March 15, 2013
DeKALB, Ill. - With just one week, and one competition, to go before the Mid-American Conference Championships, the Northern Illinois gymnastics team enters the 2013 State of Illinois Classic with a goal-oriented mindset. NIU will take on the state's other three women's gymnastics teams - UIC, Illinois and Illinois State - at the annual quadrangular meet at UIC's Physical Education Building Saturday at 5 p.m.
Live scoring of the State of Illinois Classic is available here, or by following @NIUscores on Twitter.
Northern Illinois (4-5) is coming off a 194.825-193.675 loss at Western Illinois. At that meet, the Huskies went to the final event with the lead and appeared on pace to earn their first 195-plus score of the 2013 season before a series of miscues on balance beam derailed the effort.
Coincidentally, NIU will open the State Meet on balance beam, but Huskies' head coach Sam Morreale said he does not expect any carryover.
"We have put last week's beam behind us already, and we feel good about what we did at Western leading up to that, there were a lot of positives to take out of that meet," he said. "We haven't started on beam all year so that will be a little bit of a challenge this week. We've had a good week of training and we're focused on what we do."
The 195 team score remains the top goal for the 2013 Huskies. NIU has achieved that mark only four times in school history, including once last year, and has a season-best mark of 194.775 this year. Morreale likes that his team is still intent on improving at this point in the season.
"We still have that fire, we still have season goals," Morreale said. "After last week, the beam squad has something to prove; the bars squad is wired to get up and hit right now, they want to get a season high, and the floor team wants to break the school record. I think the returnees also feel like we underachieved at last year's state meet, so we want to redeem ourselves. Finally, we want a positive outing going into MAC Championships. There is a lot of internal motivation and above all of those is the 195 [team score] we have chased all year."
Northern Illinois did record its highest score of the year on vault (48.750) and uneven parallel bars (48.925) last week, and several Huskies can improve their regional rankings with top scores. NIU has a regionals contender in nearly every event. On the individual events, Jaelyn Olsen
(vault), Megan Melendez
and Natasha Jufko
(balance beam) and Kim Gotlund
(floor exercise) are the Huskies' top performers, while Gotlund and Natalie Sutter
are in the hunt to represent Northern Illinois as all-arounders.
Like the MAC Championships, the State of Illinois Meet is always highly-anticipated. Its place on the schedule - one week prior to the league meet - will help prepare NIU for the league meet.
"Experiencing that atmosphere, the craziness and the noise of four events going at one time is a good lead-up to next weekend, especially since we've had all dual meets so far," Morreale said. "It will be nice to go up against a top 20 team in Illinois; some of our best meets have come in meets with top competition this year. The other positive to this meet is because it is an annual event, these are competitors we see every year, and gymnasts they competed against or with as club gymnasts, so it's a chance to reconnect."
Illinois, currently ranked 17th in the country and fourth in the South Central Region, is 6-7 on the season, while UIC enters with a 6-12 mark and Illinois State is 5-9.
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