Trailing Illinois State by more than a point entering the final rotation of its 2013 season opener, Northern Illinois got a strong performance on floor exercise while ISU faltered on balance beam, allowing NIU to claim a 192.175-192.050 victory Sunday in the NIU Convocation Center.
Northern Illinois won its season opener for the first time since 2010 and recorded its best season-opening score since 2009. Illinois State fell to 1-1 on the year.
NIU second-year head coach Sam Morreale said the key to getting the victory was persevering through its misses.
“We had a lot of mistakes and mishaps that we don’t see in practice but I think you can attribute that to the first meet,” Morreale said. “All in all, I thought we competed well and didn’t let a miss or a fall affect the rest of the meet. By the time we got to beam, that’s kind of the equalizing event. At home, we feel great about finishing on floor.”
The Huskies’ comeback began with its final three performers on balance beam.
After two consecutive gymnasts fell off the beam, NIU’s final three performers – Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS), Natasha Jufko (Spring Hill, Fla./Pasco-Hernando HS) and Megan Melendez (Stafford, Va./North Stafford HS) – turned in clutch routines to save the rotation and help the Huskies post a 47.975 team score on the event. Jufko, a junior making her first career appearance in the NIU line-up, earned a 9.825 to win balance beam and post Northern Illinois’ highest individual score on the day.
Gotlund, who took second in the all-around competition with four solid performances and a 38.750 total, scored a 9.650 on beam, while Melendez, the 2012 MAC Specialist of the Year, earned a 9.675. Gotlund continued her excellent day by recording her highest score of the meet, and NIU’s best score on floor exercise, with a 9.750.
Sophomore Shelby Davis (Wichita, Kans./Heights HS) contributed a 9.725 on floor in her first action as a Huskie, while seniors Natalie Sutter (Barberton, Ohio/Coventry HS) and Marisa Liptak (Kendall Park, N.J./South Brunswick HS) came in at 9.675 and 9.625, respectively. Northern Illinois tallied a 48.250, while Illinois State counted three falls and managed just a 47.025 on beam in its final event.
“Being able to dig a meet out after things don’t go right is a great quality,” Morreale said of his group’s comeback. “I think our team thought we lost the meet, but they kept on competing and that’s a great thing to see. What we need to realize is this is one of the better starting points we’ve had. We definitely have work to do and need to keep climbing the ladder, but we can’t lose sight of the positives.”
NIU led after the first rotation as the Huskies posted a 48.250 on vault, led by Gotlund’s 9.725. Freshman Jaelyn Olsen (Bethany, Okla./Putnam City West HS) added a 9.675 and Sutter and Amanda Stepp (Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer East HS) both contributed 9.650 scores to the team total.
The Huskies scored a 47.700 on uneven parallel bars, with Gotlund and freshman Lauren Africano (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais Community HS) posting NIU’s best scores of the day on bars with 9.625 marks, and Melendez adding a 9.600.
“The freshmen did a great job today, they were solid,” Morreale said. “Jaelyn is someone who will make an impact and Lauren started us off on bars and did a nice job.”
Northern Illinois opens Mid-American Conference competition Saturday, Jan. 19, when the Huskies play host to Bowling Green at 5 p.m. at the NIU Convocation Center.