Eastern Michigan University gymnastics team took third place at the Mid-American Conference Championships at Bowling Green on March 27.
The Eagles, who were picked to finish sixth in a pre-season MAC coaches’ poll, edged out Northern Illinois University 193.625 to 193.200, to finish behind Kent State (195.025) and champion Central Michigan (195.600).
“We ended on our highest score of the year,” coach Steve Wilce said. “We really started competing well in the last month of the year. We were very happy. Our goal was to finish in the top half of the conference, which we did.”
EMU started the meet on the balance beam. The entire lineup was consistent, assistant coach Andrea Siik said.
Kaylyn Millick led the team with a score of 9.775, while Grace Crouch and Nikole Viltz both contributed scores of 9.700.
At the end of the first rotation CMU led EMU 48.450 to 48.400, and KSU pulled ahead of the competition early, scoring 48.925.
“We kind of knew that Kent and Central would be fighting for the first spot, but our goal was to just do our best, go in there and hit routines and see what happens because you never know what’s going to happen,” Millick said.
The Eagles moved to the floor exercise for the second rotation. Erin Grigg scored the team-high 9.800, and all the gymnasts in the lineup scored at least 9.700. EMU held onto third place with a total of 97.100, just ahead of Western Michigan University, 96.925.
The competition was close among all the teams. KSU put up 97.800, followed by CMU with 97.475.
“I think everybody did a great job we hit our beam, we only had one fall, which is good,” Millick said. “And floor we did amazing, everyone just stepped up and did really well.”
The Eagles had to hold off four other schools, but once they claimed their spot, they held onto it throughout the meet.
After competing on the vault in the third rotation, EMU posted 145.475, less than half a point ahead of WMU’s 145.125. CMU took the lead from KSU after the third rotation, 146.650 to 146.050. Grigg led EMU on the vault, posting 9.775, and Millick added 9.725.
“Erin, our senior, she did an amazing job,” Viltz said.
In the final rotation, CMU secured its victory and EMU clinched the third. Brittany Cassar and Grigg put up 9.675 and 9.650 on the uneven bars.
“Brittany Cassar, as a freshman, had three really good events,” Wilce said. “You can pretty much go down the entire lineup, and they all competed well.”
Millick had a slip on the uneven parallel bars, which threw off her all-around score.
“Kay, again, had a very good day,” Wilce said. “She had a miss on bars, but that was her only miss on bars of the year and she didn’t miss by much.”
NIU and Ball State rallied in the fourth rotation and, with respective scores of 193.200 and 193.100, overcame WMU but could not surpass the Eagles, who finished with a season-best team score.
The Eagles knew they’d be chasing CMU and KSU, going into the championship meet.
“Those teams both had incredibly good days at the championship, continued with what they’ve done,” Wilce said. “They’re not good for our conference, they’re just good, and we had some work to do to catch them this year, and especially with the injuries we had it was a long uphill battle. Skill-wise we’re not that far off them, execution-wise we’ve got a little catching up to do and we feel like next year we should be in that running.”
Although the team struggled with injuries all season, missing senior captain Mickayla Balow and other key members, EMU’s coaches said they were happy with the result and hopeful for next year.
“We had said at the beginning of the year we were gonna push the difficulty, commit to the difficulty, and it was going to take all year long for it to pay dividends, and it did at the end,” Wilce said. “Now, we’ve gotta continue to commit to it and we feel like we can start to catch up on these two teams for next year.”
The Eagles came together at the end of the season.
“It was one of the more rewarding years we’ve had in a number of years, just to see the way the team jelled and became a very competitive group at the end,” Wilce said.
“That gives us a lot of momentum, enthusiasm looking into next season. It’s very important to have that chemistry because it sets you up for success in the future and to have the nucleus of kids that are coming back, that are really enthused about next year, I mean the whole bus trip home they were talking about it and beaming over it.
“We’ve got some pieces in place we can build around now, we’ve gotta put the final pieces of the puzzle in for next season and see what we can do.”