Flashes prepare to take on Central Michigan

Kali Price

Kristen Peters performs on the balance beam Feb. 11 at the M.A.C. Center.

Credit: Andrew popik

When it comes to Central Michigan and Kent State in gymnastics — it’s on.

The Kent State gymnastics team has not beaten its biggest rival, Central Michigan, since the Flashes won the Mid-American Conference championships in 2001. The Flashes have lost seven straight to the Chippewas, but they hold the all-time series 22-17.

So with four seniors who have not beaten Central Michigan yet, the Flashes are more fired up than ever before to take on the Chippewas.

“We want nothing more than to beat Central,” senior Erika Linnersten said. “It’s a big thing in the MAC. It’s always going to be Central Michigan versus Kent State.”

The Flashes (5-1, 3-0 MAC) host Central Michigan (8-3, 3-0 MAC) tonight at 7. The Flashes consider this meet the biggest of the season thus far. Kent State will also host Southeast Missouri State at 1 p.m. Sunday at the M.A.C. Center.

Even though the Flashes haven’t beaten the Chippewas since 2001, the matchup hasn’t been completely one-sided. In the past two MAC championships, Kent State has averaged a 196.49 score but came in second both times to Central Michigan.

“It’s a meet that we look forward to every year,” Kent State coach Brice Biggin said. “They’re a very well-coached team. We certainly have a lot of respect for them, so when you’re able to beat a team like that, it certainly gives you a lot more confidence.”

Central Michigan is more than just a “well-coached” team. The Chippewas are ranked No. 17 nationally and No. 1 in the MAC. The Flashes are ranked No. 33 in the country and trail The Chippewas’ top MAC average by 1.585 points.

Central Michigan is also home to many of the high-ranking gymnasts in the nation.

One of those gymnasts is senior Kara Reighard. Reighard is ranked No. 4 nationally in the floor exercise. At the State of Michigan Classic Feb. 6, Reighard received a 10.0 score on the floor exercise.

But that rare perfect score doesn’t scare the Flashes.

“It just shows us their potential, but we’re at our home,” Linnersten said. “She was at her home last week when she had her 10, and nobody beats us at our home. Nobody’s going to be given scores like that here at Kent. It makes us realize our competition and makes us want to step up to our competition that much more to overtake them.”

Biggin insisted that he wants to concentrate more on the individual performances rather than the huge rivalry.

“It becomes a matter of not really focusing on them,” Biggin said. “We’ll see what happens at the end of the meet. If we worry about them, that’s not going to help us.”

Last week, seniors April Zentko and Earline Feugill made their home comeback after recovering from injuries. Biggin said that both will be competing tonight, but probably still not in more than one event.

Although Zentko and Feugill have been important to the Flashes in the past three years, missing the pair in other events doesn’t matter, Biggin said.

“We’re down a couple of people, but that’s the way it’s been all season,” Biggin said. “We can’t worry about the people that aren’t in. We have to worry about the people that are in and just having them do a good job.”

Contact gymnastics reporter Kali Price at [email protected].