Huskies Preparing to Host MAC Gymnastics Championships

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March 21, 2012

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DeKALB, Ill. - Women's gymnastics teams from seven Mid-American Conference schools will come together at the NIU Convocation Center in DeKalb Saturday to vie for the coveted MAC Gymnastics Championship trophy.

Doors open at 12:30 p.m. for the meet, which begins at 2 p.m. in the main bowl of the Convocation Center. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors, youth and students with an ID from any of the MAC competing schools. The meet will be streamed live at www.NIUHuskies.com and at www.MAC-sports.com and live scoring updates will be available online (click Here).

Unlike traditional dual (two team) or even quadrangular (four team) meets, the MAC Championships will have seven rotations. Four teams compete - one on each apparatus - during every rotation while three teams will be on a bye and sit out that round. The Championship awards ceremony will follow the meet with individual event winners on vault, bars, beam and floor honored along with an all-around champion.

NIU (5-10 overall, 2-4 MAC) is seeded fourth and will open the meet on vault, enabling the homestanding Huskies to rotate in "Olympic order." Following vault, NIU will compete on uneven parallel bars before moving to balance beam. The Huskies will conclude the meet on floor exercise with a bye in the last rotation.

"After losing to Eastern Michigan in the quad meet, we thought our seed was in jeopardy," said NIU Head Coach Sam Morreale. "So to end up in a three-way tie and be able get the No. 4 seed because our RQS [Regional Qualifying Score] was higher was great because the RQS is based on what you've done all season long. The fact we are going vault, bars, beam and floor gives us a chance to get a good start going into the meet and then finish on what is arguably our best event. We couldn't be happier with that rotation."

Central Michigan (14-6, 6-0), the two-time defending champion and 2012 MAC regular season titlist, is seeded first, followed by Western Michigan (8-7, 4-2) and Kent State (7-4, 4-2). Eastern Michigan (10-9, 2-4), Ball State (4-8, 2-4) and Bowling Green (2-12, 1-5) round out the field. A year ago, both Central Michigan and Kent State advanced to the NCAA Regionals with Kent State qualifying out of its regional for the national championships.

Morreale said the margin between the Mid-American Conference teams is slim and he expects the 2012 championships to be extremely competitive.

"Realistically, Kent State and Central Michigan come in as the favorites," Morreale said. "Kent has come on strong with two 196 [scores] in their past two meets and Central has had success in this meet. Western Michigan is an up and coming team who up until losing the last weekend of the season, were right there for the No. 1 seed. Then you've got us and Eastern and Bowling Green and Ball State all fighting to move into that upper level. In the past, it's been a two-dog race for the top spot, but it's definitely more wide open now and I think the other coaches would agree."

While Morreale knows moving into the top two spots will be a challenge, he and his team are concentrating on hitting their routines.

"Like every other meet, we have to worry about us first and go hit six vaults, then hit six bar routines, then beam and finish strong on floor," he said. "We can't get worried because things change as the meet progresses. The good thing about this meet is you have the byes which give you a chance to regroup. We've got to stay focused on each and every skill and not try to do more or try harder. You have to stay in the moment and stay with what you do and what we've been doing."

Northern Illinois has never won the MAC Gymnastics Championship with five third-place finishes, most recently in 2009, tying as the school's best showings in this meet. Individually, NIU gymnasts have claimed eight individual event titles, with the latest coming in 2009 when Huskies Holly Reichard and Jennifer Naughtonwere co-champions on balance beam. It is the first time the championships have been held at Northern Illinois since 2005.

"Just like any other sport, it's great to host a championship because you have home field advantage," Morreale said. "Even though we didn't compete [in the main bowl of the Convocation Center] a lot this year, it's still our bowl, our school and we are going to have a bigger group of fans here than normal. The home field is about the intangibles. Sure it's our equipment and we get to sleep in our own beds, but it's more about a feeling of comfort that can give you that extra surge of confidence."

The Huskies have been led by seniors Tanya Rachan (Lowell, Ind./Hanover Central HS), Shonda Clore (Grand Rapids, Mich./Northview HS) and Ashley Guerra (Orland Park, Ill./Carl Sandburg HS) along with sophomore Megan Melendez(Stafford, Va./ North Stafford HS) as they have posted the team's top scores throughout the season. Rachan, who earned a career high 9.900 on floor exercise to win the floor title at the State of Illinois Classic last week, can solidify her bid for an NCAA Regional spot on floor with a strong performance Saturday. Clore has earned the highest scores of her career on vault, bars and beam this season, including a 9.825 to lead NIU on bars a week ago, and Guerra is contending for her second career regional berth on bars. Melendez has won the MAC Specialist of the Week honor three times this season for her work on balance beam and uneven parallel bars.

-- NIU -

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