Kent State Gymnastics Takes Aim At First National Title

Updated 4/14/2011

Story courtesy of Kent State Athletic Communications

A STORYBOOK FINISH

Cinderella will be calling Cleveland's Wolstein Center home this weekend.

The No. 24 Kent State gymnastics team will be competing for the program's first ever national title this weekend (April 15-17) in its own backyard. The Golden Flashes (19-4-1, 5-1 Mid-American Conference) went out and achieved what no Kent State gymnastics team had accomplished before on April 2 in the 2011 NCAA Ann Arbor Regional at Michigan's Crisler Arena: earn a trip to the national finals as a team, which just so happen to be hosted by the school.

The Golden Flashes beat out the likes of No. 4 Stanford, No. 16 Ohio State and No. 23 Minnesota to become the first sixth seed and first Mid-American Conference school to advance to the national finals in NCAA history. Host and ninth-ranked Michigan claimed the top spot in the competition.

Kent State enters the national finals as the 12th-seeded team in the field of 12. The Flashes are slated to compete in Friday's Semifinal 2 along with No. 1 seed Alabama, No. 4 seed Oregon State, No. 5 seed Florida, No. 8 seed Utah and No. 9 seed Nebraska. Semifinal 2 is slated to begin at 6 p.m.

Semifinal 1, which gets underway Friday at noon, features No. 2 seed and defending national champion UCLA, No. 3 seed Oklahoma, No. 6 seed Michigan, No. 7 seed Georgia, No. 10 seed Arkansas and No. 11 seed Illinois.

The top three teams from each semifinal will advance to the Super Six competition Saturday, April 16, at 4 p.m. The top four individuals from each session in each event (plus ties) from the preliminary team and all-around competition will compete in the individual-event competition Sunday, April 17, at 1 p.m.

MAKING HISTORY

It's the year of the underdog. Butler and VCU advance to the men's basketball Final Four against all odds. Why can't Kent State gymnastics shock the world as a six seed and punch its ticket to the 2011 NCAA Championships, which just so happen to be hosted by the school in two weeks?

That's the message 20th-year Kent State gymnastics head coach Brice Biggin delivered to his team in their final meeting the night before the 2011 NCAA Ann Arbor Regional, held April 2 at Michigan's Crisler Arena.

The No. 24 Golden Flashes went out and achieved what no Kent State gymnastics team has accomplished before: earn a trip to the national finals as a team, thanks to a second-place finish with a team score of 195.450, beating out the likes of Ohio State (195.350), Minnesota (195.225), Stanford (195.225) and Iowa State (194.800). Host Michigan won the meet with a score of 197.075. The Golden Flashes posted team scores of 49.050 on the floor exercise, 48.850 on the balance beam, 48.800 on the vault and 48.750 on the uneven bars.

Kent State University and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission will host the 2011 NCAA Division I Women's Gymnastics Championships in Cleveland from April 15-17 at the Wolstein Center.

"Wow. It feels like I'm in a dream right now," said Biggin. "We've talked to the girls all season about how we knew they were a special team and what kind of talent they had."

Senior co-captain Christina Lenny (Broadview Heights, Ohio) finished second in the all-around with a combined score of 39.350. She tied for second in the floor exercise with a 9.900 and tied for fourth on both the vault (9.850) and balance beam (9.850), matching the score of freshman teammate Marie Case (Erie, Pa.) on the balance beam. Lenny also tied for 17th on the uneven bars with a score of 9.750. Case also posted a 9.800 to tie for 19th on the floor exercise.

"I don't even have the words," said Lenny. "This is amazing and more than I could have ever imagined. I'm so proud of the team and everything we accomplished. This just shows that you can accomplish anything if you stick together and work as a team."

Sophomore Lindsay Runyan (Maineville, Ohio) tied for seventh on the uneven bars with a score of 9.825.

Senior co-captain Christine Abou-Mitri (Broadview Heights, Ohio) tied for 14th on the floor exercise with a 9.825, tied for 14th on the uneven bars with a 9.775 and tied for 19th on the balance beam with a 9.750.

Junior Rachel Goldenberg (Doylestown, Pa.) recorded a 9.775 to tie for 23rd on the floor exercise. She also tied sophomore co-captain Lauren Wozniak (Pittsburgh, Pa.) for 21st with a 9.750 on the vault.

Freshman Nikki Moore (Columbus, Ohio) tied for 27th on the floor exercise with a 9.750.

TRADITION

Although this weekend marks Kent State's first trip to the NCAA Championships, Kent State gymnastics is a program steeped in winning history.

The Golden Flashes have captured 11 Mid-American Conference crowns -- seven of which have come under current head coach Brice Biggin.

OUR HOUSE

The 2011 NCAA Gymnastics Championships will definitely feel like a home meet for senior co-captains Christina Lenny (Broadview Heights, Ohio) and Christine Abou-Mitir (Broadview Heights, Ohio).

The duo helped Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School to four state titles, then both committed to Kent State and have helped the Flashes earn their first national championship berth as well as two MAC titles.

In addition to Lenny and Abou-Mitiri, the Flashes boast six other Buckeye State natives on their roster, including junior Jamiee Caldwell (Blue Ash, Ohio), senior Danielle Durbin (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio), freshman Nikki Moore (Columbus, Ohio), freshman Mary Lou Renzi (Twinsburg, Ohio), sophomore Lindsay Runyan (Maineville, Ohio) and freshman Ashley Transue (Westerville, Ohio).

MAC ATTACK

Senior Christina Lenny (Broadview Heights, Ohio), sophomore Lindsay Runyan (Maineville, Ohio) and freshman Marie Case (Erie, Pa.) Kent State sweep the MAC's yearly awards, with Lenny taking home Co-Gymnast and Senior of the Year honors, Runyan garnering Specialist of the Year accolades and Case earning Freshman of the Year recognition. The Golden Flashes became the first program to have winners in all four categories since the conference instituted the MAC Specialist of the Year award in 2006.

Lenny became the second straight Kent State gymnast and second in school history to take home Gymnast of the Year honors and third to earn Senior of the Year recognition. A team captain in her final season competing for the Golden Flashes, Lenny currently ranks 15th in the country in the all-around and tied for 10th on the vault. She finished the regular season ranking 1st in the MAC in the all-around, 1st on the vault, 2nd on the uneven bars, and 4th on the balance beam and floor exercise and owned four of the MAC's top 10 scores in the all-around and four of the top 10 on the vault. She posted 17 event wins and 31 scores of 9.750 of better. Lenny captured her third conference vault title of her career Saturday, tying for first with a 9.900 to earn First Team All-MAC recognition.

Runyan joins current team manager Kristin Peters as the only Kent State gymnasts to become MAC Specialist of the Year. A five-time MAC Specialist of the Week pick in 2011, Runyan is currently tied for fourth in the nation on the uneven bars and ranks first in the MAC on the uneven bars. She owns the MAC's top five scores of the season on the uneven bars and posted seven event wins and 14 scores of 9.750 or better. Runyan won on the uneven bars with a 9.950 on Feb. 27 against Eastern Michigan, tying her for the best score all-time in the Kent State record books. She tied Lenny for second on the uneven bars with a 9.800 Saturday at the MAC Championships.

Case is the third Kent State gymnast to be named MAC Freshman of the Year.  She currently ranks 22nd in the nation in all-around, 1st in the MAC on the balance beam and floor exercise, 2nd in the MAC in the all-around and 4th in the MAC on the uneven bars. She owned three of the MAC's top 10 scores in the all-around and posted seven event wins and scores of 9.750 or better 28 times. Case finished fourth in the all-around with a 39.200 in her first career conference championship meet, garnering Second Team All-MAC honors.

For more information on the 2011 NCAA Gymnastics Championship, click here.