Feb. 19, 2011
DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois women's gymnastics team returns to the NIU Convocation Center for a dual meet versus No. 16 Kent State Sunday looking to build on its season-best performance at Western Michigan last week while welcoming several gymnasts back from injury.
The 2 p.m. meet has been designated as the Huskies' "Pink Meet" with pink T-shirts available and NIU's Colleges versus Cancer organization will be on hand as Northern Illinois continues to partner with that organization in the fight against cancer. In addition, the Huskie gymnastics program will honor its five 2011 seniors during a post-meet ceremony. Tickets are available at the door for $5 for adults and $3 for youth and senior citizens beginning one hour before the meet.
Kent State, the MAC preseason favorite, is coming off a loss to Central Michigan at home, while Northern Illinois (1-5, 1-3 MAC) earned its best team score of the season with a 191.150 in a loss at Western Michigan a week ago.
"Last week gave us confidence and just reinforced that our gymnastics are good and we are capable of those performances and better," said NIU Head Coach Mark Sontag. "It was nice to see us start well and continue to improve through the competition. When we are doing that and improving each rotation, that is what you want. "
Versus Western Michigan, NIU earned its highest scores of the season on uneven parallel bars and floor exercise while 13 of the team's 24 routines set or tied season highs. In that meet, the Huskies welcomed the return of senior Jessie Watanabe, who had been out since the season's second week with an ankle injury. Watanabe competed on three events and scored a 9.725 on balance beam to take second place, highlighting three solid routines. Freshman Maggie Cimarolli also recorded her season best routines on the vault, bars and floor at WMU. The two are among a host of Huskies who have impressed head coach Mark Sontag.
"Jessie is doing a great job coming back off her injury," Sontag said. "For whatever reason, she is the type of gymnast who can come back quickly after injury or a layoff. Maggie Cimarolli has done a great job all year long. She is right in the heart of the line-up and has come in and done a great, great job as a freshman. She has been solid and consistent."
Huskie sophomores Natalie Sutter and Marisa Liptak, senior all-arounder Holly Reichard and junior Shonda Clore also earned compliments from Sontag.
"Natalie Sutter has been really solid," Sontag said. "Her routines are very difficult and dynamic. Marisa has been consistent. And after last year when she battled the injury all season, Holly is back on her stride. She is starting to come into her own at the right time in the season. Shonda is doing some floor exercise now and really pushing to add that event. She could be someone who is solid in all four events. There are a lot of people on this team that I am really, really happy with."
Sutter has scored 9.725 on floor exercise in each of her last two outings to record NIU's top scores of the season on that event, Liptak has excelled on floor and on balance beam, while Reichard recorded a 38.600 in the all-around last week and owns the Huskies' best scores of the season on vault (9.725), uneven parallel bars (9.725) and balance beam (9.750). Clore has posted her career best efforts on uneven parallel bars this year with a 9.700 and has a vault best of 9.650.
Sunday sees one of the top teams in the MAC visit the Convocation Center. Kent State is ranked 16th in the country and is averaging a team score over 194.900 on the season. Despite the Flashes' impressive resume, Northern Illinois must focus on getting better, not what Kent State is doing.
"In gymnastics, we can't really worry about the other team," Sontag said. "We are not going up against them like teams are in basketball or baseball. We are trying to achieve the scores that we need. It's all about our scores."
While Watanabe's return gave the Huskies a lift a week ago, Sontag is looking for additional help to arrive in the coming weeks as all-arounders Tanya Rachan and Kim Gotlund are working back into preseason form. Rachan has returned on balance beam and Sontag hopes she will be ready to contribute in more events soon, while Gotlund has returned to more intensive training.
Following Sunday's match-up with Kent State, Northern Illinois travels to Muncie, Ind. where the Huskies will take on Ball State on Friday, Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. (CT).
-- NIU --
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