Trailing by a half point following the first two rotations, Northern Illinois stormed back with strong performances on floor exercise and balance beam to give first-year head coach Sam Morreale his first career victory, 190.350-190.100, over Southeast Missouri State at Houck Field House in Cape Girardeau Friday night.
After scoring 94.000 on the uneven parallel bars and vault, Northern Illinois’ five performers on floor exercise totaled a 48.525, the highest team floor score since 2009, while SEMO could manage just a 47.300 total on balance beam. NIU went from a .500 deficit to a .750 lead after three rotations.
The Huskies got a solid performance from its beam team as they earned a season-best 47.825.
Although the Redhawks came back with a 48.300 on floor, the Huskies held on for the .250 victory. NIU’s final total of 190.350 represented a two-point improvement from its season opening loss to UIC last Sunday and evened the Huskies’ record at 1-1 on the season.
“We definitely had a rough start on bars,” Morreale said. “Props to the team, they could have hung their heads after bars, and they didn’t. We went to vault and the hope there was to regroup and we were better. The floor was just tremendous. It was encouraging to see the fight we showed. We can build from this and springboard into next week.”
Senior Tanya Rachan (Lowell, Ind./Hanover Central) provided top performances on all three of her events to lead the Huskies, and her 9.825 score on floor exercise tied her career high and took second place in the meet. Rachan also scored a 9.550 on vault and a 9.500 on balance beam.
Sophomore Kim Gotlund’s (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS) day was representative of the entire team as she started slowly with misses on bars and beam before finishing with a 9.725 on floor exercise to take third place and scored a career-best 9.675 on balance beam to earn second place.
Shonda Clore (Grand Rapids, Mich./Northview HS) earned first and second place finishes on bars and vault, respectively, as the senior provided one of the best routines of the day on bars with a 9.675 and her vault score of 9.625 led NIU. Senior Ashley Guerra (Orland Park, Ill./Carl Sandburg HS) was the other Huskie to earn a top three placing as she was third on balance beam with a 9.600.
“I challenged the seniors before the meet to help keep everyone in it on the road,” Morreale said. “They had to step up and be leaders and they did that with their routines, but more importantly with what they did when they weren’t up.”
In addition to veterans like Natalie Sutter (Barberton, Ohio/Coventry HS), who came through on floor with a season-best 9.700, Northern Illinois freshmen Peyton Taylor (Bloomington, Ill./Normal University HS) and Kelly Nortz (Bay Village, Ohio/Magnificat) stepped up during that rotation with scores of 9.600 and 9.675, respectively.
Freshman Amanda Stepp (Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer East HS) added matching 9.575s on vault and beam.
“Peyton was in the line-up and she did what she did last week, hit a floor set,” Morreale said. “Kelly Nortz had a better meet, it was nice to see her come back. They looked more comfortable out there.”
Friday’s result encouraged Morreale going into a three-meet homestand, which starts with the Mid-American Conference opener next Sunday, Jan. 22, versus Western Michigan in the Convocation Center.
“I like the fact that this meet was so close, but we still have something to prove at home after the opener,” Morreale said. “We feel good about our future based on how they showed their mettle today. It’s tough to go on the road and do what we did. The key was to never give up, never die.”