KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Northern Illinois closed out the 2013 Mid-American Conference Gymnastics Championships with a bang, as the Huskies’ vault squad combined for a school record 49.000 score, but falls on uneven parallel bars and balance beam kept the Huskies from contending for the title.
NIU scored a 194.050 to place fourth, right in the middle of the seven-team MAC. Central Michigan and Western Michigan tied for the team title with matching 194.800 scores to edge third-place Kent State. The Golden Flashes totaled a 194.775. Bowling Green (193.750), Eastern Michigan (193.675) and Ball State (192.500) rounded out the field.
“I’m extremely proud of the Huskies and how they came back,” said NIU Head Coach Sam Morreale. “The kids stayed in it, which has been our mantra all year. Based on the way the scores fell out in the end, if we don’t count those misses on bars and beam, we’re in contention for the title. We were closer to the top than we were to the bottom and that’s where we want to be.”
Northern Illinois posted team scores of 49 or above on each of its last two events, beginning on floor exercise. Every member of NIU’s floor squad scored 9.8 or higher, led by Kim Gotlund, who tied her career high with a 9.850. The Huskies tallied a 49.075 on floor for its second 49-plus floor score of the season.
In the meet’s last rotation, Kelly Nortz led off the Huskies’ vault corps with a career-best 9.775 vault, and after Natalie Sutter went 9.750, Megan Melendez threw the best vault of her career, scoring a 9.825. She tied for sixth on the event. Gotlund and freshman Jaelyn Olsen followed with two more 9.775 vaults. Amanda Stepp closed out the best vaulting day in Northern Illinois history with a 9.850, matching her career high and tying for third in the meet.
NIU’s 49.000 vault total broke the previous school record of 48.950 set at the 2004 MAC Championships.
“The vault squad getting the school record is tremendous,” Morreale said. “All year, the team has been trying to target those event records, little did we know it would be on vault. We had an outstanding day on vault. The three full-twisting yurchenkos were awesome and Amanda hitting at the end got us to that 49 score.”
Sutter, one of two seniors on the Northern Illinois team in 2013, earned her career high score with a 38.900 in the all-around to take third place. In addition to her 9.750 on vault, Sutter added a 9.825 on floor exercise, a 9.600 on bars and a 9.725 on balance beam.
“It was great to see Natalie Sutter go 38.900 and take third in the all-around,” Morreale said. “I can’t say enough about the way she battled all year, and it was nice to see her perform so well and get rewarded today.”
Stepp and Melendez each excelled in their three events on the day. In addition to her tie for third on vault, Stepp scored a 9.8 on floor exercise and added a 9.750 on balance beam for NIU’s second-highest mark. Melendez led Northern Illinois on both bars and balance beam, earning a 9.825 on bars to tie for third place, and scoring a 9.775 on balance beam.
“Amanda had a great day, Megan had a great day and that’s what’s encouraging,” Morreale said. “Yes, we are losing two seniors, but we had freshmen leading off the meet and hitting. We had [freshman] Jaelyn Olsen go up and hit on vault. Those kids now have a taste and now they all want to be in more events. The experience is only going to help us moving forward.”
“Are we satisfied with fourth, I don’t think that s the way we feel. It’s hard when you see what could have been. It’s exciting that the MAC has become so competitive. The key is to come in [next season] at a higher level than the 192s we had early this year. That’s where it starts. We had a lot of great things happen today, we just had to count two misses and that cost us.” NIU will wait to see if any of the Huskies will earn NCAA Regional invitations as individuals.