Danielle Breen was named Nebraska's 2018 Women's Student-Athlete of the Year last Sunday night.
Photo by Stephanie Carpenter/Nebraska Communications

Breen's Shining Moment: Making NCAA Finals

By Randy York

Nebraska Announces 2017-18 Student-Athlete Award Winners


Chris Stephenson is Eager to Perform at UNL Medical School


Before reading a column that defines and describes how and why Danielle (Dani) Breen earned Nebraska’s prestigious 2018 Female Student-Athlete of Year award last Sunday night in Lincoln, let’s examine the highlight of her collegiate career.


It happened her junior season and she will never forget that one shining moment that saved her team at the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Regional in front of a loud crowd in the Bob Devaney Sports Center


“I will never forget that meet at home here in Lincoln,” Breen said, pointing out that only two teams in each of the six regionals qualify to advance to the NCAA Championship round.


Last year’s last event was on beam, and Dani was the last one up. Let the record show there was a fall earlier in the lineup. Husker teammate Grace Williams hit an awesome routine after the fall, so the weight of the world was on Dani.


Yes, Nebraska’s historically proud program needed Dani to shine, so the Huskers could qualify for the NCAA Finals once again. “I really didn't know what was on the line or how close we were,” Dani said. “I just hit my routine, and we qualified for the NCAA Tournament.”


The Most Magical Sight? The Faces of Teammates and Coaches


That, however, was not the moment she remembers most. The magical moment of her collegiate career came after landing her dismount and seeing the look on the faces of her coaches and teammates.


“To me, the beam routine I did was irrelevant at that one shining moment because I just remember hugging my coaches and my teammates and all of us celebrating together,” she recalled. “It's hard to describe the moment and the feeling.”


Dani smiles every time she sees the pictures that captured the moment. “I see the joy and excitement on their faces and being a part of that is something that I will never forget,” she said.


An experience like that reflects the essence of competition. Dani processes that one shining differently than most might. “It brought our meet full circle and made it a true team victory,” she said.


“I had fallen on bars in the previous event, and my team had my back, hitting routines after my fall,” Dani pointed out. “I guess my finish on beam was a chance for me to have my team's back, and that's what makes college gymnastics so special in my opinion – being able to have people to count on, and then to celebrate with.”


Winning the Big Ten Regular Season Title, Wearing the ‘N’ BIG


“There are definitely lots of other moments I will never forget,” Dani said, “like winning the Big Ten regular season title, competing in Devaney, wearing the ‘N’ for the first time, competing all-around, and countless laughs and inside jokes with teammates.”


One thing is certain. “Danielle is definitely a perfectionist,” Nebraska head coach Dan Kendig told me. “She’s still a 4.0 student in her senior year of college because she’s a creature of habit and does things the right way. She takes no shortcuts in anything she does.


“Remember, Dani also earned the Heart & Soul Award Sunday night, along with her Student-Athlete of the Year award,” Kendig said. “She never takes a short cut and that’s because she operates through her heart and her soul in everything she does.

“Danielle is very humble, an important trait that everyone would like to have,” Kendig said. “You can always count on her. She was an Academic All-American and an NCAA All-American on the balance beam. She is also a distinguished scholar, a 2-year team captain and a Sam Foltz Hero 27 award winner.

“Danielle has the leadership skills to do it all, whether it’s diversity, inclusion, inner circle or Tom Osborne's citizenship team,” Kendig said. “She’s a youth mentor and a volunteer for soup kitchens, mission trips and nursing home visits. Danielle is a giver and ready to go on another mission trip, this time to Panama. She is very active in the community. Kids just gravitate toward her because she is so genuine.”

Danielle is so immersed in her final season at Nebraska, she has not finalized her ultimate goal. “The future is still unclear as to where I want to end up and what I want to do,” she told me. “I guess only God knows that, and I'm learning that's okay.”

Accounting Degree First, Then a Masters in Professional Accountancy

Shorter-term, Danielle plans to graduate with an undergrad degree in Accounting this December, and then she plans to stay one more year to complete her MPA (Masters of Professional Accountancy) program at UNL.

The goal is to finish that in December, 2019. “After that, I'm thinking about taking the CPA exam and see where it takes me," she said. "I like the idea of doing accounting for an organization involved with sports or kids to give some meaning and purpose behind the numbers. I'm working on trying to just stay open-minded and where my journey might lead me.” 

One thing is certain. Whatever Danielle decides to do, she will be successful.

Amanda Gonzales, a UNL assistant professor, said Danielle is an amazing student-athlete and role model. “She epitomizes the spirit of this high award,” Gonzales said, pointing out that Danielle enrolled in her ACCT 313 accounting class, “earning an A-plus in a course known for its rigor. Her performance placed in the top 1 percent of the 500-plus students I have taught at Nebraska.

“Danielle is a model student,” Gonzales said. “She’s intelligent, intellectually curious, respectful, dedicated, hard-working and proactive – everything I could ever desire in a student. Even though she’s gifted with academic aptitude, she does not rest on that foundation. She pushes herself to make the most of the academic opportunities she has in college. She is always thinking deeply about connections between topics and her real-world experiences.”

Danielle has broadened her learning experiences in the field of accounting. “She identified and actively pursued an internship that allowed her to gain valuable experiences in applying the concepts that she has learned in her coursework,” Gonzales said. “The internship confirmed to her that accounting is the perfect career to combine her strengths and passions. In true fashion, she identified a goal, committed herself to achieving that goal, and succeeded. I greatly admire her commitment to excellence, self-awareness and joy while doing it all.”

Brink’s Positive Influence Helped Danielle Breen’s Rapid Growth

Danielle’s multiple academic and athletic kudos are no surprise to Heather Brink, Nebraska’s associate head coach, who has had a positive influence on Dani’s growth that is so stellar, she won Nebraska Athletics' highest honor.

“Dani is just an awesome individual that I admire greatly,” Brink said. “It has been a fantastic journey for and with her. She has grown as an individual, an athlete and a teammate. When Dani decided she wanted to be a Husker, she fully bought into the University of Nebraska, our culture and our program. We connect on our joint passion for the University of Nebraska and our gymnastics program. 

“I call Dani the silent assassin because she does her thing silently in the background, keeping focused on what is in front of her,” Brink said. “She has delivered for us in very high pressure and stressful situations. She is the definition of a team player because she always wants what is best for the team.

“Dani and I have this connection where I can totally read what she is thinking without her saying a word,” Brink said. “We have mutual trust and great respect for each other. When we have an open conversation, we always have everyone’s best interest at heart. We are so proud of Dani winning the 2018 Student-Athlete of the Year award, and there is absolutely no question that she definitely deserves it.”

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