NIU Gymnastics eyeing a MAC title

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Courtesy of NIU Athletics

Head gymnastics coach Sam Morreale talks to his team during a meet in the 2021 season.

Noah Silver, Sports Reporter

DeKALB — The NIU women’s gymnastics team enters the 2021-22 season looking to build off an amazing 2020-21 campaign that saw them take home second-place honors in the Mid- American Conference Championships.

NIU also led the nation in academic success. The Huskies, who have been ranked in the top five nationally in academics for the past three seasons, finally made their way to the front of the pack last season by leading the Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association.

“Last year, we actually got over the hump and were the top academic gymnastics team in the nation with a 3.875 (GPA),” head gymnastics coach Sam Morreale said. “We did win our MAC Championship in 2019, but being that academic champ to us was just as important. We are going to chase that again but are definitely going to get after that athletic MAC Championship again.”

Senior Tara Kofmehl and junior Natalie Hamp both return for the Huskies after qualifying for the NCAA regionals and setting new school records last season.

Kofmehl set a school record in the all-around with a 39.175, and Hamp set a school record of 9.900 on the uneven parallel bars.

“Tara and Natalie, both qualifiers from last year, are coming back and are going to kind of be leaders for the team to help get us to that next level,” Morreale said.

NIU will have a tough schedule out of the gate as they will spend the first four weekends of the season away, facing the likes of the University of Florida, who finished fourth in the country last year. The Huskies also meet with the University of Akron and the University of Illinois, who both made the regional qualifying round last season.

“The goal with our program is we want to get against those good teams,” Morreale said. “We want to compete against as many teams that qualify for the postseason as we can just to show our kids that they belong there, that they’re good enough to take that step, and we feel pretty comfortable on the floor against any of those teams.”

Along with the experienced returners, the Huskies are also welcoming a promising freshman class that includes standout freshman Emmalise Nock, who qualified for the Junior Olympics in both 2019 and 2021.

“Emmalise Nock is somebody who’s gonna come in and knock your socks off,” Morreale said. “She’s a four-eventer, and we think she’s going to turn some heads this year. We haven’t had a freshman go after Freshman of the Year in a while, and I think we finally got a kid who can do that.”

This year feels different for the women’s gymnastics team. A deep rotation, solid leaders and great coaching has the squad buzzing about the possibilities.

“We are more prepared. We are deeper than we’ve ever been,” Morreale said. “We have enough routines on every event to maybe rest some kids and do different things like that and not really take a step back. That’s something we’ve been chasing since we got here.”

NIU will have their first Red/Black intrasquad meet at 6 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Convocation Center.