NIU Gymnasts Ready for MAC Championships
March 20, 2009
DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois women's gymnastics team heads into Saturday's Mid-American Conference Championships in Muncie, Ind. poised to make a run at its first league title in school history. The seven-team competition begins at noon at Ball State's Worthen Arena.
After posting its best score of the 2009 season, and the fourth highest team score in school history, a week ago at the Illinois Classic, the Huskies appear to be peaking at the right time, according to head coach Mark Sontag.
"Our attitude is really good," Sontag said. "We're coming off our two best meets of the year so that has done a lot for our confidence and for our morale. We are as ready as we can be."
Northern Illinois took second place at the Illinois Classic with a team score of 194.925 as senior Jennifer Naughton (Smithville, Mo./Smithville HS) tied for the title on the balance beam with a season-best score of 9.925, while freshman Ashley Guerra (Orland Park, Ill./Carl Sandburg HS) claimed second place on the uneven parallel bars with her season-high score of 9.875. Naughton was named the MAC's Co-Gymnast of the Week, as well as the league's Female Scholar-Athlete of the Week after her performance at the state meet.
NIU has featured an excellent mix of veterans and rookies in the line-up in 2009 with Naughton and fellow senior Leah Johnson (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South HS) providing veteran experience on multiple events, while on the other end of the spectrum, three freshmen have played key roles in the Huskie line-up. In addition to Guerra on bars, Tanya Rachan (Lowell, Ind./Hanover Central HS) is in the Huskies' top six in three events while Shonda Clore (Grand Rapids, Mich./Northview HS) has come back from an ankle injury to regain her spot in the balance beam rotation.
While some coaches might be nervous about having so many rookies in their first MAC Championships, Sontag said he has stopped worrying.
"I've been learning this year not to worry about our freshmen," Sontag said. "Consistency is a concern, but for the most part, and especially lately, we've been getting that. Now they are just like everyone else, it comes down to going out there and performing the way they have trained."
While the seniors and freshmen fill the line-up, the Huskies have relied on sophomore all-arounder Holly Reichard (Palatine, Ill./Palatine Fremd HS) to perform at her best week-in and week-out. Ironically, while the team is coming off its best meet of the season at the Illinois Classic, Reichard is looking to rebound after a rare miss on vault that kept her below the 39-point mark. Sontag says that is where Reichard's competitiveness will be to her advantage.
"Holly takes it seriously and when she's not happy with how things have gone, she gets even more determined," Sontag said. "When you combine that attitude with her talent, she is a force to be reckoned with."
Reichard won the MAC title on the uneven bars a year ago en route to first team All-MAC honors.
To win its first league title in women's gymnastics, Northern Illinois must knock off league favorites Kent State and Central Michigan. But Sontag said that as with most years, anyone could take home the title.
"Every team in the MAC is strong," Sontag said. "You have to have the performances. Everyone has to step up and put it together at one time and one place. We've upgraded routines, we are competing at a level that we should be competing for a title. All that remains is to get it done, to go out and perform like we can."
Fans can follow the MAC Championships gymnastics action on the Ball State website (click here).
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