Previous experience against NCAA-level competition gave Northern Illinois gymnasts Holly Reichard (Palatine, Ill./Fremd HS) and Ashley Guerra (Orland Park, Ill./Carl Sandburg HS) an advantage Saturday as the two NCAA regional qualifiers on NIU’s 2011 roster led the Huskies in their season-opening meet at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington.
Facing Top 25 squads from Kentucky and Illinois, the Huskies opened the season with a 189.075 overall score to take third place in the tri-meet. No. 24 Kentucky won the event with a score of 194.350 with No. 17 Illinois second at 193.650.
NIU Head Coach Mark Sontag said that although his team did not perform to its full potential, the experience gained will pay off for the Huskies next week versus Eastern Michigan and later in the season.
“[The meet] did what we wanted it to do – it was big, it was loud, and it was all the things that psyche gymnasts out,” said Sontag, who opened his 12th season as the Huskies’ head coach. “There were a lot of things we need to be able to handle. As far as what I know we can do and what we did tonight, there is a big difference. This whole meet was about getting ready for next week.”
Reichard led the Huskies on the vault, uneven parallel bars and balance beam before putting her hand down on a double-back during her floor routine to give her a miss on that event. Reichard earned the top score on any event for Northern Illinois on the night with a 9.650 on bars to tie for seventh. She also earned a Top 10 finish on balance beam with a team-leading 9.600 to place eighth.
Guerra, an NCAA qualifier on bars as a sophomore in 2010, opened her junior campaign with a 9.600 on that event to tie for ninth and added a 9.550 on balance beam to take 10th. NIU’s best scores on floor exercise were a pair of 9.600s by sophomore Marisa Liptak (Kendall Park, N.J./South Brunswick HS) and Tanya Rachan (Lowell, Ind./Hanover Central HS), who tied for ninth place.
The Huskies’ line-up included three freshmen in all-arounder Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS), Sara Hernandez (Crown Point, Ind./Boone Grove HS) on vault and Maggie Cimarolli (Belleville, Ill./Althomff Catholic HS) on bars. Cimarolli’s 9.575 on bars was the highest score of the night among the NIU rookies.
“To have your first college meet in an SEC venue is quite a debut for them,” Sontag said. “All the things that happened this meet will help them and our entire team. We had a lot of learning but I think we made a big jump in the learning curve tonight. We will see the dividends of this meet even though I don’t think we performed the way we are capable of.”
The Huskies scored between 47.075 and 47.400 on each of the four events. The Huskies earned their top team score of 47.400 on the uneven parallel bars while the beam total of 47.375 was just behind that. NIU went 47.225 on floor exercise.
NIU opens its home meet schedule at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 16, when the Huskies play host to Mid-American Conference foe Eastern Michigan in the NIU Convocation Center. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for youth and “We Are Huskies” T-shirts will be distributed free to fans while supplies last.