New faces look to dominate NIU gymnastics

By Matt Hopkinson

Despite the loss of key senior leadership and contribution from last season’s team, women’s gymnastics appears to be on an upward trend.

The squad lost five seniors, including big scorers like Tanya Rachan, Ashley Guerra, and Shonda Clore.

Coach Sam Morreale believes the freshmen he has brought in will make an immediate impact, and also believes the returning gymnasts will find success in bigger roles.

“It’s never an even swap when you lose seniors just because of their experience level,” Morreale said. “But I feel really good about what these kids are giving. It’s not just that swap, it’s the sophomores and juniors and what they’re now doing to try and fill some of those voids. That’s where I think we are a deeper team than we have been in the past.”

Morreale is looking to build off his success as the coach last season, during which the team finished just a .75 away from the highest score in school history at a MAC Championship event and tied second for best finish in the event at fourth.

The gymnasts who got to start and compete in that event gained valuable experience that Morreale believes is a benefit to them this season.

“It brings a lot,” Morreale said. “Moving forward, I look for really big things from this group. This was by far one of our better starting points with the 192. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re just gonna keep climbing the mountain.”

Returning starter on bars and beam, junior Megan Melendez also feels the MAC championship provides the team with something, but also finds motivation from other sources.

“It definitely gives us more confidence going into this season,” Melendez said. “They had a preseason poll that came out and they had us ranked fifth so everyone was kind of mad about that. It just adds more fuel to our fire to work even harder, to prove everyone wrong, and that we are capable of doing well.”

The new faces to the team have already made an impact in practice, in the actual season in NIU’s first victory in their first meet, and through the use of exhibition routines.

“Our freshmen have done amazing so far,” said junior all-around gymnast Kim Gotlund. “It’s a little different from club so I think it’s good for them to get used to it and then they’ll be pushing lineup and it pushes all of us that are already competing to do better and keep our spot.”