Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Foecke Credits Nebraska For Her Academic Success

By Brian Rosenthal

Mikaela Foecke came to Nebraska with a solid grasp of time management and a good idea of how to balance academics and athletics.

Of course, back home in West Point, Iowa, Foecke had her mom and dad looking over her shoulder, providing guidance.

“When your parents aren’t there all the time to be harping on you,” Foecke said, “it is a bit different.”

So when she arrived on the Nebraska campus, Foecke depended on a different kind of parental support system – the athletic department’s army of tutors and academic advisors, led by Nebraska's Executive Associate AD for Academics, Dennis Leblanc.

“Honestly, I feel like with all the support Nebraska has, that they make it easy, between all of the tutors and Dennis and all of his staff and academic counselors,” Foecke said. “They make it really hard for you not to succeed, and I think that’s what separates Nebraska from a lot of other programs, their ability to make a well-rounded person and athlete and student.”

Nebraska fans know Foecke’s accomplishments in volleyball. A four-year standout for coach John Cook, she was a four-time All-American who guided the Huskers to four NCAA semifinal appearances, with a pair of national titles in 2015 and 2017 and a runner-up finish in 2018.

What many may not realize, however, is what Foecke has accomplished in the classroom, and how.

Not only did Foecke earn Best Female Athlete honors at Nebraska’s 29th annual Night at the Lied event on Sunday night, she also won Female Student-Athlete of the Year. The annual ceremony at the Lied Center in Lincoln honors Nebraska’s best and brightest student athletes for academic, leadership and service.

Men’s gymnast Anton Stephenson won the Male Student Athlete of the Year, and wrestler Tyler Berger was named Best Male Athlete.

Foecke is the eighth Husker volleyball player to receive the Female Student-Athlete of the Year and the first since Amanda Gates in 2009. In the classroom, she is a four-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and a six-time member of the Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll.

And yes, when she needed help, she sought the guidance of Nebraska’s top-notch tutors.

“I think a lot more freshman and sophomore year, just when you’re trying to get all of those big science classes out of the way, like chemistry, organic chemistry, biology,” Foecke said. “I really relied on my tutors then. Those (classes) can be some real butt kickers.”

Foecke chose Nebraska in part because she could major in animal science.

“I also think the facilities and support staff that Nebraska has is unmatched,” she said. “Knowing they care about you outside of your sport is a big difference maker.”

Cook, who’s no stranger to coaching players who’ve excelled in academics, lauded Foecke for always staying on top of matters and taking advantage of Nebraska’s resources, seeking help when she needed it.

“I just always felt like Mikaela always had it under control, and never let it start spinning out of control,” Cook said. “That’s the kind of player she was too – daily grinder, very consistent. I can’t even remember a bad practice in four years. She was just a really consistent day-in and day-out performer.”

Foecke continues a longstanding tradition of Nebraska volleyball players setting examples and being a role model in the classroom for younger players. When Foecke was a sophomore, for example, Sydney Townsend won the first of two straight Elite 90 Awards, presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s championships.

Cook can easily name many others who’ve been academic role models. Laura Pilakowski. Nancy Metcalf. Christina Houghtelling. Sarah Pavan. Gina Mancuso.

And now, Foecke.

“I just think Mikaela has been a really good example of being a student-athlete who knows how to manage time, and have balance in her life,” Cook said. “She had it mastered by the time she started here, so she knows how to manage her time really well.”

Not only that, she’s had to do so at some of the most difficult times of the year. Foecke isn’t the first, and surely won’t be the last Nebraska volleyball player to take a proctored finals exam while on the road at the NCAA Final Four.

“When you’re at the end of the semester, as a normal student, it can be hard to want to buckle down and study for your finals because you can see the end,” Foecke said. “But being at the pinnacle of your sport and at the top of where everyone wants to be in the Final Four, and then having to buckle down and study for a final, it can be quite difficult and hard to concentrate.”

Foecke’s academic career won’t conclude when she leaves Nebraska, although she’s also not for certain when it will resume.

She’s been accepted into veterinary school at Iowa State University but plans on putting that on hold for the time being while she seeks a professional volleyball career. Foecke, who's getting married June 1, has already been invited to train with the U.S. national team at its training center in Anaheim, California, and she’s also hired an agent and is looking to sign a professional contract.

Meanwhile, Cook will point to Foecke’s success both on the court and in the classroom as he recruits the nations’ best talent. He, like all of Nebraska’s coaches, has Nebraska’s academic support staff to boast.

“Besides Devaney, that’s the first stop we go,” Cook said. “Dennis does a great job of doing a presentation on what we offer here in the academic support and that facility. Then you throw in the Life Skills and the tradition of all the academic All-Americans and all the pride we have in that. It’s huge.

“Typically, when we leave there, the parents are ready to commit.”

Reach Brian at or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.


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