March 13, 2014
DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois University gymnastics team closes out its 2014 regular season schedule Friday night in Tempe, Ariz. where the Huskies will take on the No. 22 Arizona State Sun Devils in Wells Fargo Arena. The meet begins at 9 p.m. CT (7 p.m. PT).
Links to live coverage of the meet, including live scoring and streaming video, are available. Click here.
NIU is coming off of a victory over Eastern Michigan, Temple and Air Force in the EMU Eagle Invitational where the Huskies tied their second-highest score all-time with a 195.100. At the meet, NIU recorded its highest team scores of the season on vault, balance beam and floor exercise en route to just the fifth 195-plus score by a Huskie team in school history.
The wins lifted NIU's overall record to 8-7 on the season and the team closed out the regular season with a 3-3 mark versus Mid-American Conference teams. Arizona State is 7-6 on the year with a 3-3 mark in the PAC 12. The Sun Devils are coming off a 197.450-194.150 loss at Oklahoma last weekend and have a season-high team score of 196.125.
NIU Head Coach Sam Morreale believes the tough schedule the Huskies have faced this season has helped the team.
"It gives us a chance to measure ourselves against better teams," Morreale said. "[Seeing these teams during the year] definitely makes us feel more prepared going into a meet like this week. This will be a full crowd, it will be loud, a great atmosphere from that standpoint so another pressure test to see how we handle that."
Seniors Kim Gotlund (Wadsworth, Ill./Warren Township HS), Megan Melendez (Stafford, Va./North Stafford HS) and Natasha Jufko (Spring Hill, Fla./Pasco-Hernando HS) lead the Huskies into their fifth match-up of the season against a ranked opponent. Gotlund, the all-arounder who has hit 35 of her 36 routines this season, is looking to break the 39-point mark in the all-around for the first time this year. Melendez has put up career-high, and team-leading, scores of 9.850 on uneven parallel bars and 9.900 on balance beam since her return from injury on Feb. 21. Jufko, a balance beam specialist, earned a career-best 9.875 on beam a week ago and has won the event in four of NIU's nine meets this year.
In addition to the seniors, junior Amanda Stepp
(Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer East HS) and sophomore Jaelyn Olsen
(Bethany, Okla./Putnam City West HS) are among the Huskies peaking at this point in the year. Stepp posted a pair of 9.825 scores - on vault and floor exercise - a week ago, while Olsen won the vault event for the fifth time this year with a career-best 9.900.
Morreale likes the way his team is competing entering the final two weeks of the season and wants NIU to continue to build momentum heading into the Mid-American Conference Championship meet on Saturday, March 22 in Ypsilanti, Mich.
"We are peaking," he said. "We're getting healthy, our gymnastics is cleaner and we are positioning ourselves for a good run. That's what we've wanted to do all year.
"The hope is that everything from the last four meets of the year builds momentum going into MACs. We are coming off a high last weekend and we want to continue that and feel good going into next week."
-- NIU --
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