Gymnastic action to sweep Chick Evans

By Kari Brackett

Some of the best gymnastics in the United States will be on display Saturday when NIU hosts the National Independent Gymnastics Championships. The all-day tournament begins at 1 p.m. with team competition and is followed by the 7 p.m. individual finals.

Because there are not enough ranked all-around competitors, the compulsory round, which was slated for Sunday, was cancelled.

Houston Baptist and Penn State are top leaders in the seven-school field. Among the foremost all-arounders are All-America hopefuls Alfonso Rodriguez and Miguel Rubio of Houston Baptist, Adam Carton of Penn State and NIU’s Carlos Fulcher.

Other squads competing include Southern Illinois, Illinois-Chicago, Western Michigan and Kent State. Houston Baptist, Penn State and NIU began the week as the nation’s seventh, 11th and 12th-rated teams, according to the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastic’s Coaches national ratings.

“This is (the independent school’s) answer to the Big Ten, Big Eight, or Pac 10 Championships,” NIU coach Chuck Ehrlich said. “It’s the final chance for scores to help qualify teams and individuals for the NCAA Championships, so everyone is going all out.”

To qualify for the NCAA tournament, a team has to be one of the top 10 teams across the country and an individual must be one of the 24 best in the nation. Last year the Huskies sent Carlos Fulcher and Gene Margiotta to California to compete in the championships. This season Ehrlich and his squad are wanting a bid as a team.

“It would be great if we could qualify as a team,” all-arounder Jens Furst said. “We are a young squad, but it would be nice to do it this year.”

NIU will miss one all-around gymnast in Thomas Koll. Koll is in his native West Germany to compete in the nation’s Olympic process. Ehrlich said he is disappointed that he is losing a 56-scorer, but he does not want to deny the German his chance.

“I really have no choice,” Ehrlich said. “The Olympics only come around once every four years.”

While Ehrlich said he would like his 9-7 team to win the meet, the squad’s main goal is to beat Penn State for second place. Houston Baptist might be tough to reach. The highest score it has tallied in a meet is 284, compared to the Huskies high of 281.

Rodriquez controls the individual NACGC ratings with the No. 1 position, holding a 58.13 average score. Rubio is third at 57.36 while Fulcher’s 56.89 average gives him seventh place.

“Rodriquez averages a 9.75 on each event,” Ehrlich said. “He has scored a perfect 10 on high bar and a 9.9 on rings.”