April 11, 2008
DeKALB, Ill. - Northern Illinois gymnasts Leah Johnson and Holly Reichard will look to go where only one NIU gymnast has gone before when they compete in the NCAA South Central Regional Saturday night in Norman, Okla.
Both Johnson, a junior from Glenview, Ill. and Reichard, a freshman from Palatine, will try to advance as individuals to the NCAA Championships. Sandy Menard is the only previous Huskie to compete at the NCAAs after qualifying for nationals in 1998. The selection of both Johnson and Reichard to South Central Regional berths marks the first time NIU has had two gymnasts competing in the all-arounds in the same year since the entire Huskie team qualified in 1995.
"Both Holly and Leah had a good week of practice," said NIU Head Coach Mark Sontag from Norman. "This is a much more nationally-oriented meet featuring some of the top teams in the country, but I think our girls realize that they are as strong as anybody here."
Reichard is coming off a third-place finish in the all-around at the Mid-American Conference Championships, which lifted her to a spot on the first team All-MAC squad. She tied for the title on the uneven bars at the MAC meet with a 9.750 to pick up the sixth individual crown in NIU history. She scored a 38.975 at that meet to add to her season bests of 39.075 and a 39.050.
Johnson is making her second straight trip to the NCAA South Central Regional as she placed 14th in the all-around at regionals a year ago with a score of 38.500. She has scored a season and career best 39.125 in the all-around this year.
"When you get to this point, they know they can do the routines all day in practice," Sontag said. "To do it in front of 15,000 people is an exercise in focus, and that's the whole key to this level. It's a little overwhelming and can be intimidating, but with Leah having been here before, that helps both of them."
The individual gymnasts are each assigned to rotate with one of the teams competing at the regional. Johnson will rotate with Boise State and start on the vault, while Reichard will travel with the host team, Oklahoma, beginning on the uneven parallel bars. The top two all-arounders at the regional who are not on an advancing team will earn a berth in the NCAA Championships, scheduled for April 24-26 in Athens, Ga.
The NCAA South Central Regional gymnastics meet begins Saturday at 6 p.m. (Central). More information on the meet is available at www.soonersports.com.
-- NIU --