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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

‘In attack mode’: Gymnastics readies for trip to No. 12 Mizzou

Huskies open 2024 with road quad meet
Northern Star File Photo
Then-junior gymnast Alyssa Al-Ashari started her beam routine at the EMU gymnastics meet on Feb. 17. The Huskies kick off the 2024 season at the Missouri Quad Meet Saturday. (Northern Star File Photo)

DeKALB – The NIU gymnastics team is on the road and ready to rise to its first challenge of the new campaign: a quad meet hosted by a top-15 program.

The Huskies, coming off an 8-5 finish in 2023, kick off their season Saturday at the Mizzou Invitational hosted by No. 12 University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. Lindenwood University and Southeast Missouri State University – both familiar foes of NIU’s – round out the event’s four-team field.

Missouri begins 2024 ranked among the nation’s best squads after being picked 12th in the Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association Preseason Poll released on Dec. 8. SEMO received 17 points in the poll, trailed by NIU’s 15 points and Lindenwood’s six.

NIU gymnastics head coach Sam Morreale, entering his 13th season leading the program, said his team is in “attack mode” heading into the first weekend of action.

“I feel like this is a team that is kind of in attack mode,” Morreale said. “It sounds weird for gymnastics to attack because we’re not really going against anybody, but you do have to attack what you’re doing. You can’t be passive.”

For NIU to accomplish the tall task of surpassing its high-caliber competition and leave central Missouri with an outright win, Morreale said his team must perform at its pinnacle from the get-go.

“If we want to beat Mizzou, we’re going to have to pretty much put our best out there Week 1,” Morreale said. “Not that we’re not going to try, but that’s what it’ll take.”

NIU’s seven freshmen will experience their first college meet Saturday, with three poised to make their collegiate debuts. 

“The three freshmen that are going in this meet – Isabella Ross, Dawsyn Sallee and Mikayla Brown – are all really talented gymnasts,” Morreale said. “They’re all going to shine in their own rights. They each have better events, and it gels together to add to what we’re trying to do.”

Joining the first-years is a stacked group of returners led by NIU’s four team captains: seniors Alyssa Al-Ashari and Olivia Lynd and juniors Emmalise Nock and Isabella Sissi.

Al-Ashari and Nock, both NCAA Regionals qualifiers a season ago, each added new events to their arsenal over the offseason.

Al-Ashari will compete on floor exercise, in addition to her staple routines on uneven parallel bars and balance beam. The 2023 All-MAC Second Team selection is a competitor Morreale believes can make an immediate impact.

“She’s a kid who can go in this first weekend and walk out with a bars and beam title,” Morreale said of Al-Ashari. “I don’t necessarily care who’s on the other team.”

Nock will be featured on NIU’s bars lineup this season while also competing on vault and serving as the team’s floor anchor. Her teammate and fellow Minnesota native Sissi will be NIU’s lone all-arounder to start the year – her second year in that role.

With his event lineups primed for the season-opener, Morreale is looking forward to seeing how his team responds come competition day, when every routine counts and every hit or miss matters.

“I’m excited for this team, with the freshmen to now feel what it feels like to be out there with judges really evaluating you,” Morreale said. “And then, how do we handle it? Does it scare us? Does it excite us? We’ll learn a lot about everybody.”

Competition begins at 6 p.m. CT Saturday in the Hearnes Center in Columbia, Missouri. The meet will be broadcast on SEC Network+. Live statistics will be presented by StatBroadcast.

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