NIU Gymnasts Take On No. 18 Minnesota

GO HUSKIES Ashley Guerra is one of two freshmen playing key roles in the Huskie line-up in 2009.
Ashley Guerra is one of two freshmen playing key roles in the Huskie line-up in 2009.

Feb. 27, 2009

DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois women's gymnastics team faces its toughest challenge of the season Saturday when the Huskies travel to Minneapolis, Minn. to face the 18th ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers. The meet begins at 6 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion on the UM campus.

For live scoring updates, click here once meet has started or go to The meet also will be webcast through Minnesota's Gold Zone. Minnesota is 6-6 on the season while the Huskies come in with a 4-3 record.

Northern Illinois posted its second-highest team score of the 2009 season last week versus Mid-American Conference leader Kent State to raise its Regional Qualifying Score to 193.120, which ranks third in the MAC and 38th in the country. The Huskies tallied a score of 193.750 at home versus KSU as they earned their highest score of the season on the balance beam with a 48.775 and tied their season-best on floor with a 48.725.

"For us, we want it to be business as usual," said NIU Head Coach Mark Sontag. "We're coming off a really good meet [versus Kent State], with only one miss and we want to go up there, try to hit 24 out of 24 routines and come away with a good road score. They are one of the top teams in the country and I definitely wanted to get someone of that caliber on the schedule because when you get to regionals, that's the type of team you are competing against."

Individually, Northern Illinois has been led by sophomore all-arounder Holly Reichard (Palatine, Ill./Palatine Fremd HS). The two-time MAC Gymnast of the Week has won the all-around competition in five of NIU's six meets this season. Her 39.350 versus Eastern Michigan is tied for the best all-around total in the league this year and she has surpassed the 39.000 mark four times, including last week when she scored a 39.175 versus the Golden Flashes.



"Holly has had great meets everytime out this year, but she can go better than what she's done so far," Sontag said. "So does everyone who is vying for a regional spot as well as our whole team. Every meet for us is important."

Jennifer Naughton (Smithville, Mo./Smithville HS) has continued her consistent senior season on the vault, balance beam and floor exercise. Her 9.900 on balance beam ranks tops in the league in 2009. Junior Natalie Blum (Homer Glen, Ill./Lockport Township HS) has scored well on the vault, uneven parallel bars and floor exercise for the Huskies this year while senior Leah Johnson (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South HS) has been solid on the vault and floor.

That experienced group has been bolstered by the addition of sophomore Sarah Hurley (Geneva, Ill./Geneva Community) and freshmen Tanya Rachan (Lowell, Ind./Hanover Central HS) and Ashley Guerra (Orland Park, Ill./Carl Sandburg HS) to the Huskie line-up.

Sontag is looking for continued progress from everyone in the line-up as Northern Illinois begins the stretch run of the 2009 season.

"We have so many young competitors in the line-up and it can be a little intimidating to go against top teams," he said. "So to go have exposure to that and see what it takes to compete in that atmosphere, I wanted to do that before we get into postseason. It's a lot of pressure and you have to handle a situation where it's a stronger team, with a reputation - you've got to block that out and take care of business."

Following the meet at Minnesota, Northern Illinois has just one more dual meet on its 2009 schedule as the Huskies will meet Western Michigan in Kalamazoo on Monday, March 9.

-- NIU --

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