Emily Wong, left, and Jessie DeZiel are performing at the highest level with identical scores.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Gotta Love Michigan Here on Valentine's Day

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider

Official Blog of the Huskers

A bell is no bell ‘til you ring it,
A song is no song ‘til you sing it,
And love in your heart
Wasn’t put there to stay -
Love isn’t love
‘Til you give it away. – Oscar Hammerstein

Today’s N-Sider goes beyond the Tip of the Week and the Tip of the Month. Consider today’s N-Sider the Tip of the Winter because it involves the most likely 2014 Big Ten Conference winner in women’s gymnastics. It’s our own Valentine’s Day Special  the closest thing we can offer without giving away a ticket to a prominent event that should determine the league’s regular-season champion.

For $1, Husker fans can walk inside the renovated Devaney Center, spend $1 for any Pepsi product and become part of a giant Valentine’s Card that will spread Big Red love nationwide through a Big Ten Network production that will air Saturday at 11 a.m. You can be part of that 6 p.m. “Pack the House” promotion when No. 7-ranked Nebraska hosts No. 8 Michigan. Yes, this Friday night showdown needs someone to explain why the storyline is so special. Hey Dan Kendig! You’ve been National Coach of the Year twice. Your teams have won three Big Eight Conference championships, nine Big 12 Conference championships and two Big Ten Conference championships in your first two years of competing in the oldest league in intercollegiate athletics. So, what’s the big deal about Nebraska hosting Michigan on Valentine’s Day?

Nebraska-Michigan Rivalry Preceded the Big Ten

Kendig’s answer is as immediate as it is passionate. “We’ve had an entertaining rivalry with Michigan long before we joined the Big Ten,” he told me Monday morning. “Scott Sherman (Michigan’s top assistant who’s coached 18 seasons in Ann Arbor) is a good friend. We’ve always thought we had a big, natural rivalry, but it’s a lot bigger now because we’re in the same conference.”

No need to ask Michigan how that’s changed the stakes. The Wolverines won every Big Ten Women’s Gymnastics Championship except one until Nebraska became a member of the Big Ten. “Friday’s dual isn’t guaranteed to determine the 2014 champion, but it should, if everything comes down to the head-to-head winner of our dual match,” Kendig said.

Last year was the first time the Big Ten crowned a regular-season champion in women’s gymnastics (Minnesota won it while Nebraska went on to win its second straight Big Ten Tournament Championship; p.s.: Penn State will host the third Big Ten Tournament on March 22nd).

Blanske, DeZiel, Wong: Rock-Solid 1-2-3 Punch

Speaking of Penn State, Nebraska posted its eighth-highest away meet score in school history Saturday night in State College, Pa. Husker teammates and first-team All-Americans Jessie DeZiel and Emily Wong produced identical season-high scores of 39.575 to tie for the all-around title against the Nittany Lions. Add in sophomore all-around performer Hollie Blanske, the 2013 Big Ten co-champion in vault,and Kendig has a 1-2-3 all-around punch that rivals any other NCAA trio. “Three gymnasts make up half our lineup,” he said. “I like the way we’re performing and we’re getting Jessie healthy at the right time.”

I asked Kendig about the odds of getting a large crowd on Valentine Day’s night. “I love starting the match at 6,” he said. “Everyone can celebrate Valentine’s Day with us first and still have time to do whatever else they want. Our match will be over by 8. Of course, our fans love our girls so much, they’ve stayed an hour-and-a-half after a meet before just to sign autographs.”

Olympic-Style Excitement at the Devaney Center

The eternal optimist, Kendig tackles another issue head on. “When I think of Olympics, I think of women’s gymnastics,” he said. “I know the Winter Games are going on right now, but we have two top-notch programs battling for a conference championship Friday night in Lincoln. I can’t imagine being anywhere else but the Devaney Center.”

Kendig says Marketing’s implementation of an emcee filling down time during Husker warm-ups was a big hit at the recent Nebraska-Minnesota dual. In his 21st year as head coach, Kendig says research shows that the bigger the crowd for the home team, the better its chance to win.

“Look at what the crowds have done for Tim Miles and his men’s basketball team,” Kendig said. “They’ve lost one home game all season and that was by one point to Michigan. You gotta love Michigan coming in here on Valentine’s Day. Our fans will be pumped up, just like our kids.”

Kendig: Newcomers Will ‘Fall in Love’ with Sport

The Wolverine-Husker rivalry will be apparent, even to those who are savvy enough to see their first women’s gymnastics meet Friday night. “Our odds to win go up exponentially with the crowd,” Kendig said. “I really believe that everyone who spends a dollar to get in Friday night will fall in love with our sport and when they do, they become women’s gymnastics fans for life.”

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