The Northern Illinois women’s gymnastics team will welcome Illinois-Chicago to the NIU Convocation Center for a rare midweek meet Tuesday with competition set to begin at 7 p.m.
NIU has had just three days to prepare for the meet after taking on Ball State Friday night in Muncie, but Huskies’ head coach Mark Sontag said he does not expect the short turnaround to affect his team.
“Every day we get a little bit stronger and a little bit better, and I’m anticipating us coming in and having a good meet,” Sontag said. “We were able to come back into the gym (after the Ball State trip)and have a good strong practice. It’s a different cycle for us, but our practice was good and the team is excited and ready to go.”
One cause for excitement has been the gradual return of several “starters” to the Huskie line-up that have missed significant time this year due to injury. Northern Illinois junior all-around Tanya Rachan (Lowell, Ind./Hanover Central HS) competed in three events at Ball State for the first time since January, while freshman Kim Gotlund (has been before the judges on an exhibition basis in NIU’s last two meets.
With the combination of injured gymnasts returning added to the list of healthy gymnasts who have been improving and gaining experience throughout the year, Sontag said filling out his line-up sheet is once again a challenge.
“As we get people back, we are jostling the line-up quite a bit,” he said. “It’s almost like the beginning of the year again – it’s fun to see people getting work and those who have been doing it getting a break. We have people coming into the line-up that we know have strong routines, but have been injured, and then we have a whole bunch of people who have been working really hard since our first meet. We are definitely not deep but we are better every day.”
Northern Illinois posted its best team total of the season on floor exercise at Ball State with a 48.300, led by Rachan’s season-best 9.725.
Senior Holly Reichard, who has competed in every event of every meet for NIU so far this season, took first place on balance beam with a 9.725 and tied for second on bars with the identical score, finished with a 38.650 total in the all-around for her second-highest total of the season. Shonda Clore led the Huskies on vault at Ball State with a 9.650 and was followed closely by freshman Sara Hernandez’ 9.625.
“At Ball State, even though we didn’t get the win, we competed better, we were stronger, and we had a whole bunch of bright spots and just a couple of mistakes,” Sontag said. “In the sport of gymnastics you always want to go out and be perfect. I anticipate us going in on Tuesday, and competing stronger and getting closer to that 24 for 24.”
The Huskies have added incentive with instate foe Illinois-Chicago coming to DeKalb Tuesday for the first of two competitions in the next 12 days. Following Tuesday’s dual meet, the two teams will compete in the 2011 State of Illinois Championships along with Illinois State and Illinois at NIU’s Chick Evans Fieldhouse on March 12.
“The instate schools are always a big meet for us,” Sontag said. “A lot of the girls on these teams know each other and there is always that rivalry, especially with the State Championship meet coming up.”
Tickets for Tuesday night’s dual meet versus Illinois-Chicago are $5 for adults and $3 for youth, with NIU students admitted free. Doors open one hour prior to the event. The meet can be watched live online at www.NIUHuskies.com via Huskies All Access.
For more information on NIU gymnastics and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.