Broncos Win Thriller Over No. 21 Kent State to Start MAC Season 1-0
"This was a statement win for us," said third-year Bronco head coach Dave Kuzara. "It shows people not only in the MAC, but also around the country, that Western Michigan gymnastics has arrived.
"This victory really started last year after the conference championship meet in terms of preparation, work ethic and fitness. Kent State entered the meet nationally ranked and our goal is to match up against the best competition. We are fortunate enough to have Kent State in our conference."
Kent State was picked to finish first in the MAC regular season and win the championship meet, according to the coaches' preseason poll, after becoming the first team to compete at the NCAA Championships last season. KSU returned 14 gymnasts from that 2011 squad, which finished the year ranked No. 12 in the country.
Western Michigan led 96.775 to 96.400 through the first two rotations, totaling a 48.375 on vault and a solid 48.400 on uneven bars, before having difficulty on balance beam. Taylor Zondervan (9.675) was the only Bronco to score over a 9.550 on beam and the team experienced two falls. KSU meanwhile, posted the highest event total of the day, going 48.700 on floor to take a 145.100 to 144.025 lead heading into the final rotation.
After almost being scratched moments before the start, Caroline O'Brien led WMU off with a 9.650 on floor, and four of the next five Broncos scored higher. In the final two routines, Zondervan and Lauren Bledsoe each scored a 9.800, tying for second behind KSU's Marie Case (9.825). On beam in the final rotation, Kent State also struggled, losing a gymnast to a bad fall in the second routine. KSU totaled a 46.925 in the event, while WMU posted a 48.625 on floor to take the meet by over a half-point.
"The beam was much better today for us, its a tough event, and we pride ourselves on fitness, so finishing floor strong is what we expect to do," Kuzara said.
WMU's Zondervan also finished runner-up on beam and in the all-around with a 38.125. Freshman Shelby Pflug placed third on vault (9.725), while juniors Lindsey Wienckowski and Caroline O'Brien (9.725) tied for third on bars.
Case won floor and beam (9.775) for Kent State (0-1, 0-1 MAC). Chelsea Drooger claimed vault (9.800) and Lindsey Runyun took bars (9.800). Whitnee Johnson was the meet's top all-arounder (38.625).
After opening the season with back-to-back home meets, Western Michigan travels to Northern Illinois for its first road test Sunday, Jan. 22.