The Northern Illinois University gymnastics team kicked off its 2014 season with a 196.625-192.525 loss to the No. 10 Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb., but the season-opening performance had NIU head coach Sam Morreale encouraged about the season to come.
En route to an excellent season-opening score, NIU ran into trouble on its last event, the balance beam, as a crowd of 2,746 watched the Huskers’ “Rumble and Tumble” meet featuring simultaneous gymnastics and wrestling competitions.
Despite the stumble on beam, Morreale was enthusiastic about the event and the season to come.
“It was great,” Morreale said.
“The venue was full, it was loud, it was raucous and everything you expect in a Big 10 meet. The kids stepped up, they weren’t intimidated, they weren’t afraid. I’m really, really encouraged. It’s good to get this first one out of the way. This is a good indication for us that we’re not just talking about being better, we are there. It speaks to the work they’ve put in, and to the depth of our team. We don’t have to change anything, our skill level is there, we just need to get cleaner in our execution. ”
NIU came through its first three events with solid scores as NIU did not count a miss (fall) on the uneven parallel bars, vault or floor exercise. The Huskies started the meet with a 48.475 on bars with senior Kim Gotlund leading the way with a career-high 9.800 to tie for fourth. Sophomore Kylie Clark backed up Gotlund with a 9.725 on bars in her Huskie debut.
“The 48.475 on bars, we are extremely happy with that,” Morreale said. “If that’s where we start [the season], it bodes well for where we can get on bars. On vault, we put six 10.0 vaults up for the first time in I don’t know how long and we even made a late change and still could go to a 10.0. We vaulted really, really well and I was very, very impressed and excited about the freshmen.”
The Huskies posted their highest team event score of the night on vault with a 48.600 behind a 9.825 from sophomore Jaelyn Olsen and a 9.775 by senior Megan Melendez. Olsen took fourth place on the event, which also featured the debuts of NIU freshmen Megan Greenfield, Courtney Dowdell and Megan Gilliam, who contributed scores of 9.725, 9.675 and 9.600, respectively.
Gotlund, the Huskies’ only all-arounder, also led the Huskies on floor exercise with a 9.750 as NIU tallied a 48.400 team score on floor. Gotlund took fifth place and junior Shelby Davis was close behind with a 9.725 for sixth, while Dowdell and Gilliam added matching 9.650s.
Senior Natasha Jufko, a beam specialist, provided a bright spot on balance beam for NIU with a 9.700 to tie for sixth. Junior Amanda Stepp was also solid with a 9.600. Gotlund rounded out a 38.575 all-around score with a 9.500 on beam for the Huskies.
“Beam didn’t go great, but even there, we rebounded (during the event),” Morreale said. “It’s not that they are not ready, not good or confident. We’re legitimately two points better on beam, as I said it’s probably our best event and I still feel that way. I’m confident that’s not going to be an issue for us.”
NIU is off next week before returning to action at home versus Ball State at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24. The meet will mark the home opener and Mid-American Conference opener for the 2014 Huskies. NIU is offering free admission to all home gymnastics meets this year.
For more information on NIU gymnastics and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.