The Northern Illinois gymnastics team earned its highest scores of the season on uneven parallel bars and vault, but suffered some uncharacteristic falls on balance beam in its final event of the meet and dropped a 194.825-193.675 decision to Western Michigan Sunday at University Arena in Kalamazoo.
The loss drops the Huskies’ record to 4-5 overall and NIU completes the MAC regular season 2-4 versus league foes. WMU goes to 6-5, 3-2 MAC with the victory.
Northern Illinois opened the meet in spectacular fashion on uneven parallel bars.
Freshman Lauren Africano (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais Community HS) got NIU started with a career-high 9.800 and every Huskie after her hit their routines.
Junior Megan Melendez (Stafford, Va./North Stafford HS) capped off the event with a 9.825 to tie for second place. Northern Illinois’ team score of 48.925 on bars tied the fifth-highest team bars score in school history and four Huskies recorded career highs on bars in the meet.
“Everybody swung really well,” said NIU head coach Sam Morreale. “We hit well and we landed well with three or four sticks. The 48.925 is huge for us. [Lauren] got us going with the 9.8 and it got us moving in the right direction.”
The momentum continued on vault as Kelly Nortz (Bay Village, Ohio/Magnificat HS) started with a season-best 9.700 and two more Huskies hit their career or season highs, leading to a season-best 48.750 vault score for NIU. That total tied as the seventh-highest score on vault ever for Northern Illinois. Melendez recorded a career-best 9.775 on vault to tie for fifth place, while freshmen Jaelyn Olsen (Bethany, Okla./Putnam City West HS) led the way for NIU with a 9.800 to earn fourth.
Seniors Marisa Liptak (Kendall Park, N.J./South Brunswick HS) and Natalie Sutter (Barberton, Ohio/Coventry HS) led a solid, if not spectacular, outing for NIU on floor exercise, the Huskies’ third event of the day. Liptak’s 9.800 score tied for second place as Northern Illinois hit its average on floor with a 48.800 team total. Entering the final event, Northern Illinois held a 146.475-145.800 lead over the Broncos.
Balance beam, normally one of NIU’s strongest events, would derail the Huskies’ push for the victory and the 195 score as only Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS) and Melendez managed to hit their routines.
Melendez won the event with a 9.825 and Gotlund took third with a 9.700, but the season-low 47.200 team score left the Huskies thinking about what could have been.
“It was a bad day on beam for us, which is frustrating because we had a great meet going,” Morreale said. “Prior to beam, we were hitting and everything was going well, then the wheels fell off and we couldn’t right the ship. It was not a normal beam day for us, it’s definitely an aberration. We still put up a respectable score [overall] but we definitely missed an opportunity.”
Despite the miscues on the final event, the Huskies’ performance on bars and vault served to confirm that NIU is poised to break the 195 mark in one of its final two meets of the season.
“We’re not going to change what we’re doing and who we are,” Morreale said. “I think we saw that if we just hit the four events we’re good to go. With our skills and the way we’re performing the routines, if we do them [right], we’re going to score well. We just have to hit and we will.”
Northern Illinois will take on UIC, Illinois State and Illinois next Saturday in Chicago at the annual State of Illinois Classic. The meet will begin at 5 p.m. at UIC’s Physical Education Building.
For more information on NIU gymnastics and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.