Northern Illinois Gymnasts Open Season with Strong Showing at Kent State

GO HUSKIES Junior Leah Johnson won three events, including the all-around, in the Huskies' season-opener at Kent State Sunday.
Junior Leah Johnson won three events, including the all-around, in the Huskies' season-opener at Kent State Sunday.

Jan. 20, 2008

Final Stats

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KENT, Ohio - Northern Illinois put together one of its best season-opening performances in years Sunday, falling by just eight-tenths, 193.475-192.675, to Mid-American Conference preseason favorite Kent State at the M.A.C. Center in Kent, Ohio.

The Huskies led the meet after three events, but the Golden Flashes came through on their last event with a 48.875 on the floor exercise while NIU posted a 47.875 on the balance beam.

"This was a great start for us, one of the best we've had in years," said NIU Head Coach Mark Sontag. "Basically we were one miss away from beating them in their own gym, a place where they usually annihilate people. We really got their attention, and the team is extremely pumped up and excited about the season. The 192.675 is a great road score so we helped ourselves, we competed well and stayed focused."

Junior Leah Johnson (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South HS) led Northern Illinois, taking first place in the floor exercise and on bars as well as second on vault. Her score of 9.775 on the uneven parallel bars was a career-best, while her 9.825 mark on floor tied her career high. Johnson added a 9.800 on the vault in posting a season-opening score of 38.800 in the all-around, a score she topped only twice in 2007.

"Leah did a good job with a 38.8 right out of the gate," Sontag said. "She won the bars and that was one thing we have really been working on with a new major release [move] and we debated whether to go for it or not, but she did it and it paid off."

Holly Reichard (Palatine, Ill./Palatine Fremd HS), one of two freshmen who made their Huskie debuts Sunday, scored a 38.325 in the all-around as she tied for second on the bars with a 9.750, tied for fourth place on vault with a 9.725 and was fourth on beam at 9.700. Jessica Watanabe (Palatine, Ill./Palatine HS) contributed to a good outing on the beam for NIU with a third-place finish and a 9.725 mark.

In addition to Johnson, returnees Natalie Blum (Homer Glen, Ill./Lockport Township HS), Jennifer Naughton (Smithville, Mo./Smithville HS) and Jennifer Rice (Homewood, Ill./Homewood-Flossmoor HS) came through with good performances. Blum tied for second on the bars with a career-high score of 9.750 and matched that mark on the floor exercise, where she tied for fifth. Naughton led the way for the Huskies on the balance beam with a 9.775 while Rice tied for fifth on the floor exercise, scoring 9.750 in her season debut.

"Going in, I thought if we scored 192 [as a team], on the road in the season opener, I was going to be really happy," Sontag said. "We hit that and I think we are poised to come home next weekend and have a good showing in our first home meet (versus Western Michigan)."

Northern Illinois will play host to the Broncos next Sunday at 2 p.m. (Central) in the Convocation Center in their 2008 home opener.

-- NIU --



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