Northern Illinois earned its highest team scores of the season on both floor exercise and vault en route to a fourth-place finish at the 2012 Mid-American Conference Gymnastics Championships Saturday at the NIU Convocation Center.
The result reflected a marked improvement from the Huskies’ seventh place finish of a year ago as five different NIU gymnasts in six events earned spots on the awards stand at the conclusion of the meet.
The Huskies earned their third-highest overall score of the year with a 194.525 to finish behind team champion Central Michigan (195.675), Kent State (195.225) and Western Michigan (195.000). Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan tied for fifth place with scores of 193.150 and Ball State placed seventh (192.95)
In addition, NIU sophomore Megan Melendez (Stafford, Va./North Stafford HS) was named the MAC Co-Specialist of the Year during the post-meet awards ceremony. The specialist honor goes to a gymnast who competes in no more than two events and is selected by league coaches.
NIU first-year head coach Sam Morreale was pleased that his squad was able to show the progress made this year in the most important meet of the season.
“We had a great day,” Morreale said. “I expect us to compete hard, to have fun and to hit our routines and from that standpoint we felt good about our day. All season long we’ve said we can only do what we can do. There is no defense in gymnastics so you can’t control what the other teams do. I feel like we were right there with those top three teams today.”
Northern Illinois started strong with its best vaulting day of the year to earn its sixth-best team total on vault all-time with a 48.775. Tanya Rachan (Lowell, Ind./Hanover Central HS) earned a career-high 9.850 to tie for fourth in the meet while Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS) scored a career-best 9.800 on the event, marking the first time all season NIU had two vault scores of 9.8 or higher in the same meet. Amanda Stepp (Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer East HS) and Shonda Clore (Grand Rapids, Mich./Northview) also tied their career marks on vault with a 9.700 and 9.750, respectively.
“I was impressed with how we started on vault,” Morreale said. “That’s been a good event for us, not necessarily a great event, but scoring the way we did really gave us a chance to get into the meet.”
The Huskies’ secured their place in the top four with their best performance in a string of great performances this season on floor exercise. NIU’s 49.175 floor score is the third best all-time and tops the 49.000 recorded a week ago at the State of Illinois Classic.
Rachan took second place with a spectacular routine that scored a 9.900 while Sutter tied her career high with a 9.850 to tie for fifth on the event. Gotlund earned a 9.825 while Stepp and Marisa Liptak (Kendall Park, N.J./South Brunswick HS) each had season-best scores of 9.800.
“Floor did what they’ve done all year long only even better,” Morreale said. “They have pushed each other all year. That was an awesome way to close out the meet.”
Clore, who had a solid day all around in the final meet of her career, led NIU on bars with a 9.775 to tie for sixth place while Natalie Sutter (Barberton, Ohio/Coventry HS) added a 9.725. Melendez, the Huskies’ top beam worker all season, tied for third place in the MAC with a score of 9.800, while senior Ashley Guerra (Orland Park, Ill./Carl Sandburg HS) followed with a 9.750.
Morreale said what he enjoyed most about Northern Illinois’ day was the way the Huskies bounced back throughout the meet.
“I liked how we came back,” Morreale said. “The two kids that struggled on bars went to beam and rocked. Tanya fell on beam but moved on to floor and was great. Kim has struggled with putting four good events together and today she had a great meet with her second highest [all-around] score. There were so many bright spots.”
Gotlund finished with an all-around total of 38.900 for her second-highest score of the season. The sophomore placed fifth in a highly-competive field.
The Huskies finished the 2012 campaign with an overall record of 8-13. Northern Illinois’ Gotlund and Rachan are in good position to secure a spot in the NCAA Regional to be held in Champaign, Ill. on April 7. Gotlund will likely qualify as an all-arounder with Rachan in line to earn the specialist berth on floor exercise.