NIU looks to take control of MAC

By Andrew Hanson

Every conference meet is a battle for the NIU gymnastics team.

In a tight conference race, any MAC team is capable of beating any other team in NIU coach Mark Sontag’s eyes.

“Everybody in the MAC is evenly matched,” Sontag said. “It’s the first time I’ve been in the MAC it’s been this even from top to bottom.”

Saturday at 4 p.m. NIU will take on one of those evenly-matched conference teams at Eastern Michigan (2-5 overall, 2-1 MAC) when they face the Eagles.

Sontag said the keys to getting a victory Saturday are to hit all events equally strong, starting with the first.

In the Huskies’ last meet, NIU started slow against conference-leading Western Michigan and produced a season-low score of 47.750 on the vault. The Huskies managed a comeback in the remaining events, but it wasn’t enough for a victory.

The Eagles (2-5, 2-1) are coming off a 189.6-189.475 win against conference preseason favorite Central Michigan. In a Jan. 29 meet with CMU, the Huskies lost to the Chippewas 192.25-190.45.

Despite being nearly halfway through the season, Sontag is still playing with the team’s lineup in order to get the maximum points from the judges.

“We’re finding a good mix of where we want people in the lineup,” the seventh-year coach said. “I’m pretty comfortable we’re on the right track.”

One of the staples of Sontag’s lineup is freshman Jennifer Naughton, who was named this week’s MAC Specialist of the Week.

Naughton will be relied upon against EMU for a performance similar to the on the Jan. 12 meet.

The freshman tied for second in the floor exercise, scoring 9.825, which helped the Huskies to a season-high score of 48.925 on that event. Naughton also placed third on the balance beam, scoring 9.6.