Gymnastics vies to be best in state

By Steve Shonder

Gymnastics is preparing for a MAC challenger, but first it’ll try to be the best in Illinois.

The Huskies (4-3, 2-2 MAC) will take on No. 14 Illinois (4-3), University of Illinois Chicago (4-10) and Illinois State (2-7) in the State of Illinois Classic 7 p.m. Friday in Normal. NIU will then take on MAC opponent Bowling Green (6-5, 3-1 MAC) 1 p.m. Sunday in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Having two meets in one weekend isn’t something that has head coach Sam Morreale too concerned in preparations, but he will keep an eye on energy levels during the weekend.

“We’re just trying to be very efficient in our training,” Morreale said. “We’re trying to stay off a lot of numbers, just more about quality over quantity for these days leading into the weekend.

“We’ll keep our eye on [fatigue issues]. If we can rest kids and swap kids in and out based on where we’re at, we’ll probably try to do that. But at the same time, we’re gonna put our best group out there.”

Illinois has one of the best programs in the nation, averaging a 195.9 team score, and it could leave the Huskies struggling to keep up. It has won six straight Illinois Classic meets.

Freshman Taylor Crumley is getting used to having back-to-back meets over a weekend, but she said the Huskies will be ready.

“… I think that what we’re doing right now will help us prepare for it,” Crumley said.

The Fighting Illini are coming off a 196.675-196.500 loss to No. 20 Penn State. Their 196.5 was the sixth-highest score in the team’s history. There was only one score below a 9.6 for the Illini during the meet, which was a 9.325 on beam by Elizabeth McNabb.

The Illini have three all-around gymnasts, and all three consistently put up high scores. Sarah Fiedler led the trio at Penn State with a 39.2.

The UIC Flames are coming off a victory over Texas Woman’s, 193.175-193.1, Friday. While the Flames were inconsistent in the early part of the season, they’re starting to hit their stride as they’ve scored more than 193 in the last two meets.

UIC is led by Catherine Dion, an all-arounder, who is coming off a strong performance against TWU. Dion earned a 39.175 all-around score. Another UIC gymnast to watch will be Alexandra Vedenin, who put up a team-leading 9.85 on vault in its last meet.

Illinois State has struggled this season, managing only two wins. Its highest team score this season is a 191.8, which was earned at the Illinois/Michigan Invite on Feb. 1.

The Redbirds are dangerous on bars, where they’ve received consistently good production from Jenna Bossle and Amanda Mohler. Bars has been their best event in almost every meet this season.

Sunday’s meet against Bowling Green presents the Huskies with another big road challenge. The Falcons have been trying to force their way into the MAC championship conversation with strong performances against MAC teams. They scored a 195.550 against No. 19 Central Michigan Feb. 9.

While the Huskies may be tempted to ease off the gas after Friday’s meet, they’ll have to stay motivated for Bowling Green.

“They’re having a year like a top team in the MAC,” Morreale said. “So we definitely can’t go there and take it relaxed.”