A strong performance on balance beam lifted the Northern Illinois University women’s gymnastics team to a 192.450-191.600 Mid-American Conference victory over Western Michigan Saturday night at the NIU Convocation Center.
The win improves the Huskies’ record to 2-1 overall and 2-0 in league competition and NIU is now 6-1 at home over the last two seasons.
“We’re getting better,” said NIU head coach Sam Morreale. “A lot of new kids got some opportunities and it was good to see them step up.”
Trailing by three-tenths of a point after faltering on the uneven parallel bars, NIU outscored the Broncos on both balance beam and floor exercise. In the end, it was the 48.525-47.525 difference on balance beam that provided the victory margin.
“The last few meets [we’ve struggled] on beam but we know that beam is a strong event for us,” Morreale said. “Today we were down two of our top performers on that event and still went 48.5.
Senior Natasha Jufko (Spring Hill, Fla./Pasco-Hernando HS) and junior Amanda Stepp (Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer East HS) led the way as Jufko won the balance beam event with a 9.850, tying her career-best score. Stepp took second place with a season-best 9.725.
Taylor Crumley (Lincolnshire, Ill./Stevenson HS), Jaelyn Olsen (Bethany, Okla./Putnam City West HS) and Shelby Davis (Wichita, Kans./Heights HS) posted identical 9.650 scores to round out the Huskies’ scoring on the event. Following balance beam, NIU took a 144.200-144.075 lead into the final event of the meet.
“We knew we were up about two-tenths (of a point) going into the last event,” Morreale said. “I’ll take our floor versus a lot of team’s beam in that situation, and we were able to get the job done.”
The Huskies posted a 48.250 on floor exercise behind senior Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS) and junior Kelly Nortz (Bay Village, Ohio/Magnificat HS) who tied for first with 9.775s. Davis added a 9.650 and Peyton Taylor (Bloomington, Ill./Normal University HS) scored a 9.6.
Olsen won the vault title for the second straight week as she scored a 9.800, followed closely by Megan Gilliam’s (Fishers, Ind./Fishers HS) 9.700 and Nortz’ 9.650. Gotlund won the all-around title with a 38.550 total.
Morreale said securing the victory took a total team effort and had praise for both upperclassmen and freshmen alike
“Kim Gotlund is a solid leader for us and she really provides a calm presence,” he said. “Once again you saw our freshmen stepping up. Brittany (Wenzel) had a nice vault in her first meet, and so did Megan Gilliam. Jaelyn had another great day on vault and beam. It was good to see Natasha hit like she is capable of on beam; that’s who she is in practice every day.”
The Huskies will try to keep their MAC record spotless when they travel Friday, Feb. 7, to Kent State. NIU’s next home competition is Sunday, Feb. 16, in a tri-meet versus Iowa State and Texas Woman’s University.
For more information on NIU gymnastics and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.