Kent State Athletics
KSU's Lindsay Runyan

Amy Farnum, NCAA.com

In athletics, everyone wants the advantage of competing at home. While the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio, may not technically be the home gym for the Kent State gymnastics team, it is just 45 minutes up the road. The Wolstein Center also happens to be the venue of the 2011 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships, which Kent State is co-hosting.

For the Kent State and head coach Brice Biggin, playing host to the championships is not only good exposure for the region and the school, but also a huge motivating factor for the gymnasts to vie for their first-ever appearance at nationals.

“We’ve had a couple teams that have been close to qualifying for nationals, but with us being this close to the arena, we’re going to use every bit of incentive we can for the girls,” Biggin said, “and say, ‘Hey, this could be first for the team and for the program. It’s going to be in your hometown, so what a wonderful opportunity you have to rewrite the record books of Kent State gymnastics.’”

The Golden Flashes are not letting such a grand opportunity pass them by without challenging for one of the 12 teams spots in April. Kent State is currently ranked No. 12 in the national rankings after averaging a team score of 195.475 through the first four competitions of the season.

Eight Kent State gymnasts hail from the state of Ohio, but for seniors Christina Lenny and Christina Abou-Mitri, qualifying for NCAAs would be especially meaningful. They attended Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School in Broadview Heights, Ohio – just 20 minutes from Cleveland. The pair led their school to four Ohio state high school championships between 2004 and 2007, and now they are hoping to experience that kind of success at the college level.

“They’ve both had great careers here at Kent State,” Biggin said. “What a way for them to possibly go out – either individually or as a team.”

“When I found out (about hosting), I was really excited for it to be in Cleveland my senior year,” Lenny said. “If we make it as a team, it is close to Kent and we could have a lot of fans there to support us.”

Lenny is doing her part to help the Golden Flashes reach their goal as she is one of the top gymnasts in the nation. She ranks seventh nationally on the vault (9.892) and 11th on the uneven bars (9.850). Earlier this season, Lenny shined at a quad meet held at the Wolstein Center, winning the all-around, vault and uneven bars for the Golden Flashes in a virtual home meet.

“It was good to see what the arena was like and get a feel for the equipment, and the surroundings and where the people were going to be,” Lenny said. “It was a good chance to feel everything out.”

In addition to contributions by Lenny, several other gymnasts are boosting the team each week.

Sophomore Lindsay Runyan is coming off a victory on the uneven bars which she won with a career-high 9.925. She ranks seventh nationally in the event with a 9.875 average. Freshman Marie Case is also one of the team’s top gymnasts with several top-three finishes this season.

“We’ve talked a great deal to the team about if we’re going to be successful we’re going to have to have contributions from everyone,” Biggin said. “It’s not just one or two people that get you to a championship – it’s six, seven, eight, nine, 10 people working together for our team to do well. That’s one of the things that we’ve been very pleased with this season is that we’ve got great contributions from a number of team members. We feel like we’ve got some very good depth and we feel like we’re getting contributions from every class.

“The one thing we stressed a lot at the beginning of this year is working as a team and working together because I know in the past we’ve struggled with that a little bit,” Lenny said. “This year, we’ve been feeding off each other’s energy at competitions.”

After a successful non-conference start, the Golden Flashes begin a stretch of six Mid-American Conference meets at Bowling Green on Feb. 6. Kent State returns to co-host the 2011 NCAA Championships at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland on April 15-17.