC Championship this season, so Biggin said he predicts Western Michigan will be more prepared to have a good showing at home.

“They’re a team that’s hungry to win,” he said.

The Flashes will look to have an open mind when approaching teams this season and plan to take one meet at a time.

“The MAC is going to be fairly wide open,” Biggin said. “We don’t take any team lightly, and we don’t take anything for granted.”

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