NIU Gymnastics Raises the Bar Versus No. 21 Kent State

GO HUSKIES Natalie Sutter will try to top her season best of 38.850 in the all-around Saturday versus Kent State.
Natalie Sutter will try to top her season best of 38.850 in the all-around Saturday versus Kent State.

Feb. 22, 2013

DeKALB, Ill. - Coming off its two highest scores of the season, the Northern Illinois gymnastics team will measure itself against one of the Mid-American Conference's top teams as No. 21-ranked Kent State visits for NIU's Annual Pink Meet. The meet begins at 5 p.m. Saturday and is the second half of a Northern Illinois doubleheader at the NIU Convocation Center.

The Huskie men's basketball team takes on Eastern Illinois in the main bowl of the arena at 3 p.m., followed by the NIU-Kent State competition in Victor E. Court. One ticket provides entry to both events. The meet will be streamed live on Huskies All-Access on with live results posted online here.

Northern Illinois head coach Sam Morreale likes what he has seen out of his Huskies (3-3, 1-2 MAC) in the past two meets. NIU scored 194.025 Feb. 8 versus the defending MAC champions Central Michigan in Mt. Pleasant and hit all 24 of their routines en route to a 194.375 team total at Iowa State. He wants to see Northern Illinois carry the momentum from those performances into Saturday's meet.

"Momentum starts in practice by continuing to pay attention to detail and approaching this meet like we have the others leading up to this," he said. "In the gym, we don't talk about records and wins and losses; we have to keep trusting what we're trying to build. Our mindset going into this meet is we have to raise our standards because we attained our goals at Iowa State. We have bumped up our average goal from 9.7 to 9.75, which would put our team score in the 195 range. We have raised our goal on number of `sticks' (stuck landings), because we hit our number for the first time at Iowa State with nine. We are always going into a meet with a goal of going 24 for 24 and having high start values."

At Iowa State, three different Northern Illinois gymnasts recorded the team's highest scores of the year on their respective events to pace the Huskies. Freshman Jaelyn Olsen led the way with a career-high 9.875 on vault to record NIU's best vault score since 2009, and tie for the seventh-highest NIU vault all-time. She earned MAC Specialist of the Week honors for that routine. Junior Megan Melendez tied her season-high with a 9.800 on uneven parallel bars for the Huskies' highest bars score on the season, while Natasha Jufko's 9.850 mark on balance beam was the highest of her career and the best beam score by a Huskie this season. In addition, junior Kim Gotlund won the all-around title at Iowa State with a season-high 38.900, just one tenth off her career-best and the top NIU all-around score this year.



After back-to-back road trips, Morreale said the team welcomes the opportunity to see how NIU stacks up against a program that is annually one of the MAC's best, especially at home. The Huskies are 3-0 in Victor E. Court this season.

"It's great to come back home," Morreale said. "We are very comfortable competing here and we are starting to take ownership in having a home field advantage. The fact we have a top 25 team coming in is exciting. They are part of the group [at the top of the MAC] that we are trying to become part of. This is a measuring stick to become one of those programs. I have a ton of respect for Kent State and what they've been doing. This would be a huge win for our program. At the same time, we can only control what we can do. We could hit our goals and score 195 and not win the meet, so we will keep that in perspective."

With six of its 10 dual meets complete, Morreale likes where the Huskies are headed, and is happy with the continuing improvement in the routines, and in the level of competition for line-up spots. Northern Illinois has not become complacent, as evidenced by the debut of freshman Natalie Amadio on uneven parallel bars versus the Golden Flashes.

"We're continuing to get better in our line-ups because our exhibition [gymnasts] are challenging for spots and moving in," Morreale said. "We're going to make those changes if we believe it will help our score. It's encouraging because we are still adding difficulty and getting better while maintaining a high level on the gymnastics we're already doing. I feel like we're ready to show what we can do on beam and floor - those line-ups both have the potential to score 49. If we concentrate on us and hit the things we can do, we'll be fine."

The Kent State meet is the penultimate home competition for NIU gymnastics this season. The Huskies return to Victor E. Court on Friday, March 1 versus Eastern Michigan for Senior Night. The meet begins at 5 p.m.

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