March 29, 2008
KENT, Ohio - On Saturday at the Mid-American Conference Gymnastics Championships in Kent, Ohio, one fall was the difference between Northern Illinois claiming its best-ever finish in the MAC and a fourth-place showing.
With a team total of 193.375, the Huskies finished fourth, less than half a point behind second place Eastern Michigan, who totaled 193.800 points on the day. NIU trailed third place Central Michigan and their 193.675 score by just .300, but the narrow margin was little consolation to Head Coach Mark Sontag and his squad.
"We're very disappointed because we were that close," Sontag said. "Basically we were one fall out of second place. A fall is five-tenths of a point and we were just that short. It's one of those things. If we had just been able to stay on the beam and do what we've been doing all season, it would have put us right with the leaders and that's very frustrating."
Host Kent State, ranked No. 27 in the country entering the meet, won the event with 195.675 points while Western Michigan was fifth, followed by Ball State and Bowling Green.
Northern Illinois was led by freshman Holly Reichard (Palatine, Ill./Palatine Fremd HS) and sophomore Natalie Blum (Homer Glen, Ill./Lockport Township HS). Reichard claimed just the sixth individual MAC Championship in Northern Illinois history as she tied for first place on the uneven parallel bars with a score of 9.750. Reichard's title is the first by an NIU gymnast since Ashlee Williams won the bars crown in 2005 and is only the second for a Huskie since 1998.
Reichard also took third place in the all-around with a total of 38.975. In addition to her first place finish on bars, she tied for fourth on the balance beam with a team-high score of 9.800. She added a 9.750 on vault and a 9.675 on the floor exercise.
Following the meet, Reichard was named to the All-Mid-American Conference first team, becoming only the second Huskie to achieve that status since the first and second team designation was created in 1999.. Williams was the first Northern gymnast named to the MAC first team when she earned the honor in 2005
"Holly had no weaknesses today, she stepped up every time," Sontag said. "She turned out great performances, one after another. She couldn't have done any better today, she was really on top of her game."
Blum, meanwhile, recorded one of her top performances of 2008 as the sophomore tied for fourth on two events. She opened with a career-best 9.800 on vault to tie for fourth, and scored a 9.725 on the uneven parallel bars to equal that placing. She also scored a 9.725 on the floor exercise.
"Natalie made quite a few trips up to the award stand today," Sontag said. "She had a nice meet overall and her vault was the best I've ever seen her do, she really stepped it up. We had a lot of great performances all the way through."
Overall, the Huskies were solid throughout the line-up, scoring a 48.300 on the bars, a 48.525 on vault - the team's second-highest total of the season - and a 48.575 on the floor exercise.
Northern Illinois' biggest disappointment came on balance beam, a strength of the team throughout the season, as both senior Jennifer Rice (Homewood, Ill./Homewood-Flossmoor HS) and junior Jennifer Naughton (Smithville, Mo./Smithville HS) fell and the Huskies were forced to count Naughton's season-low score of 9.250. For Naughton, a strong candidate to qualify for the NCAA Regionals on the balance beam who has averaged a score of 9.800 on that apparatus this year, it was her first fall off the beam of the 2008 season.
"It was just very, very uncharacteristic," Sontag said. "It's one of those things where you shake your head and go - wow. It is definitely one of the frustrating things about sports, that no matter how prepared or how well you're doing, something can always happen. It's just one of those things. You scratch your head and I can't really tell you why it happened, but it did."
Naughton rebounded on the floor exercise as she and Leah Johnson (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South HS) posted NIU's best scores on floor with a pair of 9.750s to tie for sixth overall on that event.
Johnson added a 9.700 on the vault and a 9.650 on beam, but a fall on bars dropped her all-around score to 38.225 and she settled for 11th place.
"Overall we have had a much better year, both in regular season and in the MAC," Sontag said. "We're definitely moving in the right direction and getting closer to where we would like to be."
The Huskies score keeps them in the hunt for a bid to the NCAA Regionals, which will be handed out the week of April 7. Several Huskie individuals, including Reichard, could also land an individual invitation.
-- NIU --