Only once in school history has the Northern Illinois University gymnastics team posted a team score higher than the 195.100 mark the 2014 Huskies earned Saturday night in winning the Eagle Invitational quadrangular meet at Bowen Field House in Ypsilanti, Mich.
NIU’s 195.100 mark tied for the second-best score in school history and gave the Huskies victories over host Eastern Michigan (194.900), Air Force (193.900) and Temple (191.575) to lift their season record to 8-7 overall and 3-3 versus Mid-American Conference competition. NIU recorded its highest team scores of the season on vault, balance beam and floor exercise en route to just the fifth 195-plus score by a Huskie team.
An excited NIU head coach Sam Morreale said this was the type of performance the team has been looking for as the season builds toward the MAC Championships.
“Everybody stepped up their game today and we got better,” he said. “We are definitely positioning ourselves to make a run. We will build confidence from this going forward. It’s great to know we can finish. We had a few errors today, but all-in-all they fought the entire meet.”
The Huskies opened the meet with a solid 48.450 on uneven parallel bars led by senior Megan Melendez (Stafford, Va./North Stafford HS), whose 9.750 score was good for third place in the meet. Sophomore Kylie Clark (Naperville, Ill./Waubonsie Valley HS) added a 9.700 on the event, while Meg Piepenbrink (Glen Ellyn, Ill./Glenbard South HS) and Natalie Amadio (Lake Zurich, Ill./Lake Zurich HS) posted 9.675s.
NIU made a statement on balance beam and the momentum from that event carried through the rest of the meet.
Freshman Megan Greenfield (Crystal Lake, Ill./Crystal Lake South HS) and senior Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS) each scored 9.775 on beam to set the stage for Jaelyn Olsen (Bethany, Okla./Putnam City West HS), who came through with a routine that scored 9.800. That left NIU seniors Natasha Jufko (Spring Hill, Fla./Pasco-Hernando HS) and Melendez, who both posted 9.875 marks to tie for first place on the event with Jufko’s score a career best.
The Huskies’ team total of 49.100 on balance beam tied for the fourth-best beam team score ever and was the highest since 2009.
“I think you can say the beam squad is definitely solidified,” Morreale said. “It’s nice to see them come through like that two weeks in a row. Doing what we did on beam gives the entire team confidence and that energy [from beam] propelled us into floor. Our team really feeds off of each other so it kept getting better and better from there.”
The Huskies followed their performance on balance beam by putting together a stellar day on floor.
Shelby Davis (Wichita, Kans./Heights HS) tied her career high with a 9.725 to open the event. After Kelly Nortz (Bay Village, Ohio/Magnificat HS) and Peyton Taylor (Bloomington, Ill./Normal University HS) each hit their routines with scores of 9.725 and 9.750, respectively, Amanda Stepp (Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer East HS) put together the best floor exercise of the meet to score 9.825 and win the title. Taylor and Gotlund tied for second with their 9.750 marks.
“The first five all did a really, really good job on floor,” Morreale said. “We were down .075 (146.400-146.325) going into the last event. I think we knew we had to give our all on vault and we could get it done.”
Freshman Brittany Wenzel (Hilliard, Ohio/Davidson HS) started the Huskies on vault with a career-best 9.650 and Nortz scored a 9.725 two gymnasts later to put NIU in position. Stepp then came through with a season-high 9.825 on a vault with a start value of 9.900 that Morreale called “probably the best vault of her career.”
When Olsen, NIU’s top vaulter, went 9.900 to close out the meet, the team erupted and surrounded the sophomore, who won the event with Stepp taking second.
“We went to vault and finished and it was huge,” Morreale said. “We finished really well. The kids did awesome, I couldn’t be happier.”
Olsen’s 9.900 on vault ties for the fourth-highest score on that event ever at NIU and she is the first gymnast to earn a 9.900 or better on vault for the Huskies since 2004.
NIU closes out the regular season Friday with a dual meet at Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz. The meet begins at 5 p.m. (CT).
For more information on NIU gymnastics and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.