Northern Illinois posted its top scores of the season on vault, balance beam and floor exercise and overcame a 1.225 point deficit in the final half of the meet Saturday to defeat Ball State, 192.925-191.125 in Victor E. Court.
NIU claimed its first Mid-American Conference victory and first home win of the season to improve to 2-3 overall, 1-1 in the MAC. Ball State fell to 1-4, 0-3.
“Getting a ‘W’ in the MAC was a big thing for us today,” said first-year head coach Sam Morreale. “We narrowed the gap in the third rotation, and the floor squad were rock stars today. They have been on a mission ever since the first meet.”
Northern Illinois’ floor squad scored a season-best 48.875 and did not count a score lower than 9.700.
Senior Tanya Rachan won the individual title on floor, tying her career high with a 9.850, while junior Natalie Sutter tied her career best and took second with a 9.825. She was followed by sophomore Kim Gotlund, who tied for third at 9.775.
Down by 1.2 points (145.250-144.050) going into the last rotation, the Huskies scored three full points higher than BSU to easily claim the win. While the Huskies were flying high on floor, the Cardinals were dropping off the balance beam. Five BSU gymnasts fell on beam and the Cardinals did not score above a 9.575 on the event as they totaled a 45.875.
“The huge thing is the other team has to help,” Morreale said. “All we can do is hit our routines. The comeback is us taking it, but they gave it to us too, they helped.”
Morreale credited seniors Shonda Clore and Ashley Guerra with starting the comeback at the end of the uneven parallel bars rotation. Clore came up after NIU’s three previous gymnasts had fallen and posted a 9.750 to tie for fourth place. Guerra, holding down the anchor spot for the Huskies on bars, went 9.775 and took second place on the event.
“Technically, the comeback started with Shonda on bars,” Morreale said. “Guerra continued the momentum and our two exhibitions on bars kept the positive vibes going.”
The Huskies outscored Ball State in the third rotation as NIU went 48.425 on balance beam while the Cardinals went 48.400 on floor exercise. The beam team’s score was the highest of the season for the Huskies, who were led by Megan Melendez, who won beam for the second time in the last three meets with a score of 9.775.
Freshman Amanda Stepp scored a 9.725 for a second-place finish, Guerra took third with a 9.675 and Clore was fourth at 9.650.
“We have a very solid beam team and they still have room to get better,” Morreale said. “On floor, we had great energy and as a group, they bring it. We are a good bars team too, even though the scores don’t show it. We’ve got to come out on that event and do what we are doing in the gym every day. We are right there to be the team we want to be.”
Clore and Guerra led the way for Northern Illinois with Clore adding a team-best third-place finish on vault with a season-high score of 9.725. Morreale had high praise for them, as well as for a quartet of freshmen currently in the starting line-up.
“Shonda and Ashley were very good today,” Morreale said.
“Shonda gave us three for three and Guerra was two-for-two and that’s what we’re looking for. The freshmen really stepped up. They are doing a great job and getting better every meet – when you look at Peyton, Amanda, Morgan and Kelly, they have been really solid.”
Northern Illinois returns to MAC action next Saturday, Feb. 11, at Bowling Green.