Mission accomplished

Kali Price

Gymnastics seniors lead, look ahead to regional

Senior gymnasts Lauren Wheatley, April Zentko, Erika Linnersten and Earline Feugill recently helped lead the Kent State gymnastics team to victory in the MAC Championships. It was the first time the seniors defeated Central Michigan in four years.

Credit: Andrew popik

The Kent State gymnastics team took the Mid-American Conference Championship in 2001.

For the next three years, the Flashes could claim no higher than second place. Even a 196.85 last year did not capture the title for Kent State. Seniors Earline Feugill, Erika Linnersten, Lauren Wheatley and April Zentko would have become the first class in program history to never earn a MAC Championship.

That all changed when the Flashes captured their ninth MAC Title March 25. It also was the Flashes’ first victory over MAC rival Central Michigan since 2001.

“It was like heaven,” Feugill said. “It’s what we’ve been working toward all four years. It’s well deserved.”­­

The Flashes’ win advances them to the NCAA Central Regional Championships. Kent State (16-7, 11-2 MAC) will compete in the championships tomorrow in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“We’ve been waiting for this for four years,” Zentko said.

One of the driving and inspiring forces for the Flashes this season has been the memory of Sarah Positano who was murdered in January.

“We went through a period where we struggled a little bit, and we didn’t put things together at all,” said Kent State coach Brice Biggin. “We talked about Sarah before the All-Ohio meet, and it was all about rededicating and refocusing ourselves. We used that as one of our strengths.”

The memory of Positano had a strong influence on Zentko during the championships.

“Before I went on the beam, I was shaking. I was so nervous,” Zentko said. “But once I touched the beam, I felt her (Positano’s) presence. She calmed me down. We knew she was up there the whole time. She wanted it (the MAC Title) as much as we did.”

Zentko used that feeling on the balance beam to tie for second place with a 9.85.

The Flashes began the season as a young team with eight freshmen in the lineup. They eventually conquered any inexperience in their title run.

“We have so many freshmen and new talents,” Biggin said. “We’ve had to come further than other teams, and we’ve grown together as a team.”

The No. 27 Flashes are ranked sixth in the Central Region. The Flashes will compete against top national teams, No. 4 Alabama, No. 9 Iowa State, No. 16 Utah State, No. 21 Auburn and No. 23 Kentucky.

“It’s exciting to compete against higher-ranking teams,” said Wheatley.

The Flashes have the chance to move on to the NCAA National Championships. If the Flashes do not come out on top, the individual gymnasts also have the chance to compete at the NCAA Nationals.

“It’s pretty difficult, but it’s not impossible,” Biggin said. “We have the ability to compete with anyone.”

While the Flashes will face top competition at the meet, they have confidence coming off their victory over the No. 13 Chippewas at the MAC meet.

“This is a meet where it is difficult to get into,” Biggin said. “If we finish sixth, we’ve still done our job.”

It isn’t that Biggin does not believe the Flashes have a chance, he said.

“As long as we do our job and make routines, then we have nothing to feel bad about,” Biggin said. “Basically, we’ve already won.”

Contact gymnastics reporter Kali Price at [email protected].