Rivalry is an understatement when it comes to describing the intensity of a Central Michigan gymnastics meet against Kent State.
“This is absolutely the showdown of the year,” head coach Jerry Reighard said.
The No. 24 Chippewas will head to Kent, Ohio, to compete against the No. 22 Golden Flashes at 7 p.m. Friday.
The history of excellence and competition between the two teams extends back more than two decades, with CMU and Kent State holding 22 of the last 25 Mid-American Conference championships, including the last five.
Last year, CMU defeated Kent State in both regular-season and also at the MAC Championships when the team took home the title for the 13th time.
This year, Kent State was picked as the favorite early in the season to take the MAC championship, while CMU was chosen No. 3 behind Western Michigan.
Reighard said the rankings haven’t affected him or the team thus far in the season, and they still won’t matter going into today’s meet.
There is added pressure, however, because of the environment at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center in Kent.
“I liken it to an American going into Russia,” Reighard said. “There are no friendly faces, no sportsmanlike conduct; it’s in your face from them all the time. They are probably one of the most unruly crowds.”
Reighard said the fans are educated and know what to do to throw CMU off, especially on balance beam.
“It’s very orchestrated,” he said. “They do everything from stomp on the bleachers to make it sound like thunder to waving their hand to do anything they can to try to distract us.”
All week, Reighard and his team have been practicing with groups of people attempting to distract the girls as they compete at different events around the gym.
The team also prepared for the meet by matching up against the best of Kent State’s competitors and working to outscore the gymnast.
“The girls had a job to do this week, and that job was to erase their opponent off the board,” Reighard said. “We reached about 95 percent of that goal.”
Reighard said both teams are very balanced.
He predicted that the meet will come down to balance beam, but big mistakes in any event could determine which team comes out on top.
“The team that counts a fall is going to be the loser,” Reighard said.