Northern Illinois Gymnasts Picked Fourth in MAC Preseason Poll

GO HUSKIES Mark Sontag enters his ninth season as the NIU women's gymnastics coach in 2008.
Mark Sontag enters his ninth season as the NIU women's gymnastics coach in 2008.

Jan. 11, 2008

DeKALB, Ill. - Northern Illinois women's gymnastics coach Mark Sontag was not sure what to make of the 2008 Mid-American Conference Preseason Poll, which saw the Huskies picked to finish fourth in the seven-team league.

The voting by the league's coaches slotted the Huskies behind traditional MAC gymnastics powers Kent State, who earned the number one spot, and Central Michigan, who ranked third in the poll, as well as 2007 champion Eastern Michigan. Following Northern Illinois were Bowling Green, Western Michigan and Ball State, in the five through seven spots, respectively.

"It's a little bit of a surprise," Sontag said. "We are right in the middle of the pack, which is probably a good place to be. I don't believe polls have anything to do with what will take place in the gym, but certainly it's an interesting gauge of where other people think we are heading into the season."

Northern Illinois returns 11 letterwinners in 2008, including NCAA Regional qualifiers Leah Johnson (Glenview, IL/Glenbrook South HS) and Natalie Blum (Homer Glen, IL/Lockport Township), who competed in the all-around and the floor exercise, respectively, at NCAA's last year. The Huskies added seven newcomers, including six freshmen and Michigan State transfer Briana Dicus (Rochelle, IL/Rochelle Township). A year ago, Northern Illinois placed fifth in the MAC.

Sontag is excited about the depth and preparation of this year's team, which opens the 2008 season Sunday, Jan. 20 at top-ranked (preseason) Kent State.

"Right now, as far as being ready to open the season, we are in a better position than I can ever remember in my nine years here," Sontag said. "We have depth in the number of good routines we have and in the quality of our routines. We are taking more risks and we still have the chance to improve as the season goes on, which you want as a coach."



The Huskies open their home schedule Sunday, Jan. 27 when they play host to Western Michigan at 2 p.m. in the Convocation Center.

-- NIU --