The Eastern Michigan University gymnastics team will be competing at the Eagle Invitational at 7 p.m. Saturday at Bowen Field House, getting a home advantage for the first time in almost a month.
The last time the Eagles were at home was for their Senior Day win over Western Michigan University on Feb. 13.
Senior gymnasts will be competing at home for the last time, when the Eagles will take on Northern Illinois University, WMU and Seattle Pacific University, in their last home meet of the season.
“The Eagle Invite is an exciting meet with three strong teams,” Coach Steve Wilce said. “We expect this to be a very competitive meet and high level gymnastics. Any team is capable of winning.”
EMU is coming off of a successful showing against Bowling Green University, on Feb. 21, where freshman Kaylyn Millick placed second in the all-around competition and posted a meet-high 9.775 on beam.
“Kaylyn has developed into our most consistent competitor and should be a candidate for the MAC Freshman of the Year,” Wilce said. “She has been everything we expected and more.”
Senior Captain Mickayla Balow said, “Kaylyn put another awesome meet together and demanded the high scores from the judges that she’s been striving for all year. She is a beautiful person and competitor. I couldn’t be more proud of her for stepping up and being a solid all-around gymnast for us.”
Another freshman, Brittany Cassar is also up for the challenge, Wilce said.
“Cassar is starting to become another consistent freshman and developing into a major player on three events,” he said.
”We are starting to see real improvement as we head into the last quarter-of-year. We have seen the underclassmen come on and start to really contribute. We are doing really big routines and are starting to get some nice scores with the difficulty that we are putting out there.”
Senior Erin Grigg received the MAC Gymnast of the Week award last month and brings a lot of experience and leadership to the squad.
Wilce said, “Erin has been very good over her four years and has excelled on floor and vault all year long. She brings a high level of experience and ability.”
“That girl has so much talent and pure passion in her heart for gymnastics, it’s inspiring,” Balow said. “To see that she was finally voted MAC player of the week was so special. Erin has been a huge contributor to our success over the years and all of us will miss doing gymnastics with her next year.”
This year’s senior gymnasts were members of the 2007 Eagles’ team, which won the MAC Championship for the first time in EMU history.
“There’s no better feeling in the world than being the first team to do that,” Grigg said.
Balow has been out most of the season with a severe ankle sprain but will compete Saturday. She competed last weekend and posted a 9.675 on vault.
“It felt amazing to get back out there and earn a good score when the pressure was on,” Balow said. “My ankle is getting better every day.”
EMU will want to clean up its routines and use its momentum going into the Eagle Invite, to build consistency before heading to the MAC Gymnastics Championship, March 27, in Bowling Green, Ohio.
“It should be a very exciting meet and I think all of us girls, Steve (Wilce) and Andie (Siik) would all agree that we’re ready to take them on,” Balow said.
Said Wilce: “We feel that we are starting to hit our stride after the past few meets in California. This meet means a lot to the team because it is a conference meet and it is the last time our seniors will compete at EMU.”
In support of breast cancer research, EMU gymnasts have teamed with the Susan G. Komen Foundation to raise money, as they get set to host the Eagle Invitational “Pink Meet.”
“Competing for the Cure is a great opportunity for all of us girls to honor women and men across the world who have fought and won their battle against breast cancer, or for those who are currently fighting the disease,” Balow said.
“Raising this money means a great deal to us and we’re touched to be joining the Susan G. Komen Foundation in finding a cure.”
The gymnasts have raised $4,750 by collecting donation forms from students on campus, friends and family, with a goal of reaching $5,000 by this weekend, assistant coach Andrea Siik said.
“We will be collecting donations at the meet. We are very excited with our efforts for this event and we are very proud to pair up with Susan G. Komen,” she said.
Wilce said, ”There are people close to the team, who are survivors of Breast Cancer, and the team would like to honor them.”
“Grace Crouch, a junior, has a mother who is celebrating her 10-year survival date this year, and I know it will be a very special day for their family,” Balow said. “Also, there are many of us who have a close relative, friend or loved one who has been affected by breast cancer, so we’re all going out there competing for someone, somewhere.”
Several EMU alumni and parents will cheer the team on and celebrate Alumni and Parent Day at the Eagle Invite, as the gymnasts work toward their fundraising goal.
“Alumni are great because they get to see the growth of the team and they also bring a lot of enthusiasm, because they know what it takes,” Wilce said. “Parents are an important element too because they are a main crowd base as we travel and they have been a great support throughout the year.”