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By Randy York
Last Saturday was an historic night at the Devaney Sports Center for Nebraska women's gymnastics and for its head coach, Dan Kendig, who did something he'd never done in nearly three decades. He rolled the dice, telling six gymnasts - a senior, two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman - that all six would be competing in all four events. Two days later, his confidence in those six student-athletes deserves major kudos. Although he saw some performance-related hiccups, Kendig had to go home that night thinking he'd made an all-around good decision.
In a meet that included top 10-ranked Nebraska and top 25-ranked Michigan and Washington, plus Southern Utah, the Huskers dominated the all-around standings. Freshman Jessie DeZiel, sophomore Emily Wong and junior Brittany Skinner finished 1-2-3. Three Husker teammates also finished in the top eight - senior Lora Evanstad (5), sophomore Jamie Schleppenbach (6) and junior Janelle Giblin (8). Giblin was sensational on vault (9.925), uneven bars (9.900) and floor exercise (9.850). She fell twice on balance beam. Still, every other Husker held her own on beam, exorcizing the demons that cost the Huskers so dearly in a late January home loss to Missouri.
Overall, Kendig and assistants Heather Brink and Dan Miller have to be encouraged with their team rising up and meeting a big coaching challenge. One problem with college athletics is the tendency to mistake preparation for productivity. Kendig realizes his team can prepare from here until April, but if he never rolls the dice, the Huskers cannot be as successful as they otherwise might be. After traveling to road meets at Minnesota and Arkansas, the Huskers don't return home until a Pepsi Pack the House Night on Sunday, March 4, against perennial NCAA power Florida at the Devaney Center.
Meanwhile, as the Huskers count down to the Big Ten Championships on March 24 at Iowa City and to the NCAA Regionals on April 7, Kendig will try to keep from hitting pause on the reset button of six all-arounders. In addition to diversity within their age groups, Nebraska's current top six include two gymnasts each from California (Skinner and Giblin), two from North Dakota (Wong and Evanstad), one from Minnesota (DeZiel) and one from Nebraska (Schleppenbach). All six are talented gymnasts, powerful competitors and hard workers. All six, no doubt, would love to see Kendig keep his grand experiment intact. Who knows? Maybe, by Senior Night on March 16 against Iowa State, improvement will reach the point where Kendig no longer thinks he's rolling the dice when entering six versatile gymnasts in all four events. Right now, it's a jolly good idea, even if it does still merit more research.
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