Gymnast Kayla Kmiecik seeks an edge. A competitive edge, that is. She wants to define herself. She wants judges to have no trouble distinguishing her from the rest of the field.
That’s not selfish. It’s the nature of the sport.
The Avon resident and Magnificat senior not only wants an edge, she wants a lot of them. She wants them in all four disciplines: uneven parallel bars, vault, balance beam and floor exercise.
Why? Kmiecik has won the last two state titles in bars, but she badly wants the all-around title.
She was second to Brecksville’s Christina Lenny, 37.775 to 36.7, at last year’s state meet after finishing fourth as a sophomore and ninth as a freshman.
Lenny has graduated, leaving the door wide open. Plenty of other gymnasts who finished in her wake are champing at the bit for the top prize, too.
Medina senior Nicole Rymer (third, 36.55), North Royalton sophomore Bethany Neczypor (fourth, 35.975), Grove City junior Jessica Saunders (fifth, 35.85) and St. Francis DeSales senior Morgan Spellacy (sixth, 35.675) are back from last year’s field.
So what is Kmiecik doing to ensure a strong finish for herself? She’s reaching for new, more challenging skills.
“I’m healthy, knock on wood,” said the 5-foot-4 Kmiecik. “Things have been going pretty smoothly.”
Kmiecik rebounded well from a minor tibia fracture she suffered in May. The injury occurred in vault when she landed her attempt short while performing her Yurchenko layout half at the USGF Nationals in Cincinnati.
“She’s back 100 percent. She’s better than ever,” said Magnificat coach Joe Gura. “She’s doing more routines now than ever. We’re looking forward for a great year.”
Her training has been back to 100 percent since August. In November, she signed a letter of intent to Ball State.
“Workouts at the gym have been going well,” Kmiecik said. “Some people might think that I can afford to take a little bit of a break since I already know where I plan to attend college. My feeling is the opposite. I have to work harder. There are a couple more skills that would be nice to have going into my freshman year of college.”
In bars, she’s working on a release move called a Takatchev — a D-level move.
“I’ve been working on it for a couple years, but I haven’t been consistent with it,” said Kmiecik, a two-time Junior Olympic qualifier, five-time regional qualifier and three-time AAU all-around champion. “In order to get such a high-level skill you need to work on it daily. That’s what I’ve been doing.
“You have to put your numbers in, especially for high-level skills. You have to do it every day. You have to want to do it and you have to work very hard at it. It’s takes a lot concentration and motivation on the harder skills, too. You can easily become afraid of them, but you have to push through it in order to get it.”
How significant would winning the state all-around title be? Very.
Case in point: the 1984 Olympic Games at Los Angeles. Romania’s Ecaterina Szabo won gold medals in floor exercise, balance beam and vault. Mary Lou Retton of United States eclipsed Szabo’s fame, however, because Retton took home the gold in the all-around.
The high drama of the win helped vault Retton’s stardom. She won the top prize by sticking her vault for score of 10 on her last event of the competition.
“Kayla’s the one to beat,” Gura said. “The gold medal comes through Kayla. Either she does it or someone has to beat her to do it. She’s the odds-on-favorite, but again, that’s not an easy task. You have to have your ‘A’ game and go 4-for-4 to win the state meet.”
Bars are her bread and butter. It provides separation from the field because her top rivals can’t match her skill or upper-body strength.
“Early on in her age she was good in bars,” Gura said. “It takes a lot of strength to do bars and you have to be confident. She’s been confident since an early age, so that’s what has helped her to be such a good bar worker as she gets older.”
But Kmiecik knows she has to be equally proficient in her other three disciplines in order to win the all-around crown. Bars alone won’t cut it.
“In floor, I’m trying to upgrade my tumbling passes and just really work on my endurance,” Kmiecik said. “I want to upgrade my second pass and my last pass (fourth). Right now, I’m just doing a handspring, front layout and front layout for my second pass. I want to make it a front handspring, front full and punch layout. My last pass I want to add another twist to it.”
Kmiecik is also getting after it in vault.
“In vault, I’m going to start working again on twisting my vault (Yurchenko layout half), which is what I hurt myself on competing at nationals,” she said. “A Yurchenko layout is only worth a 9.7 and a Yurchenko layout half is worth a 10.0,l so it gives a few extra tenths.”
She understands it isn’t all about her. Kmiecik wants to come through for her Magnificat teammates, as well, as the Blue Streaks attempt to unseat four-time defending champ Brecksville.
“It’s nice to have your high school teammates working out in the gym because if you’re having a bad day they understand out of anyone the most,” said Kmiecik, who has a 3.8-grade-point average. “They know the right things to do or the right things to say to kind of put your mind back on track and lift you up to get you going again.”
Magnificat, which finished second behind Brecksville last year, has won a record 10 state titles. The Streaks have never finished lower than third at state dating back to 1990 and have made 19 straight state meet appearances.
“Kayla’s doing more twisting on floor, she’s doing an extra release on bars,” Gura said. “She’s working on her consistency in beam. If she’s consistent, she’s the best girl in the state.”
Contact Paul Heyse at 329-7135 or email@example.com.