Northern Illinois University gymnastic program continues to showcase its winning platform. NIU’s Tara Kofmehl (Mesa, Ariz./Red Mountain HS) and Natalie Hamp (Ionia, Mich./Ionia HS) won individual titles on vault and uneven parallel bars, respectively, and the NIU Huskies put together their best meet of the season to take second place at the 2021 Mid-American Conference Gymnastics Championships Saturday at University Arena in Kalamazoo.
NIU recorded season-high scores on floor exercise (49.050), vault (48.975) and on its final event of the day, balance beam (49.050), to finish with a team score of 195.525, just .375 behind team champion Eastern Michigan.
“We had a great day and a few little mistakes kept things from going in our favor in the end,” said NIU head coach Sam Morreale. “From day one I thought we could win this meet, we overstepped what people had ranked us and where they thought we would finish. It is bittersweet when you’re in striking distance at the end. We had our season highs on three events and even with the mistakes on bars, we were still in the mix. We gave it our all, we were in it and that’s what you want, you want a chance. I’m super proud of the team, super proud of the year. We fell short today, but not from lack of trying, lack of effort.”
In addition to becoming a MAC Champion with a score of 9.900 on uneven parallel bars, Hamp shared the MAC Specialist of the Year Award with Eastern Michigan’s Caitlin Satler, marking the fourth time in the last five seasons that an NIU gymnast has collected that award, which is voted on prior to the championship by league coaches. Hamp did not score below 9.800 on bars in 11 meets this season.
The Huskies now have finished first or second in the MAC Championship meet in each of the last three seasons the meet has been held (the championship was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19). The MAC titles won by Hamp and Kofmehl mark the third straight championships that NIU has had two gymnasts claim event titles.
“As a program, we’ve turned the corner,” Morreale said. “It’s a testament to the alumni that came before and that paved the way for us to build it to where we are now. What they did has allowed us to attract better talent which keeps us competitive. I’m super excited for the future.”
The season is likely not over for several Huskie gymnasts in contention for NCAA Regional berths as individuals, including Hamp and Kofmehl. The NCAA will announce the field on Monday, March 22 at 4 pm CT on NCAA.com.