Northern Illinois showed its mental toughness and ability to come back from adversity by overcoming extremely tough judging on its first event to put together three solid events at the State of Illinois Classic Saturday at UIC’s Physical Education Building.
NIU finished with a 192.675 to take fourth place at the meet. No. 17 Illinois won the competition with a 195.700, followed by Illinois State at 194.075 and UIC with a 193.375.
Outside of the balance beam, NIU was within two-tenths of a point of both Illinois State and UIC on the other three events combined, and had the second-best team vault score of the meet behind only Illinois.
Northern Illinois’ score was most affected by its 47.075 on balance beam, the Huskies’ lowest score of the season on that apparatus, although NIU counted only one fall on the event. As a comparison, last week versus Western Michigan, the Huskies counted three falls, yet scored a 47.200 on beam. Three Northern Illinois gymnasts performed with hardly a bobble, yet all three were given a score below 9.500 on balance beam. Only Natasha Jufko was able to post a score near her normal average with a 9.750 on a tremendous routine, to tie for fourth place.
After the first rotation, Northern Illinois came back on floor exercise to score 48.325, still below its 48.725 season average on that event. Some of the differential came on small mistakes as three Huskies stepped out of bounds on floor, giving away a tenth on each occasion.
NIU sophomore Amanda Stepp led the way for the Huskies on vault with a career-best 9.850. She tied for second place to earn All-State honors for NIU. Freshman Jaelyn Olsen added a 9.775 and tied for seventh. NIU’s 48.625 score on vault was its fourth-highest of the season and was the second-best team vault score of the meet, behind only Illinois.
Northern Illinois finished strong on bars, the event it will start on at next week’s MAC Championships. Megan Melendez scored a 9.800 to tie for fifth place and freshmen Natalie Amadio and Lauren Africano added scores of 9.750 and 9.725, respectively. NIU totaled a 48.650 for its second-highest total of the year on the uneven parallel bars.
“The great thing is we held together,” said NIU head coach Sam Morreale. “I’m proud of the team for how they responded. We were over-excited on floor exercise, but I want us to be aggressive so I can accept those types of mistakes. Amanda had a great vault and I thought vault did very well overall. We finished strong on bars.
“We counted one miss, and that’s what we need to take from today going into the MAC Championships next week,” Morreale added.
Northern Illinois was also the only team at the meet to place every gymnast on its roster on the Scholastic All-State team, which honors state gymnasts with a 3.0 grade point average or above. NIU (4-8) completes its season Saturday, March 23, at the Mid-American Conference Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich.