NIU gymnastics: Huskies seek historic victory

By Steve Shonder

Gymnastics is looking to pull off an upset nearly 16 years in the making in its first meet of the season in DeKalb

The Huskies (1-0) will open the home portion of their schedule against the Kent State Golden Flashes (0-2) 7 p.m. Friday at the Convocation Center.

NIU’s last win over Kent State came on Feb. 27, 1999, in DeKalb. The final was 191.150-190.100 in NIU’s favor. That meet was the last time Kent State has scored below 192 against NIU.

NIU is coming off a season-opening comeback win over the Illinois-Chicago Flames, 192.250-189.575, Jan. 9 in Chicago.

After trailing through the first two events, the Huskies put together a strong set of floor exercises to overtake the Flames in the points column and never looked back.

“We finished really strong, but then we had some mental mistakes in the beginning of the meet,” said head coach Sam Morreale. “That’s what we’re going to clean up [Friday]. Even on our floor and our vault, we can still be cleaner and better there, as far as landings go, shapes in the air, different things like that. There’s a lot of stuff we can build off.”

The Golden Flashes enter Friday’s meet coming off a tough pair of losses to the Missouri Tigers and the Towson Tigers in a three-team meet. The Flashes had uncharacteristically poor performances that left them on the losing end of the meet.

Struggling against Kent State

The Golden Flashes hold a 37-9 record against the Huskies, complete with 31 straight victories. In their last meet — Feb. 7, 2013 — Kent State won 195.675-193.375.

Even with the Huskies’ struggles against the Golden Flashes, Morreale said beating them isn’t the biggest goal; it’s about executing well in every event.

“There’s always motivation inside the conference,” Morreale said. “Kent has owned the regular season for the MAC. There’s a little extra incentive there, but in our sport, we have to hit and take care of stuff. If we hit and go 24-for-24 and go 195, it’s up to Kent to keep up with us.”

Depth factor

NIU only had one freshman, Katherine Prentice, compete for it against UIC, but Morreale said he expects to see more out there as the season progresses.

“It makes us more competitive in the gym each day, which in turn will make us compete better,” Morreale said. “Those kids are going to have to fight to get into lineup. The great thing for us this year — if we need it — we can rest kids because we’re really not going to take that big of a step back when we swap kids in and out. And then it just gives us a chance to get kids as much experience as possible.”

NIU gymnast to watch

Senior Amanda Stepp starred for the Huskies. She put up a 9.7 on floor and a 9.725 on vault before finishing the night with a 9.85 on beam. All three scores were event-bests, and her beam score topped her previous best of 9.75.

On Tuesday, Stepp was named MAC Gymnast of the Week.

Kent State gymnast to watch

Sophomore Skyelee Lamano had a strong outing Friday for Kent State, scoring a 9.725 and a 9.75 on the bars and floor exercise, respectively. She also earned a 9.675 on vault.