CMU caps off senior night by clinching MAC regular season title
In what could be described as an emotional tribute to the pair of senior Chippewas set to depart from the gymnastics team following this season, McGuirk Arena roared its applause as Sierra DeMarinis and Morgan Tong took the floor for one last time in front of the crowd they have called home for the past four years.
And what a senior night it was.
Central Michigan clinched the regular season Mid-American Conference title on Friday night with its win over Ball State. A successful senior night by all accounts, the seniors more than did their part to secure the victory for CMU in its regular-season finale.
DeMarinis has been the epitome of senior leadership for the Chippewas this season. Between a surplus of team-high marks and words of encouragement for teammates, DeMarinis has clearly embraced a leadership role this season, and CMU has benefited greatly.
Friday's meet reflected this notion, as the senior managed to extend her streak of consecutive scores of 9.900+ in the floor routine to five with a score of 9.900 and another event victory to her name. Throw in a pair of 9.800+ marks in the vault and the balance beam, and it’s rather clear to see just how much she has meant to the team not only this year, but throughout her entire career as a Chippewa.
Tong’s impact also cannot be overstated. Coming into this season as the reigning MAC balance beam title holder, expectations were high for the senior. Unfortunately, an injury sidelined Tong for a majority of the season, and she was unable to compete until late February — just one month shy of the MAC Championships. It did not take her much time to knock off the rust however, as Tong notched a robust 9.850 as the anchor of the balance beam lineup, which was good for the meet-high individual beam score and top honors in the event.
While Tong hasn’t had as much time sharing the floor with her teammates in competition this year as DeMarinis, the leadership she provided while dealing with injury seems to have had a significant influence similar to that of DeMarinis.
Indeed, the impact of senior leadership cannot be emphasized enough in NCAA athletics, especially when it comes to freshman who find themselves in a position to contribute in their first season, as CMU freshman Lia Kmieciak has this season. Kmieciak didn’t make her debut until Central’s fifth regular-season meet on Feb. 11th, when Michigan State and Western Michigan made their way to Mt. Pleasant for an in-state duel. In having such little experience at the collegiate level, Kmieciak will have a lot on her plate heading into the MAC Championships next Saturday. Head coach Christine MacDonald isn’t worried, however.
“She’s a very accomplished competitor prior to college,” MacDonald said. “We really try (to emphasize) just keeping it simple, just do gymnastics. She’s a strong junior-olympic competitor, so having her already with that background, she knows how to compete.”
Elsewhere, Central Michigan received a healthy dose of top-five finishes up and down the roster. Sophomore Katie Kowalski was the only other Chippewa aside from DeMarinis to post a mark of 9.900+, as she scored 9.900 in the vault rotation, and earned a second-place finish in the only event not won by a Chippewa. Also earning top-five finishes in the rotation were Avah Anthes, Hannah DeMers, Kmieciak and DeMarinis.
The floor lineup continued to impress as the results of the event were littered with maroon and gold. In fact, the top five performances in the event all belonged to Chippewas. Additionally, tonight marked the second consecutive home meet in which CMU entered its final rotation trailing, and ended up winning the meet thanks to its floor lineup. The event has been Central Michigan’s bread and butter, particularly in the latter half of the regular season.
CMU will surely be hoping to build upon its achievements on its senior night next weekend in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where Eastern Michigan is slated to host the MAC Championships. A performance similar to that of last season (Chippewas claimed two individual event MAC titles) would put a bow nicely on a season defined by strong leadership and camaraderie. The meet is scheduled for 2 p.m. March 19th.