By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
Crunch time has arrived for Kent State's winter sports squads.
The Golden Flashes' regular-season champion gymnastics team will compete at the Mid-American Conference Championships on Saturday at Eastern Michigan, while wrestlers Ian Miller, Mack McGuire, Michael DePalma and Caleb Marsh will attempt to secure All-American honors at the 2014 NCAA Championships beginning today in Oklahoma City.
The gymnasts swept all six conference foes during the regular season, despite battling a rash of injuries throughout the '14 campaign.
"The team has probably overachieved so far," said 23rd-year KSU coach Brice Biggin, who will seek his eighth MAC meet crown on Saturday to go along with eight regular-season conference titles. "We've had a lot of little injuries to some key people, and we've had so many different people step up this year. Our meet last weekend at Pitt was only the second time all year we've had the same lineup. "For this team to have done what they have while constantly changing because of all kinds of different situations, it's really been pretty amazing."
While chaos has ensued around her, senior Marie Case has been Kent State's rock of granite once again. The two-time defending MAC Gymnast of the Year set a new personal best in the all-around, scoring 39.600 while leading the Flashes to a victory over Bowling Green that clinched the regular season title.
"You just can't really say enough positive things about her," said Biggin. "Marie led the team in every facet. She's a great worker in the gym, great attitude and a fantastic performer under pressure. She's ranked 13th in the country right now in the all-around, and that's against kids that were former National Elite (Team) members and Olympic gymnasts. It's really amazing what she's done."
Still, one gymnast can't carry a team to a title no matter how good she is.
"Any time you want to win a championship, it's not just one or two or three people, you need good contributions from everyone on your team," said Biggin. "That's one place where this team has excelled this year. We've been able to fill in spots, and we're hoping they can do that one more time and give us a chance to win another championship."
Other key contributors for KSU include juniors Amiah Mims, Chelsea Drooger, Whitnee Johnson and Nicole Radon; sophomores Jaymi Baxter and Rebecca Osmer; and freshman Jordan Hardison.
The Flashes will face a strong MAC field that features four-time defending champion Central Michigan, which is currently ranked 18th in the country. Kent State upset the Chippewas during the regular season in Mount Pleasant.
"Our philosophy all season has been to not worry about other teams," said Biggin. "We know the MAC right now is a very even conference. There's a number of really good teams that have improved and done a great job this year. For us to do what we need to do, we need to just completely focus on ourselves and not worry about anyone else."
Action from Ypsilanti will begin Saturday at 2 p.m.
Four kent state wrestlers head to ncaas
Kent State's wrestling program has produced at least one All-American for five straight seasons, and will look to continue that streak in 2014.
Miller (27-4) enters the meet with even higher aspirations. The sophomore 157-pounder owns 10 wins over NCAA qualifiers this season and was ranked fifth in the country after earning his second MAC title. He received the fourth seed for the NCAA meet and will take on Johnny Greisheimer (24-9) of Edinboro in his opening bout.
Fellow sophomore McGuire (27-13) was awarded the 16th and final seed at 133, and will face Missouri's Matt Manley (23-14) in his opener. He is 2-1 against Manley this season.
DePalma (24-18), a sophomore who placed third at 149 at the MAC meet, will take on No. 9 seed Eric Grajales of Michigan in the first round. He defeated Grajales early in the season.
Marsh (18-11), a junior, received an at-large bid to the NCAA event at 174 pounds. He has earned eight wins over NCAA qualifiers, and will battle No. 6 seed Logan Storley (30-5) of Minnesota in his opener.
Today's opening session begins at noon. The entire tournament will be broadcast on ESPN, ESPNU and ESPN3.
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