The Northern Illinois women’s gymnastics team earned its highest team score of the season by getting season-best performances Sunday, Feb. 20, on 19 of its 24 routines on Senior Day at the Convocation Center.
The Huskies fell to the 16th-ranked Kent State Golden Flashes, 194.800-192.875, but saw their overall score rise for the fourth straight outing with team season-high totals on vault, uneven parallel bars and balance beam.
Sunday’s 192.875 total was 1.725 points higher than a week ago at Western Michigan, and NIU out-performed KSU on balance beam by a 48.325-47.975 margin while nearly matching Kent State on uneven parallel bars.
“I think we’re starting to perform more like what I’m used to seeing from a Huskie team,” said NIU head coach Mark Sontag. “We are getting some solid performances deep in the line-up now that some of the younger gymnasts have meets under their belts and are starting to hit. The team feels they are capable of stronger and better performances. Today was what I was hoping to see coming off of the last meet. Our attitudes are great, we are getting stronger and the future looks bright for this team.”
On Sunday, the Huskies were led by senior Holly Reichard (Palatine, Ill./Fremd HS), who earned her best all-around score since the 2009 season with a 39.025. Reichard took first place on balance beam with a 9.800, posted NIU’s top score on vault with a 9.750, went 9.725 on bars and scored a 9.750 on floor exercise for a fourth-place finish. All five of her scores on Sunday marked her season bests.
“Holly is a red hot all-arounder right now,” Sontag said. “It’s nice to see her putting all four events together; when she is hitting her sets, it gives the team a real lift.”
Northern Illinois also got a career-best day from sophomore Marisa Liptak (Kendall Park, N.J./South Brunswick HS), who earned the Huskies’ highest score on floor exercise with a 9.775 to take third place in the event. She added a 9.550 on balance beam.
Junior Ashley Guerra (Orland Park, Ill./Carl Sandburg HS) recorded her best day of the season with a team-high 9.775 on bars to finish third, and a 9.700 on balance beam. Junior Tanya Rachan (Lowell, Ind./Hanover Central HS) scored a 9.700 on balance beam and had a 9.575 on vault as she returns from injury that has limited her in 2011 and Shonda Clore (Grand Rapids, Mich./Northview HS) scored a 9.725 on vault and came through with a career-best 9.700 on bars for the third time this year.
“Marisa Liptak came in and did a great job after missing some days of practice this week and Ashley Guerra has been amazing,” Sontag said. “She is like a machine out there; she just keeps coming in and hitting her sets. It was good to get Tanya in on vault today and I think she’ll be back on floor next week.”
Every Huskie who went up on vault scored her season best and four of the six gymnasts on bars and on beam set or tied their season highs. With senior Jessie Watanabe (Palatine, Ill./Palatine HS), Rachan and freshman all-arounder Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS) still limited by injury, Sontag sees more improvement ahead for his 2011 team.
“Today was what I was hoping to see in terms of building on the last meet,” Sontag said. “We are getting better as a team as we’re plugging people back in to the line-up. When you think about how big of an improvement we’ve made over last three weeks, you see the positives to what has happened this year. We’ve had the chance to get a lot of people in front of the judges on a regular basis and there’s no substitute for that. This is the time of the season where we need to be putting it together as a team, so I was very happy to see what I saw today.”
Northern Illinois (1-6 overall, 1-4 MAC) enters a stretch which sees the Huskies compete three times in eight days beginning Friday night vs. Ball State in Muncie, Ind. NIU’s next home contest is Tuesday, March 1, when they play host to UIC beginning at 7 p.m.
For more information on NIU women’s gymnastics and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.