Strong start has Kent State gymnasts in line for clash with Central Michigan

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By Allen Moff | Staff Writer

On paper, it's been a relatively smooth ride thus far in 2014 for the Kent State gymnastics team.

The 25th-ranked Golden Flashes are off to an impressive 6-1 start than includes three lopsided victories over Mid-American Conference foes. They've been consistently solid, cracking 194 points in all seven meets this season, with a high mark of 195.675 in their "Flip For The Cure" victory over Northern Illinois last Friday at the M.A.C. Center.

That consistency has been incredible, according to veteran coach Brice Biggin, because in reality there's been nothing smooth about the 2014 campaign.

"It's actually been a little more of a struggle than it looks, because we've had a lot of injuries," said Biggin. "We've called it a little bit of a Band Aid season so far; we're putting a Band Aid on one kid, then one comes off and it goes on another one. They're not major injuries, it's just a lot of little things that are keeping kids out a week or two weeks. It's been frustrating from a coaching standpoint, because we feel like we can't ever get the same lineup in."

Those pesky injuries have made the team's achievements all the more impressive.

"We've been fighting, putting together a different lineup every week and obviously when you're doing that, it's not the greatest thing. But we've had kids step up every week and produce routines for us," said Biggin. "That's made the team what it's been so far this year."

Two-time Mid-American Conference Gymnast of the Year Marie Case has been producing typically strong scores, but she's been battling injuries as well during her senior year.

"Her ankle has been bothering her just about every day, her back bothers her at times," said Biggin. "I think when her career is done, her body is going to thank her tremendously."

Despite those injuries, Case has not missed a beat. She has won the all-around in the last two meets, and has the MAC's top all-around score (39.375).

"She just has such a high pain tolerance threshold that she's gonna do whatever she has to do to stay competitive," said Biggin. "She has been the rock of the program and certainly has led by example, both with her consistency and her scoring."

Consistency has been an issue for junior Amiah Mims, but she's currently on an up-tick.

"Mims had a great freshman year, then you talk about a sophomore slump. She hit the bottom," said Biggin. "But we had lots of talks, and to her credit, she's come back this year with a vengeance and has really stepped up."

Juniors Nicole Radon and Chelsea Drooger have also been steady for the Flashes.

"(Radon) is leading off beam for us and been very steady, and she's also competing on floor. She's done a great job," said Biggin. "Chelsea Drooger has had a very good season. She's doing three events for us, and we need her to continue to step up and have the type of year that she's capable of."

Sophomore Jaymi Baxter has fully recovered from a knee injury suffered during her senior year of high school and has been making solid contributions for Kent State, while freshman Jordan Hardison also provided a spark in last Friday's win over NIU.

Another key contributor for the Flashes is freshman Olivia Trout, but she remains sidelined due to a hip injury.

"We're hoping to get her back some time this year, but it's really been a struggle for her," said Biggin.

Wounded or not, Kent State is about to hit the home stretch of the season beginning with Sunday's showdown at Central Michigan. The Chippewas have captured the past four MAC Championship meets and are as strong as ever, ranked 19th in the country after producing the conference's top-four team scores so far this year.

"Central's having the best year I can remember them having in a long time. They started off at a high level and have been very consistent," said Biggin, who has led KSU to seven MAC meet titles in 23 years as head coach. "We certainly wish we had some of our kids a little healthier, but it is what it is. We'll have to focus not on them, but on ourselves and do what we can do, then at the end of the meet we'll see what happens."

Biggin knows his feisty squad will give him all it's got.

"We really give these kids a lot of credit," said Biggin. "It's been a struggle finding a consistent lineup, but they've really put their time in and they've worked hard. They've filled the shoes. It's been pleasant to watch, cause you see the hard work pay off."

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