The Northern Illinois University women’s gymnastics team returns to action for the first time in two weeks tonight when the Huskies play host to Mid-American Conference opponent Ball State at the NIU Convocation Center.
The meet, which will be held in Victor E. Court, begins at 7 p.m. Admission to all NIU gymnastics meets is free for 2014 and free parking is also available.
NIU opened the season on January 11 with a 196.625-192.525 loss at No. 10 Nebraska. On their way to a solid opening meet score, the Huskies endured several miscues on one of the team’s strongest events, the balance beam.
The team’s performance in a tough environment where both wrestling and gymnastics events were being conducted simultaneously as part of the Huskers’ “Rumble and Tumble” event left NIU head coach Sam Morreale encouraged.
“We were able to see some positives and have been building off those in our practices,” said Morreale, who is in his third season as NIU head coach. “We got a glimpse of where this team can go this year. We’re excited to be on our own floor and feel very comfortable here. This is another chance for us to go out and see how good we are.”
In the MAC preseason gymnastics poll, NIU came in at the No. 4 slot in the seven-team league, but the Huskies have their sights set considerably higher, Morreale said.
“Our team feels they are a talented, deep team and the preseason ranking of fourth is not where they want to be,” Morreale said. “Now, it’s going out the door and showing it. Can we step up and [score] a 194 where teams will take notice of us? This is a chance to see where we stack up, it’s a measuring stick to see if we’ve taken steps since the last competition.”
The Huskies will rely on a trio of seniors to lead them into the meet, beginning with all-arounder Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS) and including Megan Melendez (Stafford, Va./North Stafford HS), who is in the NIU line-up in three events.
Gotlund is coming off a 38.575 all-around score at Nebraska that included a career-best 9.800 performance on the uneven parallel bars. Gotlund also recorded the Huskies’ best score on floor exercise with a 9.750 at Nebraska.
Senior Natasha Jufko (Spring Hill, Fla./Pasco-Hernando HS) topped the NIU effort on balance beam as she scored a 9.700 while sophomore Jaelyn Olsen (Bethany, Okla./Putnam City West HS) scored 9.825 to lead the Huskies on vault.
“Kim Gotlund got a great start in the first meet in the all-around,” Morreale said. “After the first meet, Megan Melendez is really, really chomping at the bit to improve. She wants to show what she can do.”
The addition of three freshmen to the vault line-up at Nebraska maximized NIU’s start values on the event and the same group – Courtney Dowdell (Lynwood, Ill./T.F. South HS), Megan Greenfield (Crystal Lake, Ill./Crystal Lake South HS) and Megan Gilliam (Fishers, Ind./Fishers HS) – made up half of the Huskie floor exercise crew. Morreale is excited to see the freshmen compete on their home floor.
“Courtney Dowdell is a very polished, clean gymnast,” Morreale said. “She has an energetic, fun floor routine that will get the crowd into it. Another freshman who is coming into her own is Megan Gilliam. She is a really talented athlete, she works hard every day to get better and she’s moved herself into position to compete.”
The NIU meet is Ball State’s fourth competition of the season and the Cardinals (2-3) are coming off a 189-975-188.875 home victory over Iowa.
The Huskies posted a 7-11 record a year ago and were 2-4 in MAC regular season meets, including a narrow (four-tenths of a point) loss at Ball State.
For more information on NIU gymnastics and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.