Huskies so close all season long

By Andrew Hanson

Close losses and injuries were the story of the season for the NIU gymnastics team.

But despite the struggles, head coach Mark Sontag said he was proud of his team in how they competed and stepped up to the competition.

The Huskies competed with the top teams in the MAC, but when it came to the end, couldn’t finish.

NIU (2-7 Overall, 2-4 MAC) lost to MAC Champion Western Michigan by eight hundredths of a point and lost to regular-season runner-up Kent State by six tenths of a point.

A second place finish by NIU at the State of Illinois Classic, which featured all of the state’s Division I gymnastics programs, helped the Huskies redeem a previous loss to Illinois-Chicago. NIU placed behind the then No. 24 -ranked Illinois team.

Freshman Leah Johnson came out in the beginning of the season untouchable, winning the overall competition in her first two meets and being named MAC Gymnast of the Week.

But the Huskies suffered their biggest blow of the season when Johnson hyper extended her knee on the vault exercise. The injury kept NIU’s only overall gymnast competitor out until the MAC Championship.

“After that, we weren’t competing for overall,” Sontag said. “But lots of teams with top overalls didn’t have the scores we were competing with.”

Sontag said although the Johnson injury and other injuries hurt them, it will help them in the long run as freshman stepped in.

A fifth-place finish at the MAC Championships closed out the season for the Huskies.

Senior Ashlee Williams and freshman Jennifer Naughton both placed in the top five in an individual event.

Naughton tied for second on the vault, and Williams got fourth place on the uneven parallel bars.

Both Naughton and Williams will be alternates in the NCAA regional on Saturday at Fayetteville, Ark., at 6 p.m.