Karen (Dahlgren) Schonewise (1983-86) was the first Husker volleyball player to win the Honda Award as the nationís best player in 1986.
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Schonewise: Huskers Reminiscent of 1986 Final Four Team

By Randy York

University of Nebraska 2017 Hall of Fame Induction Class

One of the most decorated student-athletes in Nebraska’s storied athletic history was inside the standing room-only Bob Devaney Sports Center last Saturday night in Lincoln.

Even though Karen (Dahlgren) Schonewise (1983-86) was the first Husker volleyball player to win the Honda Award as the nation’s best player in 1986, she was in awe watching a young Nebraska team battle back from a 0-2 deficit to overtake Big Ten power Wisconsin, 3-2.

“It's great to see the Huskers battle,” Schonewise told me. “They have so much young talent but I think one of the biggest keys is their leadership. Kelly Hunter is a fifth-year senior and team captain. She works hard to instill in the younger players the work ethic, the toughness and the mentality of Husker volleyball.”

Glued to her seat and then jumping out of it to help Nebraska complete its miracle rally, Schonewise had an epiphany. “This team,” she said, “reminds me in some ways of our Husker team from 1986. We had great young talent and good leadership. We had three seniors and one junior with 10 underclassmen, yet we earned our way to the NCAA Final Four and the National Championship match.”

Two collegiate highlights resonate for Schonewise. Winning the NCAA Regional at the Devaney Center her senior year helped Nebraska qualify for its first-ever Final Four. “We played a very tight match in the semifinals against Penn State where several players went down with muscle cramps,” Schonewise said. “We persevered in a match that went five sets and lasted two hours and 40 minutes, then swept Illinois the following night to make it to the Final Four.”

Nebraska beat Stanford in the 1986 NCAA Semifinals, helping the Huskers become the first team outside of California and Hawaii to make the NCAA National Championship match. “That was such a fun victory,” Schonewise said. “Our goal had been to make it to the Final Four, so to win that semifinal match was so rewarding.”

Experiences make poignant memories. That’s why Schonewise, a Bertrand, Neb., native, marveled watching Hunter lead a Saturday night comeback that got so electrifying, it superseded noise levels from the rowdiest of NFL games.

Schonewise Will Join Brown, Day, Glover, Hoppen and Johnson in 2017 Hall of Fame Induction Class

Schonewise (No. 13 above) is one of six inductees into the Nebraska Athletics 2017 Hall of Fame Class on Friday Oct. 13. The others are Bob 'Boomer' Brown (football); Denise Day (softball, women’s track & field); Rich Glover (Football); Dave Hoppen (basketball); and Scott Johnson (gymnastics).

Helping Nebraska win 113 of 130 games in her record-breaking career, Schonewise was on teams that won four Big Eight regular-season championships, four conference tournament titles and reached the national championship game. A middle blocker, she was a two-time All-American and a three-time CoSIDA Academic All-American.

The first Nebraska volleyball player to be a CoSIDA Academic All-American, Schonewise ended her career as Nebraska’s all-time leader in blocks (555). She still holds school records for career solo blocks (132), season solo blocks (46 in 1984) and match blocks (18 vs. U.S. International in 1984).

Schonewise earned her degree in Business Administration and had her No. 13 jersey retired in 1993.

“It is so humbling and overwhelming to be included in the Husker Hall of Fame,” Schonewise said, pointing out that she came to Nebraska as a walk-on from a small high school and was just hoping to get a chance to play. “I never dreamed that I would have all the opportunities and successes that came my way.”

Schonewise thanks legendary coach Terry Pettit and all her teammates for “being such a big part of my Husker experience. They deserve so much of the credit.”

Schonewise Says Nebraskans Are Great People, Friendly, Supportive, Encouraging and Hard-Working

Having lived in other states and travelled to so many universities across the country, “I’ve come to realize that Nebraska is a very special place,” Schonewise said. “Great people make Nebraska the place it is – friendly, supportive, encouraging, hard-working and just good people.”

Varied experiences laid the groundwork for Schonewise to learn memorable life lessons. She recalls running in a high school track meet her senior year as the anchor for the 4x400 relay. “I was coming around the last curve and was about 10 meters behind the runner leading the race when a friend on the infield yelled She's dying Karen – you can catch her!” Schonewise recalled. “I kicked and caught that runner before the tape and we won the relay. I understood from that experience how impactful encouragement and support can be, as well as my own mindset.”

Schonewise also remembers spending her first year at Nebraska as a redshirt. “I was athletic but very inexperienced in volleyball, so I spent that first year shagging volleyballs for most of the team drills and getting in a few reps at the very end of some of the individual drills,” she recalled.

In the spring, most collegiate teams played USVBA matches against other colleges and alumni teams. “As a redshirt,” she said, “I was not allowed to compete with the Huskers but Coach Pettit arranged for me to play on the alumni team with Nancy Grant-Colson, Gwen Egbert, Lori Melcher Hunter, Reba Govier, Laurie Shadegg, Mindy Martens and Lori Zimmerman.”

“Those women were so gracious to take on a young inexperienced athlete and allow me to get game experience so I could develop as a player,” Schonewise said. “At the end of the spring semester, Coach P had us write down goals going into the fall season. I had four or five goals listed with the biggest one to be in the top nine players.”

It Was an Eye-Opening Experience for Schonewise When Pettit Insisted That She Set Her Goals Higher

Pettit read Schonewise’s goals, handed them back and said: “You've already reached these. Set your goals higher."

That was an eye-opening experience for Schonewise because "I had spent the year shagging balls and getting in for just a few drills, yet he saw what I could become," she said. "That taught me to work hard, aim high and persevere.” 

No wonder Schonewise views “belief” as “extremely powerful” in competing at all levels.

She applies the same lessons to motivate herself as a first-year assistant volleyball coach at Duchesne Academy and the way she coaches Nebraska Elite, a club volleyball team. 

“I’ve been so fortunate to be a semi-retired, stay-at-home mom for many years,” said Schonewise, who lives in Papillion, Neb., with her husband, Quintin (pictured above), and their 18-year-old son, Wolfgang.

Since their son will be playing high school football for Papillion-LaVista South in North Platte on the day of the induction ceremony, he is unable to attend. “It will be very hard for me to miss his game,” Schonewise said. “But we’re thrilled that our two daughters (also pictured above) will be attending that weekend.”

Lillian, 24, graduated from the University of California-Berkeley. Olivia, 22, graduated from Sonoma State University in California. Both played collegiate volleyball and now live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Send a comment to ryork@huskers.com (Please include city, state)

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