March 22, 2007
DeKALB, Ill. - The state's top collegiate gymnasts will gather at the NIU Convocation Center this Sunday as Northern Illinois will host the Illinois State Championships beginning at 2 p.m. The Huskies will battle Illinois, ranked 20th in the nation, Illinois State and Illinois-Chicago just one week before heading to Ypsilanti, Mich. for the Mid-American Conference Championships.
NIU Head Coach Mark Sontag and his team, who enter the Illinois State Championships with a record of 5-9 overall, 1-5 in MAC action, are looking forward to the meet, the final home action of the season for the Huskies.
"The state meet is always the most enjoyable meet of the year, it's like old home meet," Sontag said. "The teams bring large groups of fans and a lot of families attend, as well as a lot of the alumni from each of the teams. It's a fun, competitive environment. A lot of the athletes from these teams are from the area and region, so they know each other well. We really look forward to this meet every year."
In addition to the camaraderie of the state teams, and their fans, Sontag said that the Illinois State Championship is a good test run for the Huskies prior to the MAC Championships.
"It's a good meet for us at this time of the year," he said. "It gives us a practice run before the MAC Championships against some very strong competition. Our goal is to go out there and hit 24 routines. We want to give as few tenths away as possible because that is what it will come down to next weekend. There are five teams [in the MAC] grouped closely together and the margin will be that tight."
The Huskies are led by sophomore all-arounder Leah Johnson, who has a season best score of 38.900 in the all-around and owns NIU's top mark on the floor exercise with a 9.825 and on the vault (9.850). Fellow sophomore Jennifer Naughton and senior Jody Yednock have also posted some outstanding routines as Naughton owns the team's best mark on the beam (9.875) and is tied with Johnson for the top vault score. Yednock has recorded her best score of 9.850 on the uneven parallel bars three times and has won the event at four different meets this season.
"These last few meets are very important for regional qualifying," Sontag said. "We have several gymnasts that are right in there as far as making an NCAA Regional field. We have a competitive squad and they have to give it all to give themselves a chance to be the next NIU gymnast to go to a regional."
Sontag expects the Huskies to have a good showing in their final home action of the 2007 season. NIU has enjoyed success in the Convocation Center, defeating MAC foe Eastern Michigan in the building in their last home meet.
"We've been more comfortable this year at home. We are coming off a good home showing at EMU so it's a good feeling," he said. "We have the best venue of all the state teams to have this championship. It's a professional venue, and it's the type of site you expect for a championships meet. I know that the other teams in the state enjoy coming here and having this meet in the Convocation Center."
Tickets for Sunday's meet are available at the door beginning one hour before the meet at a cost of $5 for adults and $3 for youth (under 18) while NIU students are free with ID.
-- NIU --