Going for no. 13: Gymnastics sets bar high to start season


Matthew Brown

Rachel DeCavitch gracefully ascends the balance beam to start off her routine during the gymnastics meet against Rutgers and Cornell University on Jan. 28, 2022.

Isabella Schreck, Editor-in-Chief

In 1981, the first Mid-American Conference gymnastics championship began in Kent State’s M.A.C. Center.

Since then, the Flashes have hosted the conference finals in four more seasons – and they have won every title when competing at home. Kent State will host the championship for the sixth time this year.

Sophomore Alyssa Guns said her team has “a really good shot” at winning it all.

“Our team is looking really strong this year,” she said. “We are just really good at having each other’s backs. We have really good chemistry. We all know each other really well, and we’re all really good friends with each other. I really like that about us.”

In her first collegiate meet last season, Guns scored a 9.975 on floor – the best floor performance from KSU since 2018. One of the two judges had given her a perfect ten.

Members of the Kent State gymnastics team celebrate after beating Western Michigan to claim a share of the 2022 MAC regular season championship. (KSU Athletics)

Since the start of MAC play in 1981, the gymnastics program has won 12 MAC titles and eight regular-season titles.

Last season, the Flashes tied for first in the MAC regular season but finished in fifth place in the conference finals. They ended with a 13-5 record overall and 5-1 in the MAC.

KSU had scored its third-highest total, 196.850, in program history in its final regular-season meet.

Brice Biggin has been the gymnastics coach at Kent State for 30 seasons this year. (Courtesy of Kent State Athletics)

“Last year, we were very consistent, but we lost,” said coach Brice Biggin, who has coached the program for 30 seasons. “I hate to say we lost a little bit of drive after we tied for the regular season championship, but I think we lost a little drive. We didn’t perform at championships the way that we should have – and that was a huge disappointment for us.”

“With us hosting them out of championships this year, it’s gonna be paramount that we maintain a high level of intensity until our last meet.”

Biggin has led the program to eight conference titles, one national championship appearance and 21 NCAA regional appearances.

Roster run-down 

Graduate student Cami Klein and seniors Olivia Amodei, Rachel DeCavitch, Karlie Franz and Taylor Wentland are the team’s returning veterans this season.

In the Flashes’ exhibition meet Dec. 9, DeCavitch, Amodei and Franz tied for first on bars.

DeCavitch, the team’s all-around competitor last year, said she and her teammates have done “a great job” with their leadership.

“We’re there to just keep each other calm and in the moment and be able to buy into every routine, every turn and every practice,” said DeCavitch, who was named MAC gymnast of the week last season. “We’re making sure we’re reminding everyone of that and staying positive throughout each practice and in everything we do.”

Junior Kennedy Weinpert, who posted a 9.900 twice last season, won the all-around competition and on beam at the exhibition meet.

Guns won the vault and floor routines.

Other top scoring returners are juniors Kyndall Gilbert and Sarah Haxton. Biggin said he has seen sophomores Brynne Tsipis and Grace Wehry improve over the preseason.

Olivia Amodei switches direction on the uneven bars halfway through her routine during the gymnastics meet on Jan. 28, 2022. (Matthew Brown)

Biggin had to replace five seniors from last year. Six freshmen have joined the 2022-23 roster.

“We do have a good freshman class, and we’ve told them that they have to understand they have to be a valuable part of this success to the program,” Biggin said. “Just because they’re freshmen doesn’t mean that they can’t produce what they have to produce, and I think they take that seriously.”

Biggin said freshman Zoe Rankin, a two-time national qualifier from Bellefonte, Penn., is a promising rookie on his squad.

“She is an extremely high energy person,” Biggin said. “She just loves showing off to the crowd — in this sport, you have to be able to have that type of attitude. She has shown great potential and great promise in that area. She’s gonna be very strong on vault, beam and floor.”

The team has “a lot of depth” this season, according to DeCavitch.

“All of our girls are ready to compete, and we have lineups that if someone is out, we have someone else to put right in,” she said. “We’re not worried about whether we’ll lose someone or if something happens. I’m not sure that every team has that.”

Kyndall Gilbert reacts during the Kent State gymnastic team’s opening meet against Northern Illinois and Southeast Missouri State on Sunday, January 16. (David Dermer)

Confidence galore

After posting a 9.775 at least once on vault, beam and floor last season, Guns said she is more confident now that she knows what to expect in a collegiate program.

“I just set the expectations for myself every day in practice, and it’s just the little things when I’m working on my routines,” Guns said. “I just try to remember my technique and how I can succeed every turn.”

The Flashes compete against West Virginia and Maryland in their season opener at 7 p.m. Jan. 13 in West Virginia.

West Virginia went 13-5 overall last season. Maryland finished 18-9 – the team scored above 197 three times last season. WVU and Kent State had not scored above 197.

DeCavitch said her four years at Kent State have made feeling confident this season that much easier.

“It’s just having the experience of competing and learning to have confidence in myself,” she said. “The experience of having those numbers and being out competing and learning how to control nerves or control adrenaline and being in that atmosphere has definitely gotten a lot better since freshman year. For MACs, being at home, there’s no better year than this year to be the most experienced for that.”

Isabella Schreck is editor-in-chief. Contact her at [email protected].