Gymnastics banks second-straight bars title in Iowa State loss

Al-Ashari sets PR on bars

NIU gymnastics championed the uneven parallel bars for the second-straight meet as the Huskies came a hundredth short of winning the Chow’s Winter Classic and building off a 1-0 start to the 2023 campaign.

Iowa State University topped three of the four events at Saturday’s meet on its way to a 194.875-194.775 victory. Despite the loss, NIU improved its team score from Sunday’s season debut, adding five-tenths this time around.

“First week of the year, I thought the test was just going out there and being comfortable and I thought we passed that test,” NIU gymnastics head coach Sam Morreale said. ”Today on the road, it was loud, it was crowded…We didn’t compete scared, we didn’t compete cautious so I was super happy with that.”

NIU’s best event finishes were evenly split between junior Alyssa Al-Ashari and sophomore Emmalise Nock. Al-Ashari took home first place finishes on bars and the balance beam. The Lansing, Michigan, native, earned the bars crown with a 9.900 and shared the top spot in the balance beam with Iowa State sophomore Hannah Loyim at 9.875.

Al-Ashari set a personal record with her bars performance, surpassing her previous best score of 9.825 at the 2022 MAC Championships.

“(It’s) super exciting and it kind of just helps continue to motivate me to continue to improve because my hard work is paying off,” Al-Ashari said.

Al-Ashari’s top bars score marked the second straight meet that NIU has received a 9.9 on bars. Senior Natalie Hamp, who tied as the bars runner-up at 9.825, took home 9.900 on Sunday and garnered MAC Specialist of the Week honors in the process.

“That just shows how deep our lineup is on bars, which is really great because 9.9 scores aren’t usually at the beginning of the season so that shows how much we can improve,” Al-Ashari said.

Nock was the top NIU finisher in the other two events. She tied for third place on vault after scoring a 9.775 and split the runner-up spot on floor exercise after notching a 9.825.

Sophomore Isabella Sissi – NIU’s top all-arounder in Sunday’s season opener – continued her stellar start to the season. Sissi combined for a score of 39.050 as the meet’s lone all-arounder, falling .125 shy of her career-high mark. Her best performance of the night came on beam, where she finished 0.25 short of the top score and tied for third.

The best score of the day between all events was awarded to Iowa State senior Maddie Diab on the balance beam, having scored a 9.925.

NIU’s next bout will feature a clash of the top two teams in the Mid-American Conference last season. The Huskies will head to Mount Pleasant, Michigan, home of the 2021 MAC champion Central Michigan University Chippewas.

“They’re (CMU) the cream of the conference,” Morreale said. “If we want to win the conference, we got to go through them, so it’ll be the next great test for us.”

The competition will begin at 1 p.m. CT Saturday at McGuirk Arena.