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Sports roundup 2023: spring recap, fall preview

Matthew Brown
Kent State senior Katie Shumate dribbles in toward the net during the wagon wheel game against Akron Feb. 18, 2023.

As the semester came to a close and the summer began, Kent State’s sports teams continued to bring in victories – with some programs even marking historic seasons.

Track and field makes it to NCAA competition

The men’s and women’s track programs sent nine athletes to the NCAA East First Round in May.

Then-sophomore Baidy Ba finished in ninth place in the 1,500-meter run, and then-graduate student Asa Hodrick ended in 19th place in the 200-meter dash.

Korie Davis II, Jonathan Solomon, Quintin Cooks and Hodrick placed 17th in the 4×400 meter-relay, and then-sophomore Alexandre Malanda finished 32nd in the triple jump. Hodrick took home the most valuable player award at the MAC Men’s Outdoor Track and Field championships.

Then-freshman Svenia De Coninck was the only athlete from the women’s program to qualify for the first round. She competed in the women’s high jump and tied for 17th place overall.

The women’s track team finished in seventh place at the MAC Women’s Outdoor Track and Field championships in May, and the men’s team ended in second place in its respective championship.

Women’s golf does it again, men’s finishes fourth

The women’s golf team saw success individually and as a program this past season.

The Flashes captured their 24th MAC Championship title of the team’s 25-year existence, automatically qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.

The team finished in 10th place in the NCAA Regionals, and freshman Leon Takagi finished fifth individually at the regionals. She qualified for the division championships, finishing three strokes over par after the third round of the championships for a 47th-place finish.

Then-senior Mayka Hoogeboom earned MAC golfer of the year, and Takagi earned the conference’s freshman of the year award. Coach Casy VanDamme, who took over the program in August 2021, won MAC coach of the year.

The men’s golf team finished in fourth place in the MAC Championships in the spring – ending the program’s six-year run of consecutive conference championships.

Ben MacLean was named MAC freshman of the year. In spring 2022, Kent State’s Jordan Gilkison, who placed on the All-MAC first team, won the freshman award.

Outfielder Josh Johnson, a then-senior, swings at the ball during a game against Akron on April 15, 2023. (Yasmeen Matthews)

Lacrosse makes program history

For the first time in its five-year history, the women’s lacrosse team won a share of the MAC regular season title last season.

Then-seniors Kenzie Sklar and Jackie Wolford, MAC offensive player of the year, led their team with 69 goals apiece – sharing a MAC single-season goal record.

Then-senior Madison Flannigan, who made 167 saves last season, earned MAC goalkeeper of the year, and coach Brianne Tierney earned the title of coach of the year.

Baseball hits 40 wins, softball now has new coach

The baseball team led the conference in batting and pitching in the spring, making it all the way to the conference title game.

The program ended the season with a 24-6 conference record and a 42-16 record overall. This was the Flashes’ first 40-win season since 2016.   

Then-junior Aidan Longwell totaled a team-best 94 hits, and then-junior Michael McNamara and then-sophomore Jake Casey each hit 10 home runs on the season. Then-junior Joe Whitman took home MAC pitcher of the year, and coach Jeff Duncan earned coach of the year.

The softball program finished with a 13-14 MAC record and a 18-31 overall record.

Then-freshman Bri Despines led the team with 31 runs. Then-senior Julia Mazanec, who will return next season, totaled a team-high 46 hits, and then-junior Emily Lippe finished with a team-best 13 home runs. All three players are returning this season.

The softball team’s newly renovated field, which the team played on later this past spring, has a dirt infield and turf outfield and is now called the Devine Diamond. It’s named after Judy Devine, a former coach and pioneer for women’s athletics at Kent State.

Jessica O’Donnell will replace eight-year Eric Oakley as softball’s new head coach for the 2024 season. O’Donnell was previously head coach at Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania for five seasons.

Women’s basketball heads to Greece, men’s team went dancing

The women’s basketball team, which finished with a 21-11 record overall and 12-6 in the MAC last season, competed in Greece in early August. This was the program’s second-ever foreign competition trip.

In March, the men’s basketball program became conference champions after defeating Toledo in the final round of the tournament. The team went 28-7 overall and 15-3 in the conference.

For the first time in six years, the Flashes made it to the NCAA Tournament. The team lost to Indiana in the first round.

New coach, new roster for football

Sean Lewis, who coached the program for five years and led it to its first bowl-game victory ever, departed from Kent State’s football program in December. Soon after, at least 14 players entered the transfer portal.

New head coach Kenni Burns now takes over the program, which went 5-7 overall and tied for third in the MAC East at 4-4. Lewis is now offensive coordinator for the University of Colorado.

Burns was previously an assistant head coach at Minnesota, a role he took in 2019.

Before then, the former Indiana running back was a running backs coach for Minnesota and Western Michigan.

Collin Schlee, last season’s starting quarterback, threw for 13 touchdowns and averaged 191.73 yards per game. Running back Marquez Cooper totaled 13 touchdowns, and wide receiver Devontez Walker earned 11. All three players will not be returning.

The team opens the season against University of Central Florida at 7 p.m. Aug. 31 and remains on the road for a game against the University of Arkansas at 4 p.m. Sep. 9.

Turn to pages 40 & 41 for a full preview of the upcoming season and page 42 for a profile of Kenni Burns, the football program’s new head coach.

Volleyball enters season with new faces, second-year coach

Second-year head coach Haley Eckermen, an All-American outside hitter from the University of Texas, will lead the volleyball program into its first tournament Aug. 25 and 26.

The team will play its first games in the M.A.C. Center Sept. 15 against Youngstown State.

Then-freshman Mackenzie McGuire led the team with 295 kills. Then-senior Savannah Matthews, in her last year with the team, came in second in kills with 244.

Then-graduate student setter Alex Haffner led the team with 27 service aces and 991 aces, and then-graduate student Danie Tyson recorded a team-high 92 blocks. Both players ran out of eligibility for this season.

Then-graduate student Erin Gardner, who is the third player in program history to total 2,000 career digs, is also not returning this season. She had played libero in almost all of her games with the Flashes.

Kent State fifth-year Lana Strejcek aims a spike around Toledo’s defenders during the game on Nov. 12th, 2022. (Matthew Brown)

Women’s soccer was so close to becoming tournament qualifiers

Last season, the women’s soccer program finished the season in seventh place in the MAC at 4-2-5 and overall at 4-7-7. The team had started the season 0-5-2.

In their last regular-season game against Buffalo, the Flashes needed to beat the Bulls or tie with them to qualify for the conference tournament. Kent State ended up losing that game.

Then, the Flashes’ fate rested on Western Michigan losing or tying their game against Toledo that same night. WMU went on to win its game, and Kent State was out of a tournament spot.

The team ended with 18 goals on the season, averaging one per game. Then-sophomore Alisa Arthur, then-sophomore Siena Stambolich, then-redshirt senior Tiana Harris and then-freshman Kelsey Salopek led the team with three goals each. Goalie then-senior Sarah Melén totaled 57 saves.

Harris, the 2021 season’s MAC defensive player of the year, will not be returning this season. The team welcomes eight freshmen.

In May, coach Rob Marinaro, who has coached the Flashes for 22 seasons and has earned the title of MAC coach of the year three times, signed a contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Jenna Hellstrom, a former forward for Kent State who led the conference in points and assists during her senior year, will be back with the Flashes this season, this time as an assistant coach. Hellstrom was a member of the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team.

Field hockey wins conference again, Ba runs fast for cross country

The field hockey earned its second consecutive MAC title last season after defeating Bellarmine 4-1.

The Flashes ended the season 8-10 overall and 6-1 in the MAC. They made 33 goals on the season.

Then-freshman Patricia Strunk led the team with seven goals and 38 shots. Then-senior Larissa Balachick, who is not on this season’s roster, and then-junior Danielle Hamm each totaled a team-high eight assists. Goalie then-sophomore Cecile van Eijck made 103 saves.

Four-year coach Kyle DeSandes-Moyer signed a contract extension through the 2026 season. She was named MAC coach of the year in 2019.

Last season, then-sophomore Baidy Ba and then-junior Joe Farley ran the 8K conference championship race in just under 24 minutes, becoming the first runners in program history to finish below 24:00 in that specific race.

Ba finished in seventh place, and Farley finished ninth.

The men’s and women’s cross country teams finished the MAC cross country championships in fifth and eighth place, respectively.

Ba went on to break a 21-year record in the 10K at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships. He broke the record by more than 30 seconds and finished in seventh place overall.

With this performance, Ba earned a spot in the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, where he finished in 126th place – the best finish in the race of any Kent State men’s runner since 1991.

Then-graduate student Leah Lisle posted the best times for the women’s team at the conference finals and Great Lakes Regional. Lisle and Farley are not listed on this season’s roster.

Kent State’s Sydney Washburn, who was a senior on the field hockey team during the 2022 season, fends off her Ball State opponents to maintain control of the ball. (Matthew Brown)

Isabella Schreck is editor-in-chief.

Contact her at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Isabella Schreck, Editor-in-Chief
Izzy is a junior journalism major who loves reading, writing, talking — and most importantly, asking a lot of questions. She previously was Sports Editor and a sports and general assignment reporter. She loves learning about other peoples’ stories and is grateful for the opportunity to share them with the public! Contact her at [email protected].
Yasmeen Matthews, Assistant Photo Editor
Yasmeen is a sophomore Photography Major and KentWired's Assistant Photo Editor. She enjoys taking photos of the various sports teams as well as student life on Kent's campus. Contact her @[email protected].
Matthew Brown, Photo Editor
Matthew is a junior photography major. He has a passion for photography and traveling. Contact him at [email protected].

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