The Nebraska women’s gymnastics team heads into the 2014 season with sights set high. The two-time defending Big Ten champions welcome back three All-Americans, seven returning letterwinners, and two newcomers. The Huskers will have a stockpile of talent to once again rank among the nation’s elite collegiate programs.
NU is led by head coach Dan Kendig, who enters his 21st season at Nebraska. Kendig sees the potential for continued success with the 2014 squad.
“I do think at the end of the day we will have a better team than we had last year,“ Kendig said. “We definitely have the potential to have that happen. The girls are training incredibly hard and their focus is tremendous. This could be an exciting season for us.”
Kendig will be joined by assistant coaches Dan Miller, Heather Brink and volunteer assistant coach Alina Weinstein. Miller will lead NU’s powerful vault and floor squads for the third year, and Brink will coach the Huskers’ beam exercises and assist with floor choreography.
Leading the Way
Nebraska’s solid core of seven letterwinners returns, as the Huskers have one of the toughest schedules in the country. NU faces four teams who finished in the top 10 in the country last season. Leading the way for the Huskers is senior Emily Wong, who finished third in the all-around at the NCAA Championships last season. A five-time first-team All-American will contend for a national all-around title. In her impressive junior campaign, Wong collected 24 titles including the Big Ten all-around crown for the second consecutive year. Wong, posted her career-best all-around score of 39.725 at the Big Ten Championships and added a career best on floor (9.975). A leader in the classroom, Wong claimed second-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honors, NACGC/W Scholastic All-America and Academic All-Big Ten accolades.
“Emily is one incredible young lady in every single aspect of her life,” head coach Dan Kendig said. “She is a perfectionist and trains to be that way. She shows up to practice everyday with a smile on her face and is always ready to work. I really expect her to have one outstanding senior season.”
Kendig is also excited to see the return of senior Jamie Schleppenbach to the lineup. After battling injuries last season, the Lincoln, Neb., native wants to end her career at Nebraska on a high note. A first-team All-American on vault in 2011, Schleppenbach will look to re-enter the Husker lineup as an all-around competitor. Prior to her injury last season Schleppenbach captured two vault titles in only four showings on the event, taking home top honors at Michigan. In the classroom, Schleppenbach captured Academic All-Big Ten accolades in 2013.
Junior all-arounder Jessie DeZiel will enter her third year with the Huskers as one of the team’s strongest competitors. In 2012, she was a first-team All-American in the all-around and also was the NCAA Salt Lake City Regional all-around champion. DeZiel captured second-team All-America accolades in the all-around and on beam. As one of the most talented gymnasts Nebraska has had in recent years, she will be relied upon for her strong skills and performances in 2014.
“Jessie is a powerful, consistent performer who does not like to make mistakes,” Kendig said. “She is so talented and fun to watch especially once we are in competition season. This girl is a competitor, and I think we will see her shine this year.”
Junior Jennifer Lauer returns looking to do big things for the Huskers. Lauer brings power to the Nebraska lineups and will use that as she hopes to make a mark on all four events. Last season she secured her spot as one of NU’s top beam workers by claiming five titles on the event including a share of the Big Ten Championship beam title with teammate Emily Wong. Lauer captured multiple academic honors last season including, academic All-Big Ten, NCAGC/W Scholastic All-America and Big Ten Distinguished Scholar.
Juniors Desire’ Stephens and Amanda Lauer both return as steady and valuable gymnasts for NU. Last season, Stephens, a two-event specialist on vault and floor, helped the Huskers earn their highest vaulting team score in Nebraska history (49.725) at the Big Ten Championships. She will work to add to the Huskers’ powerful vault lineup this season. Amanda Lauer will also look for steady improvement as she competes for a spot in NU’s beam and bar lineups.
Sophomore Hollie Blanske has the ability to make a statement as one of Nebraska’s top vaulters this season. Blanske was a important part of Nebraska’s Big Ten Championship-winning efforts, finishing in a tie for sixth on floor (9.90) and earning share of the Big Ten title on vault (9.95).
Nebraska will welcome back two gymnasts who were injured last season; redshirt freshmen Jordyn Beck and Ariel Martin. In addition, sophomore walk-on Madison McConkey, who spent last season adjusting to the competition level of collegiate gymnastics, will join the Huskers in 2014. These gymnasts will continue improving to break into multiple NU lineups this season.
Huskers Welcome Talented Newcomers
The Huskers will introduce two talented newcomers to the roster this season. Jennie Laeng and Ashley Lambert are both level 10 gymnasts who will help fill important roles with the loss of three seniors last season.
“They are both so talented,” Kendig said. “We definitely filled some holes that we needed filled with them. I think individually they are both very talented and have their separate strengths that will really help us out this year.”
Laeng joins the Huskers from West Middlesex, Pa., and will look to break into all four events for the Huskers. She was the all-around, vault and beam champion at the 2011 Junior Olympic National Invitational, and Kendig is impressed with Laeng’s work ethic and clean lines in every event.
A five-time Junior Olympic National Qualifier, Lambert is a powerful gymnast from Newport News, Va., who looks to make an impact on vault and beam. Kendig said Lambert carries a competitive nature and powerful performances on all events.
Event Preview: Vault
-3 All-Americans: DeZiel, Schleppenbach, Wong
-All Big Ten 2013: Blanske, DeZiel
Coming off an historic year on vault with the highest team score in NU history (49.725) at the Big Ten Championships, the Husker vaulting squad is hoping to top their 2013 season. The lineup returns three All-Americans including Wong, who picked up first-team honors last season, Schleppenbach a first-team All-American in 2011 and DeZiel, a second-team selection in 2012. Also adding depth is Hollie Blanske who earned a share of the 2013 Big Ten vault title, and Desire Stephens who has been a strong, and consistent competitor for NU.
Redshirt freshman Ariel Martin, as well as both true freshmen, Jennie Laeng and Ashley Lambert hope to add explosiveness to a powerful vault lineup in 2014. Assistant coach Dan Miller is impressed with his squad and says he is looking forward to strong and consistent performances from the Huskers.
“We have the top three vaulting scores in the country and set a school record,” Miller said. “That is a pretty high standard for us to keep up with, but I love that. The freshmen will look to be competitors on vault, and our upper classmen have set a high standard. All I can say is that it will be exciting when we go to vault.”
Event Preview: Uneven Bars
-1 All-American: Wong
- All Big Ten 2013: Wong
Though the Huskers lost two former second-team All-Americans in Janelle Giblin and Kassandra Nathe, they return first-team All-American Emily Wong in 2014. Nebraska will also return several consistent competitiors from the 2013 squad, including DeZiel, Schleppenbach, and Lauer. McConkey and all four freshmen (Martin, Beck, Laeng and Lambert) will also be candidates to see time for the Huskers.
“We have a lot to replace from last year, but I feel like we can do it,” Kendig said. “We have 12 girls who are competing on bars right now, so we will have numbers to pick from. I truly believe the cream will rise to the top, and we will have six great ones to pick from. I don’t think it will be the same six every week, but I like that because it creates competition.”
Kendig said at the end of the day his lineup of six will come from the girls who can hit their handstands and stick their landings.
Event Preview: Beam
- 2 All-Americans: DeZiel, Wong
- All-Big Ten 2013: Lauer, Wong
After finishing last season on a strong note on beam, the Huskers look to build off a solid year. Nebraska returns two All-Americans in DeZiel and Wong, who both earned second-team honors on beam last season. Jennifer Lauer is coming off an impressive sophomore campaign on the event and will be looking to build on her momentum this season. Other gymnasts who will be solid contributors on beam include Schleppenbach, Amanda Lauer and redshirt freshman Beck. Assistant coach Heather Brink wants the Huskers to have confidence and believe in themselves as they approach the event. She says consistency and confidence are going to be the key factors when putting together a lineup.
“We have a lot of talent this year on the beam team, which only helps to raise the bar to make the lineup,” Brink said. “We have to be able to handle the pressure in competition, whether we compete beam first or last. Beam rotation in competition can swing momentrum either way, and so we have to put together six solid beam routines that are near perfection.”
Event Preview: Floor
-All-American: DeZiel, Wong
-All Big Ten 2013: DeZiel, Wong
One event the Huskers are most excited about in 2014 is the floor exercise. Nebraska will be returning one of the nation’s top floor performers in Wong, as she placed third overall at the NCAA Championships in 2013. She added six titles, including the Big Ten title with a career-high score of 9.975. Joining Wong is first-team All-American DeZiel, who captured three titles of her own last season and is known for her powerful and consistent floor performances. Assistant coach Dan Miller noted that every gymnast on the squad has a floor routine, while several Huskers will feature new routines this season. Blanske, Stephens and Jennifer Lauer will contribute steady performances on the event. Freshmen Laeng and Lambert will look to round out the Husker lineup.
“Where we are right now in comparison to where we were last year, I believe we are in better shape and the girls feel that way as well,” Miller said. “They have been working harder and harder everyday. They are building up their confidence as well as their tumbling, which means the second half of the season will be exciting when their bigger tumbling goes into the routines."