March 7, 2014
DeKALB, Ill. - With just two meets remaining until the Mid-American Conference Championships on March 22nd, the Northern Illinois University gymnastics team travels to the site of the MAC meet Saturday for the 2014 Eagle Invitational.
In addition to host and MAC foe Eastern Michigan, NIU will take on Temple and Air Force in the quadrangular meet, which will begin at 6 p.m. (CT) Saturday at Bowen Field House in Ypsilanti, Mich. Live scoring of the meet will be available online (http://emueagles.com/custompages/wgym/live/20140308.htm).
NIU (5-7, 2-3 MAC) looks to even its league mark prior to the MAC Championships and improve on the season-best team score of 194.050 achieved last week in a home dual meet loss to Central Michigan. The Huskies posted the seventh-best team balance beam score in school history with a 48.950 versus CMU to record the 194 mark NIU had chased through the season.
Head Coach Sam Morreale wants the Huskies to take the confidence they displayed during that beam rotation last week into every event Saturday.
"The confidence is there day to day, but it's about believing in yourself when you get in the meet and going out and knowing you are going to hit," Morreale said. "We still need everyone to get one tenth better - point the toes, stick the landings, keep form and focus. We were happy to get the 194 [score], but we realized that we left a bunch [of points] on the floor. We are getting better, but we are still trying to put together that great meet."
The return of Huskie senior Megan Melendez (Stafford, Va./North Stafford HS) on both uneven parallel bars and balance beam has also boosted the NIU line-up entering the final two weeks of the regular season. Melendez, who missed almost a month of the season due to injury, returned to the anchor positions on both events in the last two weeks. She has quickly returned to form, scoring a 9.850 on bars at the State of Illinois Classic and earning a team season-high and career-best 9.900 on beam last weekend.
"It's always great to get kids back that you started a season with on certain events," Morreale said. "We had others step up and do an awesome job, but with gymnasts like Megan, you also get the leadership because she's been there before and understands what it takes."
Melendez is just one of the veterans NIU is relying on through the final weeks. All-arounder Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS) has been the Huskies' most consistent gymnast all season as she looks to crack the 39-point mark after tying her season-high with a 38.925 last week. Juniors Kelly Nortz (Bay Village, Ohio/Magnificat HS) has been hitting on both vault and floor exercise, while Amanda Stepp (Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer East HS) has battled through injury to raise her scores.
"Kim is a machine," Morreale said. "She's been continuing to raise her game as a senior. Kelly is very solid on her two events and we've seen some real improvement in how she performs her floor routine. Amanda is finally getting back on her three events, she's not 100 percent but she is doing a great job. Melendez is a solid anchor on two events who could go up for any team in the country."
NIU will start Saturday's meet on uneven parallel bars before going to balance beam and floor exercise, and finishing on vault. Eastern Michigan enters the meet 3-8 overall and 1-3 in the MAC. The Eagles have a season-best score of 194.800. Temple is 13-2 on the season while Air Force is 5-6 with a season-best mark of 193.825.
Following the Eagle Invitational, the Huskies will travel to Tempe, Ariz. to take on Arizona State on Friday, March 14 in the final regular season meet of the year.
-- NIU --
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