Sam Morreale, a former Huskie gymnast who has served as the program’s assistant coach for the past nine years, was named head coach of the Northern Illinois women’s gymnastics program Wednesday by NIU Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics Jeff Compher.
Morreale takes over from 12-year Northern Illinois head coach Mark Sontag, who left to pursue other opportunities.
For the past nine years, Morreale has served as a member of the NIU Gymnastics coaching staff under Sontag, where his duties included coaching the Huskies on the uneven parallel bars while coordinating the Northern Illinois recruiting efforts and handling many administrative duties.
Overall, he has 22 years of experience as a gymnastics coach on the collegiate and club levels.
“Sam has been here for nine years as a part of our gymnastics program and has recruited many of the current student- athletes who are a part of our team,” Compher said. “I believe his energy, vision and leadership will enable us to reach our goal of winning the MAC Championship.
“Sam is a Huskie, and he and his family have deep ties to this community with his wife, Lisa, serving as coach of our dance team, the Silveretttes. We look forward to working with Sam and his staff, and helping take our gymnastics program to the next level.”
For Morreale, the position of head coach represents the next step in a relationship with Northern Illinois University that goes back nearly 30 years, since he walked on to the men’s gymnastics team in 1984.
A native of Addison, Ill. who graduated from Addison Trail High School, he finished his NIU career by earning a pair of letters and serving as team captain in 1986-87.
“It’s the culmination of a long journey that starts a new journey,” Morreale said. “From being a student-athlete here, to going to work in the private sector to returning as an assistant coach, I’ve always been a Huskie and always followed Northern Illinois sports. When I came back (as an assistant coach), it felt so natural. I’m so honored and excited to be named head coach at Northern Illinois. I take pride in the program and look forward to bringing even more success to NIU Gymnastics, and greater recognition to the school.”
Morreale expressed his gratitude to Compher and a long list of others who supported him throughout his career.
“I want to thank Jeff Compher for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to lead a Division I program,” he said. “I’m thankful to (Senior Associate Athletic Director) Dee Abrahamson for her support and guidance throughout this process and I definitely have to thank my wife Lisa, who has been on this entire journey with me. This would not have been possible without her. I am humbled to take over from Mark Sontag. He’s my friend and mentor. He’s the guy who gave me the opportunity nine years ago and gave me the space to grow.”
During his time at NIU, Northern Illinois has sent 15 gymnasts to NCAA Regional competition, including three-time all-around competitor Holly Reichard in 2008, 2009 and 2011. Morreale’s protégés on bars have included a pair of MAC Champions in Ashlee Williams (2005) and Reichard (2008) as well as 2010 NCAA Regional competitor Ashley Guerra.
Since his arrival, NIU has posted its top seven all-time team totals on uneven parallel bars.
Morreale believes the Northern Illinois gymnastics program, which tied its all-time best with a third-place finish at the Mid-American Conference Championships in 2009, can reach greater heights.
“I am excited to start a new chapter in Huskie Gymnastics,” he said. “This team is capable of taking the next step. We’re going to build off some of the things we’ve done here with a very talented group of returning student-athletes as well as a quality incoming freshman class.
“All the pieces are in place for us to achieve our goals. We have excellent facilities for both practice and competition. We have the support of the administration and a great support staff, from the sports performance staff to academic support staff to athletic training. We’re going to host the MAC Championships next year, and one of my goals is to build support from the local community for this program. I see nothing but great potential ahead for Huskie Gymnastics, and I can’t wait for our team to get here in August and get in the gym and work.”
Morreale served as program director of the Energym Sports Campus for 19 years, where he led that facility’s preschool and school age gymnastics programs while working alongside his brother, Andy. A professional member of U.S.A. Gymnastics, Morreale has worked numerous summer camps, state clinics and regional training camps.
For more information on NIU gymnastics and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.