Gymnastics Team Readies for 2011 Season with Blue & Gold Intrasquad Meet
The Kent State gymnastics team continues preparations for its 48th season of competition by hosting the Blue & Gold Intrasquad Meet Friday (Dec. 3) at the M.A.C. Center. The meet is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. and admission is free.
"We want to get experience," said 20th-year head coach Brice Biggin. "We want to get our girls in front of a big crowd so they see what the competitive venue is supposed to look like. We'll see how the freshmen react and where the upperclassmen are at right now."
The 2011 season will be one in which the eyes of the gymnastics world will be focused on northeast Ohio, as Kent State hosts the NCAA Championships in conjunction with the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission April15-17 at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland.
In the meantime, the Golden Flashes are in search of their 12th Mid-American Conference championship meet team title and third in four years. Kent State captured its third straight conference regular season championship by going a perfect 6-0 for the third straight season and finished second at the championship meet in 2010. The team's postseason concluded with a trip to the NCAA Morgantown Regional.
Senior Christine Abou-Mitri (Broadview Heights, Ohio) became the first Kent State gymnast to earn MAC Gymnast of the Year honors while senior Christina Lenny (Broadview Heights, Ohio) and junior Erin Rothrock (York, Pa.) garnered First Team All-MAC selection. Lenny won the conference's vault and floor exercise championships while Rothrock took home MAC gold on the uneven bars.
*Blue Team Captain
*Gold Team Captain
Blue Competition Order:
Vault, Uneven Bars, Balance Beam, Floor Exercise
Gold Team Competition Order:
Uneven Bars, Vault, Floor Exercise, Balance Beam
Biggin has been the rock of the Kent State gymnastics program for two decades, winning seven MAC championship meet titles and eight regular season crowns since taking the reigns from program founders Janet and Rudy Bachna in 1992. He is one of the country's most respected coaches, earning selection to the NCAA Gymnastics Committee in July.
Biggin returns his entire coaching staff in 2011, as Sharon Sabin enters her eighth season with the squad and Tom Ward his third. Two-time MAC balance beam champion Kristin Peters begins her second season as the program manager at her alma mater. Former student-athletes Jenny Grose and Lindsey Otanicar will help the Golden Flashes as student assistants.
"We have a philosophy here of what we expect to do," said Biggin. "Having the same staff and having the expectations that this staff has for this team helps us tremendously."
The Golden Flashes look to be stronger on the balance beam in 2010, with several solid performers returning as well as an infusion of freshman talent.
"We're going to have a very nice mix of some great experience and some good, talented youth. It's an event that we need to be more solid on this year. We have the talent, and it's going to be time for the girls to show what they're capable of doing. We have a number of people who have the ability; they're just going to have to step up and show us."
Abou-Mitri led Kent State in 2010 with an average score of 9.754 and posted seven victories on the balance beam. Lenny averaged a 9.592 while junior Brianna Skiffington (Lumberton, New Jersey) showed improvement in the event by posting a career-high 9.775. Freshman Marie Case (Erie, Pa.) is expected to add solid depth.
Kent State will be looking to fill the void of losing two solid performers on the floor exercise but returns the conference event champ in Lenny.
"Floor exercise is probably going to be one of our bigger question marks," said Biggin. "We lost two of our really good seniors from last year in Lydia Barrett and Samantha Heydlauff. We've got some good, solid girls, but there will be a couple of new girls who will need to step in and fill some spots."
Lenny averaged a 9.789 in 2010 and posted scores of 9.750 or better 10 times. Abou-Mitri sported a 9.785 average and recorded a 9.750 or better nine times. Senior Danielle Durbin (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio) posted scores of 9.750 or better three times and averaged a 9.714. All three will be looked to lead the way with their veteran experience. The squad will receive a boost from Case, who comes to Kent State as a Junior Olympics national champion in the event
2011 Team Information
Team Captains: Christine Abou-Mitri, Christina Lenny, Lauren Wozniak
Returning Letterwinners: 11
2010 Record: 9-3 (6-0 MAC)
MAC Championship Meet Finish: Second
NCAA Morgantown Regional Finish: Fifth
The sentiment is that the uneven bars will be an area of great strength for the Golden Flashes.
"Uneven bars is our event where we're probably most happy with depth," said Biggin. "We feel like we have about eight to nine girls right now who can do very legitimate, nice bar routines and score a lot of points for us. We've got a nice mixture of upperclassmen and underclassmen and a substantial amount of talent."
Rothrock is Kent State's top returning performer in the event, averaging a 9.805 and tallying five event victories en route to capturing MAC gold in 2010. Sophomore Lindsay Runyan (Maineville, Ohio) tallied two event victories and posted a 9.750 or better seven times. Sophomore Rachel Guida (Cumberland, R.I.) averaged a 9.732 as a freshman and posted scores of 9.750 or better five times. Abou-Mitri posted scores of 9.750 or better five times while Lenny achieved the feat four times.
Vault is another event full of championship-caliber performers for the Golden Flashes.
"Vault should once again be one of our most solid events," said Biggin. "If we stay healthy and work the way we're capable of, vault is going to be a very good event for us."
Lenny captured her second vault title in three years after averaging a 9.852 in 2010, posting scores of 9.750 or better 10 times and five event wins. Sophomore Lauren Wozniak (Pittsburgh, Pa.) averaged a 9.771 as a freshman, recording scores of 9.750 or better 10 times. Abou-Mitri tallied scores of 9.750 or better nine times. Junior Rachel Goldenberg (Doylestown, Pa.) is expected to bounce back from injury and return to her explosive form while Case and Nikki Moore (Columbus, Ohio) bring championship credentials as freshmen.
One of the luxuries Kent State enjoys is having gymnasts who can not only compete -- but excel --in all four events.
"We've got some girls who we feel are very solid on all four events," said Biggin. "The nice thing is that you know what the seniors are capable of doing. When it gets to meets and things get a little tight and you need someone to go out and get the job done, your all-arounders have that experience. It certainly helps with creating consistency amongst our team."
Abou-Mitri posted five all-around victories while Lenny added two in 2010.
Biggin stressed that it will take a total team effort for Kent State to excel and reach new heights on the national level in 2011.
"We talk to the girls every day about how depth wins championships," said Biggin. "One or two superstars isn't going to make our team what it needs to be. For us to be the type of team that we want to be, we need depth at every event."
Junior Jaimee Caldwell (Blue Ash, Ohio) adds leadership and experience on both the uneven bars and the balance beam. Sophomore Stephanie Smart brings experience on the uneven bars while classmate Felicia Charles (North Miami, Fla.) contributes her talents as a Junior Olympic gymnast. Three more freshmen -- including Shirley Bradley (Northville, Mich.), Mary Lou Renzi (Twinsburg, Ohio) and Ashley Transue (Westerville, Ohio) -- all have the opportunity to showcase their skills they've developed at the regional and national levels immediately.
The Golden Flashes have turned the M.A.C. Center into a house of horrors for the opposition behind the support of large, enthusiastic crowds.
Kent State sports a 60-10 home mark since 2000, a winning percentage of .857.
"Our girls have fed on that the last 10 years," said Biggin. "We just don't lose very easily at home. This is a place we're comfortable at, we get great home crowds and the energy is phenomenal. When you come into our place, you're going to leave with a loss. That's the mentality the team has taken."
The Golden Flashes host four meets at the M.A.C. Center in 2011, all with different themes. The themes for the 2011 season are:
Jan. 9 vs. Maryland, 1 p.m. – Club Day
Feb. 12 vs. Central Michigan, 1 p.m. – Family/Kids Club Day
Feb. 27 vs. Western Michigan, 1 p.m. – Flip For The Cure
March 6 vs. Ball State, 1 p.m. – Senior Day/Gold Out/Greek Day
Kent State will also host an NCAA Quad Meet Jan. 21 at the Wolstein Center against George Washington, Oshkosh and Brigham Young. That meet is scheduled to get underway at 7 p.m.
Be sure to follow Kent State gymnastics on Twitter @ksugymnastics for live updates during all regular season home meets.