After posting its two highest scores of the season on the road in its last two outings, the Northern Illinois women’s gymnastics team looks to bring its road fortunes home to Victor E. Court versus Central Michigan Sunday as the Huskies host the Chippewas in the final regular season home meet of 2012.
Action begins at 2 p.m. at the NIU Convocation Center. Live video streaming of the meet is available with a subscription to Huskie All-Access.
NIU is 3-4 on the season, 2-2 versus Mid-American Conference opponents, and has a 1-3 record at home, while the Chippewas enter the meet 10-3 overall, 4-0 in the league. CMU can wrap up a share of the league regular season title with a win Sunday.
In the past two weeks, Northern Illinois split a pair of dual meets, defeating Bowling Green while falling to Kent State. In the meet versus BGSU, the Huskies earned a 194.775 overall score, the school’s seventh-highest mark all-time. Last week at Kent, NIU put up a 193.625 to record the second-highest total of the year.
NIU first-year head coach Sam Morreale said his team believes they can improve on those marks heading into the stretch run of the 2012 campaign.
“The hope is to carry that confidence [from the last two weeks] and bring that back home so we can keep that same roll going,” Morreale said. “We have to approach it the same way. Last week was a really good measuring stick for us. We were a little rough around the edges, but still had a really good meet. That is something we will build from and build on going into Sunday.”
Seniors Tanya Rachan (Lowell, Ind./Hanover Central HS) and Shonda Clore (Grand Rapids, Mich./Northview HS) and sophomore Megan Melendez (Stafford, Va./North Stafford HS) own the highest season averages for the Huskies. Rachan has scored a 9.800 or higher on floor exercise in six of NIU’s seven meets on the season with a season and career-best mark of 9.875 at Bowling Green.
Clore has been NIU’s most consistent gymnast on both vault and uneven parallel bars, posting season averages of 9.654 and 9.682, respectively. She earned a season and career best 9.750 on vault at Kent State. Melendez has won the beam event three times in the Huskies’ last five outings, twice hitting her career high of 9.775 on the event.
In addition to the above-mentioned team leaders, all-arounder Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS), senior Ashley Guerra (Orland Park, Ill./Carl Sandburg HS), Natalie Sutter (Barberton, Ohio/Coventry HS), Amanda Stepp (Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer East HS) and Kelly Nortz (Bay Village, Ohio/Magnificat HS) are all multi-event performers who have raised the bar for this year’s team.
Guerra is a 2010 NCAA qualifier on bars who has overcome a slow start to excel on the event in NIU’s last five meets, scoring 9.775 or higher every time out. Gotlund has put up a career high 39.000 in the all-around and Sutter is coming off her two top meets of the year.
Stepp and Nortz, both true freshmen, are in the Huskies’ line-up on two events apiece – Stepp on vault and beam and Nortz on vault and floor.
One of the biggest differences in this year’s team is its depth and the quality of gymnasts and their skills throughout the line-up and beyond, Morreale said.
“When we have those kids that have college-caliber routines throughout our roster, your lowest scores are higher, so then your top scores will be higher,” Morreale said. “We have quality gymnasts pushing the people in front of them and the competition is also making us better. If the middle of the pack is getting it done, that’s one of the main reasons your team is better. I feel really good about our team all the way to the seven-eight-nine gymnasts and they are pushing the people in the fifth and sixth spots.”
Morreale said this senior class has left its mark on the NIU program.
“For me, it’s extra special because they were my first recruited group [as an assistant coach],” Morreale said. “College gymnastics is hard as heck and to do it almost every day for four years is a testament to each of them, whether they have been in the line-up or not. This year, for me as a new head coach, they have been great leaders and been very receptive to things I’ve tried to bring into the program so it’s been wonderful to have that and I definitely appreciate them.”
Northern Illinois next takes on Illinois State in Normal on Sunday, March 4. The Huskies will host the Mid-American Conference Gymnastics Championships on Saturday, March 24 at the NIU Convocation Center. The seven-team championship meet begins at 2 p.m. in the main bowl of the arena.
For more information on NIU gymnastics and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.