Northern Illinois’ third consecutive attempt at a narrow victory fell short Friday as the Huskies dropped a 192.475-192.075 decision to Ball State in Mid-American Conference women’s gymnastics action at Irving Gym in the Ball State Sports and Recreation Center.
NIU narrowly out-scored the Cardinals in three events, but the margin was not enough to overcome a .750 difference on vault The Huskies’ 192.075 total was its lowest of the season as Northern Illinois fell to 2-1 overall, 1-1 in the MAC, with the loss. Ball State improved to 2-2, 2-0 (MAC) with the victory.
NIU head coach Sam Morreale said while Friday’s meet came down to the last gymnast, the Huskies had opportunities earlier in the competition to create a margin for victory.
“We were in the meet the whole time up until the last [routine], which is a good thing,” Morreale said. “We could have put them away and we didn’t. There were numerous opportunities. It almost makes [the loss] more frustrating because you see the potential. With the line-up we have out there, we should be going 194-plus.”
The Huskies opened the meet on uneven parallel bars, the event which had given NIU the most difficulty in its first two meets. Friday, Northern Illinois earned its best score of the year on bars with a 47.800 despite counting a miss. Junior Megan Melendez (Stafford, Va./North Stafford HS) led the Huskies with a 9.800 to tie for first place on bars, while freshman Lauren Africano (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bradley Bourbonnais Community HS) scored a career-best 9.700 and tied for third place.
“We did start the meet on bars and we did better,” Morreale said. “We scored better, we swung better [on bars]. When you are counting a miss, it’s never a good thing. Then, I felt we vaulted better than last weekend, so that was a little frustrating. ”
Meanwhile, Ball State put together a 48.725 team score on vault to sweep the top three places. Freshman Jaelyn Olsen (Bethany, Okla./Putnam City West HS) led Northern Illinois on vault with a 9.725 to take fourth place as the Huskies totaled a 47.975.
NIU put together its strongest scores of the meet on floor exercise, the Huskies’ third event. Sophomore Amanda Stepp (Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer East HS) led the way with a 9.775 and tied for first place. The Michigan native had a strong overall meet as she scored a 9.675 on vault and a 9.700 on balance beam to earn third place.
“We got another solid performance from Amanda,” Morreale said. “She’s coming into her own as far as being automatic. Megan [Melende]z did a really good job when the chips were down. She followed two falls on bars and three on beam and came out and hit. It was good to see her hitting her stride.”
In addition to Stepp’s performance on floor, NIU’s Shelby Davis (Wichita, Kans./Heights HS), Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS) and Natalie Sutter (Barberton, Ohio/Coventry HS) each contributed 9.725 scores to the Huskies’ 48.600 total on the event.
Going into the final rotation, NIU led BSU, 144.375-143.975, with the Huskies going to balance beam and Ball State heading to floor exercise. Despite sweeping balance beam, led by Melendez’ second 9.800, and second event victory, of the meet, a 9.750 by Marisa Liptak (Kendall Park, N.J./South Brunswick HS) for second place and Stepp’s third-place finish, Northern Illinois had three misses on beam, giving Ball State the win.
“We put a bunch of hits together on floor and we couldn’t finish [on beam] today,” Morreale said. “Beam was our solid event the first two meets; they’ll bounce back. On floor we were ourselves. We need to score 48-plus on vault, and we `ve got to keep improving on bars.”
Although NIU suffered its first loss, Morreale noted that the meet was the first road event of the season and that his team battled through misses to have a chance to win at the end.
“I still feel good about this team, we can do great things,” he said. “We haven’t panicked [in any meet], we’ve kept working. We have to keep true to what we’re trying to do, and not change the plan. A road meet is a different animal, so we got that [experience] out of the way and we’ll move forward.”
Next, Northern Illinois steps out of MAC competition as the Huskies play host to Southeast Missouri State Saturday, Feb. 2, at the NIU Convocation Center beginning at 5 p.m. The meet will be the second half of a doubleheader with the Huskie men’s basketball team, which plays Toledo at 3 p.m. One ticket will admit fans to both events.
For more information on NIU gymnastics and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.