Team honors Positano in competition

Matt Peters

Shawntelle Thompson finished in fifth place on the beam during Kent State’s victory against Ball State.

Credit: Beth Rankin

In the span of less than a week, the Kent State gymnastics team went from learning of the murder of student assistant trainer Sarah Positano to dominating Ball State Friday at the M.A.C. Center.

The Flashes defeated Ball State 194.775-190.225 as several hundred fans joined to support them.

Signs of Positano were scattered throughout the M.A.C. Center. Kent State’s gymnasts drew “SP” on each of their cheeks. Gymnasts and coaches also wore “SAP“ patches. Senior co-captain Erika Linnersten said the team felt Positano’s presence during the meet.

Before the meet, there was a moment of silence in memory of Positano. After the meet, Kent State coach Brice Biggin gave a short speech thanking the crowd for how much their support meant to the team.

“We all wanted to do anything and everything we could (to remember Sarah) from the moment of silence to the pins to the patches,” Linnersten said. “Everyone threw in an idea, and we took them all. We were so willing to do anything we could to show Sarah was with us.

“Somebody who didn’t have to give anything who gave everything to the team, we wanted to give everything back to her,” Linnersten said.

The team received the news of Positano’s death while returning to Kent after a meet against Oklahoma Jan. 21. Biggin received the call from Kristy Kochajda, a senior on last year’s squad and Positano’s roommate, and then proceeded to huddle his team up and tell them the news.

Biggin said he never seriously considered canceling the meet. He said he knew the team could work through the tragedy as one.

“If we stay together and work together, and we work together as a team, then you can work through difficult things,” Biggin said. “That certainly made things easier. I don’t think Sarah would have wanted (us to cancel the meet).”

Linnersten said the team was able to make it through the week by talking to counselors and sticking together.

“Basically, we are not a team; we are a family.”

Throughout the meet, the gymnastics team was supported by a large crowd of Kent State athletes. Almost the entire student section was filled with other athletes.

“From the coaches on down to the athletes, it is a big family,” Biggin said of the athletic department. “These people care about each other. They know how hard each team trains, and it means the world when other athletes come out and support you.”

Melissa DeGrate, women’s basketball senior guard, said she knew it was important for the athletic department to support their fellow athletes.

“All the support they had, I thought that was a good blessing for them,” DeGrate said. “I just hope everything’s OK. I know that’s hard for their team, and I just hope they can pull it together. They seemed good yesterday, so it looked like they were doing all right.”

A memorial will be held for Positano 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Kiva.

Contact sports editor Matt Peters at [email protected].