After earning its highest team score since 2009 and the seventh highest total in team history a week ago at Bowling Green, the Northern Illinois women’s gymnastics team returns to the state of Ohio Sunday to take on perennial Mid-American Conference contender Kent State.
The meet begins at noonCT) at the MAC Center. Live stats will be available at KentStateSports.com.
The Huskies posted one of the highest team scores in the MAC this season a week ago versus Bowling Green with a 194.775 mark. Northern Illinois hit on all 24 of its routines in the win, NIU’s second straight over a league foe.
The Huskies improved to 3-3 overall, 2-1 in the MAC.
NIU’s performance at Bowling Green, as well as a comeback win the previous week versus Ball State, has the Huskies looking for more, according to head coach Sam Morreale.
“We’re carrying a lot of confidence coming out of Bowling Green,” Morreale said. “For the first time in a long time, we are going in to Kent State feeling like we can give them a run for their money. In the past it was just try to go on their coattails and get a score, now we feel we can go there and win.”
The Huskies have shown the ability to come from behind as they overcame a rocky outing on uneven parallel bars at Ball State to overtake the Cardinals with a 48.875 on floor exercise in the final rotation. Last week, NIU led from the start after posting its highest team scores of the season on every event, including a 48.950 on floor exercise that was the team’s top score on the event since setting the school record of 49.275 at the 2004 MAC Championships.
Northern Illinois is led on floor by senior Tanya Rachan, who has scored a 9.800 or higher on the event five times in six outings to claim first or second place, including a career-best 9.875 score at BGSU. Juniors Marisa Liptak and Natalie Sutter, sophomore Kim Gotlund and freshmen Kelly Nortz and Peyton Taylor make up the rest of NIU’s floor squad. Sutter and Gotlund earned matching 9.850 marks last time out.
“The floor squad is hungry for that 49,” Morreale said. “They want to beat the 49.275 school record. Tanya is looking really good as far as qualifying for regionals on floor. She definitely can get there. In the all-around, Kim has to string together a few more [days like last week] and she’ll be right in the hunt.”
As the second half of the season begins, matching or improving on the team’s scores becomes even more important for the regional rankings. Beginning with this week, the team’s lowest score will be dropped in the regional calculations. The Huskies still have a season-low 188.350 recorded in the season-opening meet versus UIC on the books.
“This is an important two weeks for us to keep the consistency, keep the routines clean and build on what we already established,” Morreale said. “We’re a little ahead of what we envisioned [at the start of the year], but the 188 start (vs. UIC in the season opener) was way lower than we expected. It set us back, but I feel good about where we’re sitting. The biggest difference is confidence. They’re not trying to survive, they are trying to thrive.”
Northern Illinois is looking for its first regular season win versus Kent State since 1999. The Golden Flashes advanced out of NCAA Regionals all the way to the NCAA Championships a year ago.
NIU returns to Victor E. Court next Sunday, Feb. 26 for its final regular season home meet of 2012. The Huskies will take on Central Michigan, another of the MAC favorites, in its Senior Day meet.
The Huskies will host the Mid-American Conference Gymnastics Championships on Saturday, March 24 at the NIU Convocation Center. The seven-team championship meet begins at 2 p.m.
For more information on NIU gymnastics and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.