Entering his second decade at the helm of the Northern Illinois women's gymnastics program, Mark Sontag has positioned the Huskies among the Mid-American Conference's elite, both in the gym and in the classroom.
Under Sontag's direction, Northern Illinois has sent 16 individuals to NCAA Regional competition, with at least one NIU gymnast selected for the postseason meet in nine of his 10 seasons. On the conference level, the Huskies are moving ever closer toward capturing their first Mid-American Conference title. The Huskies were one fall away from the runner-up spot at the 2008 MAC Championships and tied the 2005 team (also coached by Sontag) with an all-time best third-place MAC finish a year ago.
The next step for Sontag and his squad is to garner NIU's first MAC Gymnastics Championship and advance as a team to the NCAA regional meet.
"Our goal is to develop this team to where we are competing for the MAC Championship and an NCAA Regional bid on a yearly basis," Sontag said. "We're definitely making progress toward that as we continue to increase the overall skill level of our squad and build depth. Certainly, we're pleased with the effort and results we have achieved in the classroom. With the recent upgrades in our facilities and the addition of the Yordon Center, all the pieces are in place to enable us to achieve our goals"
In the classroom, Sontag's Huskies already lead the pack as the gymnasts rank near the top of the NIU list in cumulative grade point average every semester. With a team G.P.A. of 3.310, Northern Illinois' squad includes 13 student-athletes with a cumulative mark of 3.0 or higher. NIU Gymnastics has achieved a perfect Graduation Success Rate (GSR) of 100 percent in each of the last two years and received special recognition from the NCAA as one of the top gymnastics teams in the country in terms of graduating its student-athletes.
In the gym, the skill levels of Huskie gymnasts have continued to rise along with the team scoring records. The 2009 squad earned the fourth-highest overall team score in school history (194.925) and the Huskies also recorded top five (all-time) team totals on the vault, bars and balance beam last year. Northern Illinois has earned 10 or more dual meet victories in each of the last two seasons, and tied Sontag's NIU career high in wins with 11 last season.
Northern Illinois gymnasts continue to develop and improve under Sontag's guidance. In the last three years, Huskies have twice claimed individual event titles at the MAC Championships and have earned three first-team All-MAC accolades. In 2009, Holly Reichard became only the second Huskie to be named MAC Gymnast of the Year, joining 2003 honoree Kristina Campos, and the first NIU gymnast selected to the first team all-MAC squad in back-to-back years.
Reichard and senior Jennifer Naughton (balance beam) were the Huskies' NCAA qualifiers a year ago, with Reichard taking eighth in the all-around and fifth on balance beam in Arkansas. 2010 senior Natalie Blum made a regional appearance on floor exercise in 2007. In 2008, two Northern Illinois individuals - Leah Johnson and Reichard - competed in the all-around at the NCAA South Central Regional.
One of Sontag's most-decorated Huskies, Kristina Campos, is one of just two NIU individuals to qualify for the NCAA Regionals four times. In 2004, Northern Illinois sent a school-record four gymnasts to regionals, and 2005 saw both Campos and Ashlee Williams, who won the individual title on the uneven parallel bars at the 2005 MAC Championships, advance to the NCAA Regionals.
Under Sontag, Williams and Jody Yednock became the first NIU gymnasts named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America team - Williams as a second team choice in 2006, and Yednock as a first team honoree in 2007. Yednock claimed the 2007 Bob James Award as the top female student-athlete (all sports) in the Mid-American Conference.
Sontag came to NIU after nine years as the assistant coach at his alma mater, Southeast Missouri State, where he helped the Redhawks win the 1991 Division II National Championship.
After moving to Division I in 1992, Southeast Missouri State made six straight trips to the National Invitational Tournament of Women's Gymnastics from 1993-99. SEMO twice finished second at that meet after seventh-place showings at the NCAA Regionals. Individually, Southeast Missouri State's Erin Chenier won national balance beam titles in the U.S. and Canada.
While working with the Redhawks, Sontag helped coordinate the team's promotions and fundraising efforts. He served as head coach at the Cape Gymnastics Center during his time in Cape Girardeau and directed SEMO's summer gymnastics camps, while also working the camps of Top 25 teams Alabama, Missouri, Iowa State and Michigan.
Sontag is USA Gymnastics certified in many areas, including Safety, Skill Test Evaluator, Meet Director and Athlete Wellness. He earned his bachelor's degree from Southeast Missouri State in 1997.
-- NIU --