DeKALB, Ill. - In each of its last four meets, the Northern Illinois gymnastics team has improved its team score and with a trip to Muncie, Ind. to face Mid-American Conference foe Ball State Friday, the Huskies want to continue that trend and come home with a victory.
"Winning and losing is very important to us," said NIU Head Coach Mark Sontag. "The sport is set up so that winning and losing is not an indicator of postseason, but winning and losing is just as important to us as any other team here. That's one of the nice things about college gymnastics is that we are a team and we do want to represent the school and bring home a win."
The Huskies are looking for their second win of the season as NIU's improving scores over the last three meets have come against some of the best competition in the conference, including league favorites Central Michigan and Kent State. Last week versus the Golden Flashes, NIU posted a 2011 season-high 192.875, which also would have ranked as the Huskies' second-best score a year ago. However, Sontag and his team feel there is still plenty of room for improvement
"There are three coaches and 19 girls that are looking to improve on that [score]," Sontag said. "We are on the road this week so there are always outside factors, but confidence has a lot to do with it. We started to really hit [our routines] at Western and now have hit versus Kent State at home. Everyone is looking good, spirits are high and we have a lot more confidence than we did two meets ago. We have been talking about hitting 24 for 24 of our routines and I am looking for us to go out and do exactly that."
Northern Illinois will also be bolstered by the continued progress of all-arounders Tanya Rachan and Kim Gotlund, who both suffered early season injuries and have been working their way back into the line-up. Rachan rcompeted on vault and balance beam last week and contributed her season-best scores of 9.575 and 9.700, respectively, and Sontag hopes to have her back on floor exercise Friday. Gotlund performed an exhibition routine on beam versus Kent State and could return to action in Muncie.
While Rachan, Gotlund and three-event senior Jessie Watanabe have missed time, several other gymnasts have taken advantage of their opportunity and made significant strides forward. The result is a Huskie team that enters the home stretch of the season deeper and more experienced.
"Ever since we realized it was going to be an uphill climb with injuries this year, we have been training very effectively and very efficiently," Sontag said. "We are definitely still improving as people are coming back into the line-up and those areas where we have been short-handed are stronger now and the team as a whole has grown. Ashley [Major] is a great example on floor. She has improved so much since the beginning of the year."
The Huskies have had strong performances across the line-up over the last few weeks and earned the team's best scores on three events versus Kent State. In addition to Rachan, Holly Reichard, Ashley Guerra, Shonda Clore and Marisa Liptak all posted their season bests in multiple events versus Kent State.
The Ball State meet is the first of a string of three competitions in eight days for NIU. Following Friday's competition, which begins at 6 p.m. (Central), Northern Illinois will play host to UIC Tuesday, March 1, at 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center.
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