Feb. 7, 2013
DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois gymnastics team faces one of its most daunting challenges of the season Friday night when the Huskies take on the No. 21 Central Michigan Chippewas at McGuirk Arena in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. as part of CMU's "Royal Rumble and Tumble" event beginning at 6 p.m. (CT).
Northern Illinois (3-1, 1-1 MAC) returns to Mid-American Conference competition against the Chippewas (6-4, 1-1 MAC), who have won the last three Mid-American Conference tournament titles. At the same time, the CMU wrestling team will be taking on Eastern Michigan.
NIU Head Coach Sam Morreale said the atmosphere should not be a distraction to his team.
"There's so much going on [at a meet like this], it's almost easier to focus in," Morreale said. "The cheering won't even necessarily be directed at the gymnasts so we won't be paying attention to what they are doing. There's going to be a lot of energy in the gym so the hope is to tap in to the energy and use it."
NIU will start the competition on uneven parallel bars, the event that has given the Huskies the most trouble this season as NIU averages just a 47.431 as a team.
"Unfortunately, we have been consistent on bars, but it's not where we want to be. There's no question we've struggled," Morreale said. "This is another chance to see if we are righting the ship. We've had a good week of training and we have to tap into that. There's no secret formula. We expect to hit."
Morreale said his team is looking to bring the confidence they have on both vault and floor exercise to the other two events. NIU averages nearly a 48.600 on floor exercise and has a 48.300 average team score on vault in its four meets. The Huskies scored a season best 48.850 on floor in last Saturday's victory over Southeast Missouri behind a 9.825 from Natalie Sutter (Barberton, Ohio/Coventry HS) and Amanda Stepp's (Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer East HS) 9.800.
"As a team, the kids got together and talked about how confident we are on floor and vault and discussed how to bring that confidence to bars and to beam," Morreale said. "I feel good about where they are mentally. The fact we're thinking about it but not panicking is good. Floor we could easily go 49 if we really hit. If we clean up a few landings, that momentum will continue as long as we continue to do the work."
In her first season as an all-arounder, Sutter earned her best score with a 38.850 as she added 9.700 marks on bars and beam and a 9.625 on vault to her floor exercise. Fellow all-arounder Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS) tied her season best as she hit all four events, while Megan Melendez (Stafford, Va./North Stafford HS) tied for first on bars and balance beam. In her first meet in the Huskie line-up on vault, Melendez scored a 9.650 to take fifth place.
"This week, our good stuff needs to stay good; their confidence level is at a point where they are building on that from week to week," Morreale said. "It's the rest of the team picking it up and filling in. We're going to be a week better on vault with Megan getting in there for a second time. We've got a couple other people knocking on the door [to get into the line-up] with Nichole (Fulton) on bars and Peyton (Taylor) on floor."
Northern Illinois scored a season-high 192.875 in coming from behind to defeat SEMO, but are aiming higher against the Chippewas, a team that consistently scores in the 194, 195 range.
"We could realistically go 195 and not come away with a win," Morreale said. "This meet will give us a great indication of where we are and see where we are making progress. It's nice to get back into conference competition and measure ourselves against the two-time MAC champions."
-- NIU --
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