Gymnastics readying to take on Nebraska

By Steve Shonder

The gymnastics team will play the role of underdog as it prepares to go toe to toe with one of the nation’s best programs.

The Huskies will face No. 14 Nebraska at 6 p.m. Jan. 11 at the University of Nebraska’s Devaney Center. It will be NIU’s first regular season meet.

The Cornhuskers, the reigning Big Ten Champions, present the Huskies with a tough season opener. They averaged a 196 team overall score and feature several formidable returning gymnasts, including junior Jessie DeZiel and senior Emily Wong. Both Wong and DeZiel averaged a score of 39 for their all around.

NIU head coach Sam Morreale just wants his athletes to focus on themselves and not worry about what Nebraska is doing.

“This is a team that we’re definitely going to chase,” Morreale said. “It’s just about setting our sights a little higher and reaching those goals.”

The Huskies will have to give their best performances if they’re going to beat Nebraska. Last season, they averaged a 193 team overall score. A score like that won’t be enough for them to pull off the upset, but the Huskies aren’t looking for the upset. Morreale has the team looking at the meet as a building block for the season.

“We would be really happy to go 9.7 averages everywhere,” Morreale said. “We’re trying to have 10.0 start values. We’ll get a great indication on the season from there, because if we can start with 9.7 averages and go 194, that’s a really good solid start for us.”

A 9.7 average would be ideal for NIU since that score puts it in line for a 194 team overall score, which would put the Huskies ahead of where they were at the midpoint of last season. The plan for the Huskies is to start with a 10 on each event by attempting more difficult routines, which gives them a little more room for error than usual. Junior Amanda Stepp believes the team is more than capable of averaging 9.7.

“We look pretty good compared to where we were last season,” Stepp said. “We’ve been training with ‘perfects.’ The perfect thing helps us to get less deduction when we’re actually competing because we’ve been practicing doing things perfect the whole time. I think [a 9.7 is] realistic, because we did pretty well at the intra-squad and we still have a month to get ready.”

The Huskies haven’t set their lineups yet, but Morreale said he has a pretty good idea of who will be in the rotations. With a month to go until the meet, the lineup situation remains flexible, but it is likely that one or two of the freshmen will start on an event.

Besides the high skill level Nebraska has, their home crowd could give them an additional advantage. Stepp doesn’t think the large crowd will hurt the Huskies.

“It’s going to be a bigger crowd than we’re used to, but we do well when we feed off the energy,” Stepp said. “I actually think it will help us rather than hurt us.”