Sontag sees even field in MAC finals

By Andrew Hanson

As far as gymnastics head coach Mark Sontag is concerned, the race for the MAC championship is wide open.

“There are seven teams in the tournament that could win it,” Sontag said. “It’s the closest I’ve seen since I’ve been in the conference.”

The Huskies travel to Kalamazoo, Mich., for the MAC championships, which start Saturday at 2 p.m.

NIU (2-7 overall, 2-4 MAC) is coming off a second-place finish at the State of Illinois Meet March 18, which featured all of the state’s Division-I gymnastics teams.

The Huskies struggled in their first event and found themselves in last place, only to come back and finish strong.

Sontag said the previous weekend’s meet will only help the Huskies heading into the conference championships, as it helped them focus on what they need to work on.

“[Struggling in the beginning of the meet] is something that’s going to happen in gymnastics,” Sontag said. “We worked on our consistency and had a really good week.”

Heading into the tournament, Western Michigan (7-6, 5-1) and Kent State (6-3, 5-1) are on top of the MAC.

NIU came close to both teams, but couldn’t defeat them. In a Feb. 12 meet, the Huskies lost to WMU by less than one-tenth of a point. NIU also lost to Kent State by six-tenths of a point.

Leading the way for the Huskies are freshman Jennifer Naughton and senior Ashlee Williams.

Naughton is tied for fourth-best in the MAC in the vault event with a season-high score of 9.8 and first in the balance beam at 9.875.

Williams, a recent MAC Gymnast Specialist of the Week, tied for the highest score in the uneven parallel bars with a 9.9.

“We need to keep pushing to the last routine,” Sontag said. “It’s going to come down to who has the best routine.”