There were plenty of positives to take from Northern Illinois’ 195.800-194.350 gymnastics loss to No. 21 ranked Kent State Saturday, including eight scores of 9.8 or higher from seven different gymnasts, the second-highest floor score in team history and a host of career-best performances.
Northern Illinois surpassed the 194-point mark for the third time in as many weeks, despite counting a pair of misses on uneven parallel bars, in falling to 3-4 on the season and 1-3 in the Mid-American Conference. Kent State improved its record to 8-2 overall, 4-0 in the MAC.
Even with the score differential, NIU head coach Sam Morreale was encouraged by the Huskies’ showing versus arguably its three toughest opponents this season over the last three weeks.
“These last three meets have given us a great chance to compare ourselves to the class of the MAC (Central Michigan and Kent State) and to a perennial regional team from the Big 12 (Iowa State) and what we found is that there is not that much difference between us and them,” Morreale said.
“Honestly, after today, I feel we can compete with [Kent State]. If we hit bars, it’s a different meet going into the last rotation. I don’t know if we win but it would have put a little pressure on them and made it interesting.”
Northern Illinois actually outscored Kent State on floor exercise 49.200-48.775 as the Huskies tied their second-highest floor score in school history.
Senior Marisa Liptak (Kendall Park, N.J./South Brunswick HS) led the way with a 9.875 to win the event, and Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS) and Natalie Sutter (Barberton, Ohio/Coventry HS) tied for second with 9.850s. Peyton Taylor (Bloomington, Ill./Normal University HS) added a 9.825 and Amanda Stepp (Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer East HS) scored a 9.800 to account for the Huskies’ best floor total since 2004.
“Floor is a good event for us, it will always be a good event for us,” Morreale said. “We are a very confident team on floor and balance beam. You get into a nice rhythm where everything is going well and it builds.”
Morreale was encouraged to see the Huskies come back from its performance on bars, where NIU tallied just a 47.875 team score compared to KSU’s 48.900. Of the 1.45-point margin of victory by Kent State, 1.25 was accounted for on uneven parallel bars.
“Considering our hiccup on bars today, I think we were shocked to go 194,” Morreale said. “What’s happening is we are getting so much better on our other three events that we can get past it and still post a good team score.”
NIU also tied its team season high, and the 10th-highest team balance beam score in school history, with a 48.800 behind a 9.825 by Natasha Jufko (Spring Hill, Fla./Pasco-Hernando HS), which tied for second place, and Gotlund’s career-high 9.800. Gotlund added a 9.700 on bars and a 9.675 on vault to total a career-best 39.025 all-around score.
“It was great to see Kim get the 39 on the all-around and we’ve been working to get her that 9.8 on floor too,” Morreale said. “I think almost everyone on this team feels like they can score 9.8 and higher. They know they are that good.”
Freshman Jaelyn Olsen (Bethany, Okla./Putnam City West HS) scored a 9.800 on vault to tie for third place to account for the first 9.8 of the meet for the Huskies.
NIU plays host to Eastern Michigan at 5 p.m. Friday, March 1, in its last home meet of the 2013 season. The Huskies will honor seniors Liptak and Sutter prior to the competition.