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March 22, 2013
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KALAMAZOO, Mich. - The Northern Illinois gymnastics team enters Saturday's Mid-American Conference Gymnastics Championships with more confidence and determination than ever before, according to Huskie senior Marisa Liptak.
Liptak said this is the most prepared - and the best - NIU team she has been a part of in her four years in DeKalb. The senior said the team's goal at this year's MAC meet is simple.
"Our goal is to win," Liptak said. "If we go out there and do everything that we can do and reach our potential, we can definitely win. I've never been more excited for MACs than I am this year, not only because it's my senior year, but also I feel like we have the best team [we've had] since I've been here. I've never felt more confident in my team in my life."
Liptak is one of two seniors on a 2013 NIU team that has posted four scores of 194-plus this season and has seen nine different gymnasts post a score of 9.8 or higher on at least one event this year. Liptak owns the Huskies' best score on floor exercise with a 9.875, while fellow senior Natalie Sutterhas matched that mark on floor exercise and tied or set her career highs on every other event.
Sutter's fellow all-arounder, junior Kim Gotlund, has gone 9.8 or higher on both balance beam and floor exercise this season. Like Liptak, she believes NIU is poised to make an impact at the MAC Championships this year.
"We want to stick to the plan we've had all year long, we've taken it meet-by-meet," Gotlund said. "We want to go out, hit 24 for 24 [routines], do our best and have fun with it. We are all so excited, this team has so much potential. Everyone's on board, we're all in and we believe we can do great things this year."
Northern Illinois' highest finish in the MAC Championship meet is third, and the Huskies last took third place in 2009 when a pair of Huskies shared the individual title on balance beam. A year ago at the MAC Championships held in DeKalb, NIU took fourth place with a team score of 194.525.
NIU Head Coach Sam Morrealelikes the way his team has prepared and feels the Huskies are ready to peak Saturday.
"We've had a really good week of training building off our last couple of competitions, and that's what we're hoping to bring into the MAC Championships," Morreale said. "Everyone is hitting on all cylinders, which is right where we want to be. We are hungry, our attitude is great, and we are ready to get out there and show what we're made of. We've been building all year for MACs so I think this team as a group is ready."
Northern Illinois will open the meet on uneven parallel bars, a familiar starting point at every away dual meet this season. NIU achieved its season high score on bars two weeks ago at Western Michigan. The Huskies are coming off a solid overall performance at the State of Illinois Classic last Saturday, where NIU was the victim of some scoring inconsistencies while starting the meet on balance beam, but counted just one miss in the meet. Morreale said the State Meet's quadrangular format is good preparation for the conference championships, which features seven teams. On Saturday, every team will have three byes and there will be seven rotations in all.
"The beauty of our state meet is it prepares us for MACs because there are teams on every event, so it gave us a chance to get used to staying focused on us," Morreale said. "The length of the meet makes it different, but the byes fall at good times, so you do an event and you go pull yourself mentally together for the next one. The seniors and the upperclassmen have been talking to the freshmen all year about preparing for this meet. We're chasing a 195 (score) and we're chasing a championship."
In addition to the seniors and all-arounder Gotlund, Huskies Jaelyn Olsen and Amanda Stepp (vault), Natasha Jufko (balance beam) and Megan Melendez(uneven parallel bars and balance beam) have ranked among the Huskie leaders all year. Freshman Olsen is one of the MAC's top vaulters with six scores of 9.8 or above, while Stepp is coming off a career-best 9.850 vault at that State of Illinois Classic that took second place. Jufko and Melendez share NIU's high scores on balance beam with 9.850s, and Melendez' 9.825 on bars has led Northern Illinois.
The 2013 MAC Gymnastics Championships will be held at Western Michigan's Read Fieldhouse beginning at 1 p.m. (CDT). For directions, tickets and championship information, as well as a link to the live scoring page, click here, or follow on Twitter @NIUScores.
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