Women's Gymnasts Already In Big Ten Driver's Seat
Dan Kendig held out his flat hand just to show he could not keep it from tremoring.
“Part of me thinks I’m getting too old for this,” the Nebraska women’s gymnastics coach said, “but boy, it sure makes you feel younger.”
You could say Kendig could relax after his No. 12 Huskers put together their best meet of the young season to defeat No. 8 Michigan before 2,008 fans at the Devaney Sports Center on Saturday afternoon.
Of course, that won’t happen.
“We’re still not the team we’re capable of being,” Kendig said. “We’re still not completely healed.”
That continual strive for perfection is why Nebraska, with a season-high score of 196.875, is annually in contention for conference titles.
To wit, these Huskers are already in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten Conference regular season championship after outscoring perennial league power Michigan, which finished at 196.525.
“They’re our arch rival,” Kendig said. “There’s no getting away from it, and they’d have to say the same thing about us.
“But we’re not out of the woods for conference yet. Minnesota is a tough team next week, then we’re at Iowa, and they’re tough at their place.”
Nebraska, though, has opened the season with three straight Big Ten victories and holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over Michigan, which has claimed at least a share of four straight Big Ten titles.
Abbie Epperson won Saturday’s all-around with a career-best 39.450, and Sienna Crouse anchored vault with a season-best 9.975 to pace the Huskers, who were without assistant coach Chris Brooks, home ill.
Kendig can’t remember ever coaching a meet without his full coaching staff present, but he’s not surprised this team persevered.
“Seriously, that’s what I love about this team. They have not let anything bother them,” Kendig said. “We go to Penn State, first meet, very young team, we stayed focused, we’re down after the first event, we fought back, we won, by just staying in the moment.”
Nebraska had fewer issues in defeating Rutgers last week, although it didn’t necessary get off to a blazing start on vault.
That changed against Michigan, when freshman Makayla Curtis, competing for the first time in any event this young season, filled in because of an injured teammate. She led off vault with a 9.775, and the Huskers scored a 49.275 as a team.
Crouse entered the weekend with the nation’s top score of 9.950 on vault, although Florida’s Alex McMurty scored a perfect 10 on Friday night. Still, Crouse’s vault on Saturday, Kendig said, was quite special.
“I don’t think many people work harder than she does on vault,” he said. “It’s a timing thing. Her shoulder’s a little tight and if she doesn’t get it back she winds up on her bottom, and she’s worked hard to make sure that (shoulder back) happens.”
Michigan scored a 49.175 on uneven bars, giving the Huskers the early lead, and then Nebraska expanded on that margin when teams switched events. Nebraska scored a 49.075 on bars and Michigan a 48.875 on vault, and the Huskers were well on their way to victory.
Nebraska never had a fall in 28 routines, although it counted a 9.650 on floor when Grace Williams went big on her final pass and landed slightly out of bounds. But Crouse and Megan Schweihofer closed with solid routines, meaning the Huskers didn't count the low score, while Michigan had falls on both beam and floor.
Nebraska (3-0, 3-0) hosts Minnesota next Saturday night at 7 with a chance to put a stranglehold on first place in the Big Ten.
“Our goal going into this meet was to be a better version of ourselves than we were last week,” Kendig said. “I can say we did that, all the way around. That’s what makes it fun.”
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