The Northern Illinois University gymnastics team came on strong in the final two rotations Saturday to claim fourth place at the Mid-American Conference Gymnastics Championships at the EMU Convocation Center in Ypsilanti, Mich.
The Huskies posted a score of 194.150, their third-highest team score of the season, to finish ahead of Ball State (193.975), Eastern Michigan (193.850) and Western Michigan (191.575). NIU was less than five-tenths of a point behind third-place Bowling Green (194.625). No. 18 Central Michigan won the title for the fifth straight year with a total of 196.475, while Kent State took second (195.125).
NIU head coach Sam Morreale said the Huskies fought through a slow start to finish strong.
“We had a bit of a slow start on vault and there was tight scoring early, which we knew there would be,” he said. The kids shrugged it off like they have all year and moved along. They continued to fight and that’s been the story of this team and this season. It’s bittersweet for the seniors. I can’t thank them enough. They wanted what I wanted for this program and they moved us forward.”
Following the meet, NIU sophomore Jaelyn Olsen (Bethany, Okla./Putnam City West HS) was named the MAC’s Specialist of the Year, an award given to a gymnast who competes in only one or two events. Olsen, who has excelled on vault and balance beam, is the third Huskie to win the award since it was instituted in 2006.
Senior Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS) remains in the hunt for an individual berth in the NCAA Regionals after scoring a 38.950 in the all-around competition to finish third. It was her second-highest all-around score of the season and was capped by a season-high 9.825 routine on floor exercise.
Fellow senior Megan Melendez (Stafford, Va./North Stafford HS) also finished on the podium in the meet as she tied for fifth on balance beam with a 9.775, while senior Natasha Jufko (Spring Hill, Fla./Pasco-Hernando HS) 9.700 score on balance beam was just one example of the tight scoring on that event that was evident throughout the meet.
NIU’s beam team score ranked second behind only CMU in the meet as Jufko and Melendez combined with Olsen, Gotlund and freshman Megan Greenfield (Crystal Lake, Ill./Crystal Lake South HS) to score a 48.575. Olsen and Gotlund each scored a 9.725 on beam while Greenfield added a 9.650.
“On beam, we weren’t perfect but we had one of our better meets,” Morreale said. “It was tough to get a score; I thought we had some excellent routines. Then we finished on floor and we’re a good floor team so it felt good to get out there and get the scores.”
NIU entered the final rotation .025 points behind Ball State for fourth with the Cardinals on vault and NIU on floor exercise. The Huskies final three gymnasts all scored 9.800 or better to push NIU into fourth. First Peyton Taylor (Bloomington, Ill./Normal University HS) came through with a 9.800, Stepp “stepped up” with her 9.850 and Gotlund achieved her season-high score in any event.
Morreale credited the Huskies “sticks” on bars in their second event to reinvigorating NIU heading into the final two events.
“On bars, other than the two misses, the other four routines were awesome and we probably stuck more landings on bars than I’ve ever seen us stick,” he said.”That really got us going and reinvigorated us into the last two events.”
After scoring a 48.275 on vault in its first event of the meet to tie for its lowest vault team score of the season, NIU headed to the uneven parallel bars where the Huskies put together four solid scores, topped by a career-best 9.800 by sophomore Natalie Amadio (Lake Zurich, Ill./Lake Zurich HS). Lauren Africano (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais HS) and Gotlund contributed 9.750s while Morgan Johnson (Elburn, Ill./Kaneland HS) stepped into the line-up with a 9.700. NIU finished bars with a 48.425.
“I think Amanda had a great day,” Morreale said. “Jae did two great routines on her events and if she went up later in the meet and did that vault, she would be on the podium. Kim had an excellent day, I’m happy for her to finish like she did.”
“We’ve just got to put our head down and keep working. We’ve got to get our difficulty up and keep working on all the little things. We have to put the work in now. What we’re doing is working, we’ve just got to get better, and stay healthier. I know the underclassmen will be hungry.”
NIU has a chance to send multiple individuals to the NCAA Regionals. Regional bids for teams and individuals will be announced Monday.
For more information on NIU gymnastics and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.