March 20, 2010
NORMAL, Ill. - Northern Illinois recorded its best performance of the year on vault, the Huskies' final event of the meet, to overtake Illinois-Chicago and take second place at the 2010 State of Illinois Classic in Normal, Ill. Saturday.
The Huskies totaled their second-highest team score of the season with a 192.650 to finish behind only the University of Illinois at the quadrangular meet. UIC finished the meet with a 192.475 to take third while host Illinois State scored 191.975 to finish fourth.
"I'm really happy with our performance today," said NIU Head Coach Mark Sontag. "The exciting thing is that we still counted several falls, so we still have better things to look forward to next weekend at the MAC Championships. We come out of here on a successful note and we see that even if we have some early errors, we can come off the mat and get the win."
Northern Illinois took second at the Illinois Classic for the second straight year using a total team effort and posting nearly identical scores across the four events. In addition to its season best 48.425 on vault, the Huskies had a 48.325 team score on both uneven parallel bars and floor exercise. NIU started the meet on bars with balance beam as their second event,
"Bars and beam are the two separators - those are the events you are most likely to have misses on," Sontag said. "Once you get past those first two, you kind of take a deep breath and you have a pretty good feeling for what you have to do."
Senior Natalie Blum (Homer Glen, Ill./Lockport Township HS) once again led the way for the Huskies as the senior posted her best vault of the year with a 9.825 to finish fifth on the apparatus. Blum also scored a 9.800 on floor exercise to tie for 10th and added a 9.600 on uneven bars.
"She's like a machine," Sontag said. "Natalie is at the top of her game every time. To see a senior lighting it up and leading the team with her performance is great. She is definitely out there to win every time she steps out on the floor and that's the attitude we're trying to foster as a team."
Northern Illinois also continues to get top performances from sophomore Ashley Guerra
(Orland Park, Ill./Carl Sandburg HS) and junior Jessica Watanabe
(Palatine, Ill./Palatine HS) in the season's biggest events. Guerra earned her best career score on balance beam with a 9.775 to tie Watanabe for fourth place. Guerra also finished just out of the top 10 on uneven parallel bars with a 9.725, one spot behind Holly Reichard
(Palatine, Ill./Palatine Fremd HS), who tied for eighth with a 9.750 to lead NIU on bars. Reichard added her best vault score of the year with a 9.650.
"Holly is out there with her heart," Sontag said. "She's an amazing gymnast. Even though she's working off injury, she's such a huge part of why we're staying competitive and being successful. It's great to see Ashley and Jessie peaking at the right time. They are both starting to look more and more consistent up there. I'm seeing things I want to see going into [MAC] championships."
With its second-place score, NIU earned a measure of revenge for its dual meet loss to UIC two weeks ago. Northern Illinois is 10-7 overall on the season to reach the 10-win mark for the third straight season.
Northern Illinois competes at the MAC Championships next Saturday in Bowling Green, Ohio.
-- NIU -
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