Gymnasts hope for All-America honors

By Kari Brackett

When people think about California, they picture beaches and warm sunshine. NIU gymnasts Carlos Fulcher and Gene Margiotta are thinking of competition and skills.

Both Fulcher and Margiotta received bids to the NCAA National Championships at Los Angeles, Calif. The tournament begins today and continues through Saturday.

Fulcher qualified on vault with a 9.59 average score, fifth-best in the Mid-East Region. He also claimed a spot for the parallel bars with an average of 9.66.

“Carlos has a good chance on both events,” Coach Chuck Ehrlich said. “But on parallel bars it’ll take a really clean, really solid routine, but he’s capable.”

Both Ehrlich and Fulcher were hoping he would qualify as an all-around gymnast, but injuries during the season prevented Fulcher from doing so.

“The stretch (of meets) where he couldn’t compete in all-around hurt,” Ehrlich said. “There is no question he is one of the best.”

Margiotta received his berth for the floor exercise. He qualified as the fifth-best gymnast in the Mid-East Region with an average floor exercise score of 9.67.

“Gene is not weak,” Ehrlich said. “He has shown capabilities to be in the top level.”

The top level means placing in the first eight spots, which qualifies the individual for finals. The final six gymnasts are then named All-American.

Today’s competition begins with the compulsory round. Friday’s action includes both individual and team events. If Fulcher and Margiotta do well enough, they will advance to the finals Saturday.

Ehrlich said the competition will be very stiff, and any little movement can change the results.

“They are all very close and very good players,” Ehrlich said. “An eyelash movement or a flick of a toe can make a difference.”

Ehrlich did say he was disappointed one more of his gymnasts did not qualify for nationals. He said Eric Solky was kept out by less than half a point on the horizontal bar.

“The way Solky did his routines he should have qualified,” Ehrlich said. “But he did not get the scores due to him.”

Qualifiers for nationals include the top five scoring gymnasts from each of the four regions, and another four gymnasts selected at-large based on average scores. The top 10 teams are also invited to the competition.

The teams competing this year are UCLA, Fullerton State, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Penn State and Houston-Baptist.

“This year’s meet should be the tightest team competition in years,” Ehrlich said. “That means the individual scores will be very good.”

Ehrlich said he would really like to see the team qualify for nationals in the future. His 1982 and 1983 NIU squads qualified as a team and placed sixth and eighth, respectively.

This tournament will mark the 14th consecutive year Ehrlich has had at least one gymnast at the NCAA National Championships.