Kent State Sports Report: Tayala, Thomas turn in a day to remember at 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships

By Allen Moff | Staff writer Published:

Kent State director of track and field Bill Lawson called it "maybe the best 20 minutes in Kent State track & field history."

During that brief but amazing stretch of time last Thursday, Golden Flashes junior Matthias Tayala and sophomore Danniel Thomas went from great to elite in their respective events at the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore.

Tayala was crowned the NCAA Division I national champion in the hammer throw at historic Hayward Field by unleashing a school-record heave of 241-4 on his final toss, which moved him from third place to first.

"On my final throw going from third to winning the title is a great feeling," said Tayala. "I knew I could do it, I just went up there and gave it my all. My family is the biggest support I have and I wouldn't be here without them. It feels good to do this not only for me but for Kent State, my coaches and for my teammates that are always supporting me."

At nearly the same time Tayala was becoming a national champion, Thomas vaulted from seventh to second in the discus with a heave of 187-4 on her final throw.

"This is an outstanding day for Kent State athletics," said Lawson. "On the biggest stage in collegiate track and field at the most storied venue in America, Matthias Tayala hammered the best throw of his life. Not to be out done, Danniel Thomas hit one of the most clutch performances I have ever seen, from sitting in seventh and moving to second on her last throw to become the NCAA runner-up in the discus. This is one of the greatest moments for me as a head coach in 35 years. A great day for (KSU throws coach Nathan) Fanger and Kent State athletics."

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Flashes sophomores Dior Delophont and Jesse Oxley were named to the Capital One Academic All-District 5 First Team.

Delophont, a fashion design major, carries a 3.94 grade-point average. She was the MAC champion in the high jump (5-11.5) and triple jump (42-11).

Oxley, an exercise science major with a 3.73 GPA, tied for second in the pole vault at the MAC outdoor meet by clearing 16-7.5.

ACADEMICS

Kent State's student-athletes continued their run of success in the classroom during the spring of 2014 by posting the third-highest term grade-point average in recorded history.

The athletic department finished with a 3.085 spring GPA, a number that ranks behind only a 3.11 in the spring of 2013 and a 3.10 in the spring of 2012. The department's current cumulative GPA of 3.139 remains the highest in recorded history.

"Our goal is to graduate student-athletes with meaningful degrees," said KSU Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen. "These grade-point averages indicate that our students will be prepared to go out into society and contribute in the fields of their choice. Successes in the classroom translate to successes on the field, and that is revealed by our recent stretch of wins in the Cartwright Award, the Reese and Jacoby trophies and the Wagon Wheel Challenge."

Twelve Kent State teams recorded term and cumulative GPAs over 3.0, including three with term GPAs above 3.4 and five with cumulative GPAs above 3.4.

A total of 22 student-athletes scored perfect 4.0 grade-point averages. They are included among a group of 234 Flashes with term GPAs at 3.0 or above (61 percent of Kent State's student-athletes) and 118 with term GPAs above 3.5 (30 percent).

Individual team accomplishments include:

Baseball earned third best Spring GPA in recorded history; men's basketball boasted highest spring term GPA in recorded history; women's basketball, 83 percent of team finished with a 3.0 or higher term GPA; field hockey had three students graduate with honors; football earned second-highest term GPA in recorded history; golf senior class earned a 3.498; women's golf earned highest GPA for the year since 2007; gymnastics earned second-highest term GPA in the department; women's soccer recorded highest GPA in the department, with all student-athletes above a 3.0 GPA; softball senior class boasted a 3.825 average cumulative GPA; men's track and field finished with 36 student-athletes above a 3.0 GPA; women's track and field finished with highest team GPA in recorded history; wrestling earned highest team spring term and cumulative GPA in recorded history; volleyball earned highest term GPA in five years.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Krista Beechy has been named Kent State's director of basketball operations.

"We are excited to add Northeast Ohio native Krista Beechy to our staff," said KSU head coach Danielle O'Banion. "She is a proven winner with strong relationships throughout the state of Ohio. Krista's work ethic and basketball pedigree will positively impact our program."

Beechy spent last season at Winthrop, where she was a graduate assistant with women's basketball while earning her Masters Degree in business administration.

The Winesburg, Ohio, native is very familiar with women's basketball in her home state after serving as a staff member for the Ohio Girls Basketball Report and being the head junior varsity and assistant varsity girls basketball coach for the Berlin Hiland Lady Hawks from 2010-2012.

Beechy received her Bachelor's Degree from Grove City College, where she was a two-year captain and four-year letterwinner on the basketball team. She helped Hiland High School to two state championships and three final four appearances in her four-year career.

BASEBALL

Alex Miklos and Zarley Zalewski were named to the 2014 American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings Mideast Region First Team.

Miklos is one of three outfielders in the region to make the First Team after he batted .362 in 177 at-bats with 18 doubles, seven triples and three home runs. He also contributed 36 RBI and 17 stolen bases before his junior season ended prematurely due to a knee injury.

Zalewski earned the sole First Team All-Region designated hitter distinction after batting .355 this season with a team-high 76 hits, including 16 doubles, two triples and two home runs.

This marks the fourth straight year Kent State has had two or more All-Region honorees.

•••

Four former Kent State stars are members of the Greater Akron Baseball Hall of Fame's 2014 class: Andy Sonnanstine, Jim Farrell, David Starn and Drew Saylor.

Sonnanstine, a former Wadsworth High School standout, pitched in the big leagues with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for five seasons. He posted to an 11-4 record with a 2.52 ERA for the Flashes in 2004, and was named Co-MVP of the MAC Tournament after leading Kent State to the title. Sonnanstine was drafted in the 13th round of the 2004 MLB Draft by Tampa Bay, and recorded a career-best 13 wins against nine losses with a 4.38 ERA in 2008. His career was eventually derailed by injuries, and he retired at the age of 28.

Farrell, a Marlington High School product, led Kent State to a pair of MAC titles before getting drafted in the 40th round of the 1995 amateur draft by the Boston Red Sox. He posted a 14-win season for the Red Sox's Class AAA team in Pawtucket in 1998, but was limited to 73 innings over the next three seasons due to injuries and retired after six pro seasons.

Farrell has been head baseball coach at Cuyahoga Falls High School since 2006.

Starn, a Hudson native and former Walsh Jesuit High School star, was a four-year letterman for the Flashes who earned a school-record 29 wins. He was the ace of the staff when KSU earned its first-ever bid to the College World Series in 2012.

The former walk-on was named MAC Pitcher of the Year in 2012 when he posted an 11-3 record and 2.25 ERA. He was the MVP of the MAC Tournament in both 2011 and 2012.

Starn was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. He underwent labrum surgery on his pitching shoulder in May 2013 and spent the next 10 months rehabbing his shoulder in Orlando. Starn reported to the Braves' spring training facility at the Disney complex in March and was released.

Starn continues to rehabilitate his injured shoulder while working to finish his degree at Kent State.

Saylor (Wadsworth) spent the first two years of his college career at Cincinnati, then transferred to KSU. He captured the MAC batting title in 2006 and was named First Team All-America.

Saylor was a 13th-round pick by the Florida Marlins in the 2006 draft. He played minor-league ball for the Marlins and later led the Lake Erie Crushers to the 2009 Frontier League title.

Saylor was hired as a minor-league hitting coach by the Colorado Rockies in 2011 and is now in his second year as manager of the Tri-City Dust Devils, a short-season Class A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. At age 32 he is the youngest manager at any level of baseball of a team with MLB connections.

SOFTBALL

Former Kent State standout Jessica Toocheck will be inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame during a banquet on Thursday in Wadsworth.

Toocheck was a three-time All-MAC First Team, two-time NFCA All-Mideast Region Second Team and two-time MAC All-Tournament team selection. She was also named a First Team Academic All-American in 2008.

After graduating from Kent State, Toocheck played professionally for two seasons with the Akron Racers.

•••

Veteran Flashes softball coach Karen Linder was presented with the 'Field of Dreams' Award of Distinction at the John Wells Memorial Tournament in Zanesville earlier this month.

"I am honored to be presented with this award," Linder said. "I appreciate being recognized along with some of the other individuals who have received this award prior to me."

A three-time MAC Coach of the Year honoree, Linder recently completed her 18th season leading the softball program at Kent State and is the winningest coach in the history of the program (501-421-1). She has accumulated 760 wins, 11 conference titles and 11 30-win seasons over her 28-year head coaching career.

Email: amoff@recordpub.com

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