Trailing by nearly a point and a half after two rotations, Northern Illinois put together five strong routines on both balance beam and floor exercise Saturday to claim a 192.775-192.525 comeback victory over Bowling Green at Victor E. Court in its 2013 Mid-American Conference opener.
NIU improved to 2-0 overall with its second straight narrow come-from-behind win, while Bowling Green fell to 0-3 and 0-1 in the MAC.
“It was another meet where we had to dig down deep to get the win,” said NIU head coach Sam Morreale. “I’m extremely proud of everyone. I feel really good about what we can do in the future. The MAC is a close, tight conference so I think most of our meets this year are going to be won or lost down the stretch.”
Northern Illinois started well on vault as the Huskies tallied a season-best 48.675 total, led by freshman Jaelyn Olsen (Bethany, Okla./Putnam City West HS) who recorded a 9.800 to tie for third place on the event. Senior Natalie Sutter (Barberton, Ohio/Coventry HS) added a 9.750 while both Amanda Stepp (Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer East HS) and Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS) scored 9.725.
NIU led 48.675-47.800 after the first event, but that lead would be short-lived as the Huskies struggled on uneven parallel bars with Sutter’s 9.700 the only bright spot. Northern Illinois’ 46.625 total on bars put NIU 1.475 points behind Bowling Green halfway through the meet.
“Moving forward, we’re not going to win a meet going 46.625 on bars,” Morreale said. “We gave away some points on bars, but we got better on the other three [events].”
Northern Illinois’ beam team spurred the Huskies’ comeback.
Beginning with Stepp’s 9.750, every gymnast NIU sent up on beam hit her routine, topped by junior Natasha Jufko (Spring Hill, Fla./Pasco Hernando HS), who tied for first with a 9.825. Junior Megan Melendez (Stafford, Va./North Stafford HS) added a 9.800 to close out the event; NIU’s 48.800 beam score tied for the 10th-best in school history. Bowling Green, meanwhile, scored just 47.500 on floor and Northern Illinois trailed by just .175 heading to the final event.
“We talked about it after bars and said we were going to restart the meet and start on beam, and the beam group did an outstanding job of coming out and rocking,” Morreale said. “It was hit after hit after hit after hit. That’s the hardest thing coming off an event where you struggle. That put us back in the meet.”
On floor exercise, arguably the Huskies’ strongest event, NIU’s first five gymnasts all hit, with senior Marisa Liptak (Kendall Park, N.J./South Brunswick HS) leading the way with a meet-best 9.850 score and Stepp earning her third 9.750 of the day. Sophomore Shelby Davis’ (Wichita, Kans./Heights HS) routine also scored a 9.750 for her career high. The Huskies’ 48.675 total topped BG’s 48.250 on balance beam by .425, giving Northern Illinois the .250-point victory.
“Hopefully down the road we can finish a meet instead of hoping the other team falls off,” Morreale said. “I have to give credit to the beam line-up, starting with Amanda who kind of stopped the bleeding with a big hit. Jaelyn [Olsen] has been banged up all week, but she came out and did arguably did one of our best vaults in a long time. Natalie went 38.5 in her second all-around and Kim had three strong events.”
Northern Illinois goes on the road for the first time this season Friday, Jan. 25 when the Huskies take on Ball State in Muncie at 6 p.m. (CT).