Winning conference and national championships in any of our sports is difficult. To win at the highest level requires talented student-athletes, great leaders, loyal fans, a lot of luck, and the kind of facility that can give a team a definitive home court/field advantage.
Our 2013-14 performance in both men’s and women’s basketball is proof positive that we are headed in the right direction.
Every team begins with our incredible student-athletes who work extremely hard to put themselves in position to be successful in academics, athletics and life. Recruiting is a multi-faceted, inexact process in all sports, but particularly in basketball, where limited numbers accentuate the importance of each individual. As the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Tournaments played out, it is clear how critical talent is to success, particularly at the Elite Eight, Final Four and Championship Game levels. Talent is a must, but it still takes teamwork and solid game plans to give you the best opportunity to win. Teamwork transcends talent. Teams that have found successful ways to play, attack and respond to adversity together, are usually the ones who win more consistently. Both of our basketball programs accomplished that this season.
The women’s team had a very successful season culminating in the program’s first conference tournament title and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Although we lose Jordan Hooper to graduation, one of the best, if not the best player in Nebraska program history, four starters return next year, and our coaches believe that our 2014 recruiting class may be the best in school history.
Our men’s team will return all five starters and more than 80 percent of our offensive production from a fourth-place finish in the 2014 final Big Ten standings. It was also good to see our conference peers Wisconsin qualify for the Final Four and Michigan and Michigan State reach the Elite Eight. We were competitive with the league’s best, beating Wisconsin in Lincoln and Michigan State on the road. Our only home loss was 71-70 against Michigan. The future is bright indeed.
We are very fortunate to have two of the best coaches in the country welcoming back nine of the 10 starters in 2014-15. Connie Yori swept five National Coach of the Year awards in 2010, has led her teams to eight NCAA appearances and this year won her second consecutive Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year honor.
It was equally rewarding to see fellow conference head coaches vote Tim Miles the 2014 Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year. Additionally, he was recently named the 2014 Jim Phelan Award as the National Coach of the Year winner at the CollegeInsider.com Awards Banquet in Dallas. Coach Miles was chosen for the honor from a stellar group of 15 finalists. Few would dispute how deserving that honor is after Coach Miles brought his team back from a 1-5 start in the Big Ten to become a No. 4 seed in the conference tournament and go on to receive a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Miles and Coach Yori share many positive qualities. They have a strong vision for all aspects of the game – from recruiting to teaching, to competing, to winning. Both believe in fundamentals and both are great leaders who have a plan for success, including recruiting women and men of great character.
In addition to the coaches and their staffs, we simply cannot adequately thank the many others who had a hand in making Season One at PBA so special. The folks in our Athletic Ticket Office, Development Office, Marketing, Event Staff, Spirit Squads, HuskerVision, Media Relations, Big Red Express Pep Band and PBA staff began their efforts long before construction was complete and went the extra mile to make the fan experience the best it could possibly be. Working together, our goal was to put a premium on the fan experience and find creative ways to make each game an event in and of itself. Thank you to everyone who welcomed, served and thanked our fans. You cannot manufacture an atmosphere like the one I witnessed this season without a great deal of thought and hard work. High praise also came from the opposing players and coaches who called Pinnacle Bank Arena the best basketball atmosphere they’ve ever experienced. Thank you to all who helped make it happen.
The University of Nebraska, the city of Lincoln and the state of Nebraska all stepped up as we sold 3,700-plus season tickets for women’s games and sold out of our 2013-14 men’s season tickets six months before the season opener. The feat showed how much Nebraskans embrace basketball. We all will remember the historic day when more than 9,700 watched Coach Yori’s team beat UCLA in a Friday noon game and then more than 15,000 watched Coach Miles’ team win its season opener later that evening. The crowds inspired the players and the stage was set for the rest of the inaugural season at PBA and beyond.
Our expanded fan base is a testament to all of you and enabled both programs to rank nationally in attendance. Our women finished 11th nationally with an average attendance of 6,161 fans for 18 home games, while our men finished 13th nationally with an average attendance of 15,419 for their 16 home games. The Big Ten Conference, the oldest collegiate conference in America, led the nation for a 38th consecutive year in basketball attendance.
At Nebraska, attendance is viewed as an annual milestone, especially after we increased our capacity over the past year in football, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. In fact, our combined attendance for those four programs in 2013-14 was 1,240,384 – the highest combined total for any school in the nation. Nebraska is also the only school in the country in 2013-14 to rank in the top 15 in average attendance in football, volleyball, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.
That’s why we were not surprised when attendance was announced at 9,585 for the NCAA Women’s Lincoln Regional Semifinals games. We were second in attendance among all four NCAA Women’s Regional sites, despite not having a “local” team in the competition. I thank all fans who supported the Huskers this year and showed their support even though their favorite team was not participating. There is no doubt that our commitment to the Lincoln Regional will influence future opportunities for Nebraska to host NCAA sub-regional and regional events. The number of tickets we presold was impressive, and making sure those tickets were used was just as remarkable.
We are proud that our men’s and women’s basketball teams are anchor tenants at Pinnacle Bank Arena in the Haymarket. Our joint public venture with the city of Lincoln has proved to be beneficial for the city, university and state.
We heard positive remarks from local, regional and national commentators this winter regarding how impressed they were with PBA, the Haymarket and most importantly, the positive energy and atmosphere surrounding our women’s and men’s basketball programs. Completing the first season with a combined home record of 31 wins in 34 games is exceptional and we are already working and looking forward to Season Two.
Until next time, stay positive and Go Big Red!
Director of Athletics
This year marks the 100th anniversary and celebration of the Big Ten Medal of Honor. The nation's oldest intercollegiate athletic conference considers the Medal of Honor the most exclusive award in collegiate athletics in its recognition of combined academic and athletic success that goes well beyond sports. The Medal of Honor is awarded to one male and one female student-athlete of each member institution each year, and Nebraska has had four such honorees in our first two years in the conference. Husker track and field student-athletes Tyler Hitchler and Ashley Miller received Big Ten Medals of Honor in 2012. Bjorn Barrefors (track and field) and Mary Weatherholt (tennis) earned 2013 Medal of Honor awards and are among more than 1,300 student-athletes who have received that prestigious award. The Big Ten is launching a 100-day campaign to help announce this year's honorees and to celebrate prominent winners from the past 99 years. The integrated effort between the Big Ten and member institutions extends through June 18 and includes profiling notable winners and stories each day on social channels and the conference website. Big Ten on-campus celebrations feature past award recipients, recognition ceremonies and promotion of the award campus-wide. To learn more about the Big Ten Medal of Honor, visit bigten.org.
The Big Ten Conference recognized a total of 678 winter sports student-athletes who have been named to Academic All-Conference teams, and the list includes Michaela Cunningham, one of the Big Ten's nine student-athletes who maintained unblemished grade-point-averages. A National Merit Scholarship Finalist and a sophomore from Severna Park, Md., Cunningham is majoring in biological sciences and mathematics with a minor in psychology. The list of honored Big Ten student-athletes features 34 men's and 49 women's basketball players, 51 men's and 52 women's gymnasts, 183 women's swimmers and divers and 97 wrestlers and 54 Husker student-athletes. Click here to read more about Nebraska’s honorees.
Congratulations to Nebraska Coach Dan Kendig and Husker assistants Heather Brink and Dan Miller, and to our current seventh-ranked women's gymnastics team for clinching a share of the regular-season Big Ten Women's Gymnastics Championship. It was a great team effort in winning a quadrangular over Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State to finish with a 6-1 record and tie with Minnesota for the regular-season championship. The Huskers earned the No. 2 seed in the Seattle Regional, where they finished second behind Alabama to become one of 12 team qualifiers for the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships in Birmingham, Ala., during Easter weekend.
The 2013-14 President of Nebraska’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Sunny Russell, has been selected as a Leadership Development Intern for the NCAA in Indianapolis. A senior from Stratford, Texas, Sunny is a member of the Huskers’ Rifle Team. In her internship, Sunny will lead various projects, assist in programming and education and provide overall resources and support to the NCAA national office, member institutions, conference offices, and student-athletes across the country this summer. SAAC leaders develop and display leadership and integrity to promote student-athlete welfare. A multiple Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and Academic All-Big Ten selection, Russell is majoring in child, youth and family studies.
Nebraska Life Skills hosted the annual Medical School/Pre-Health Career Night on March 11th in the Devaney Era Club of West Stadium. The event was open to all students and student-athletes interested in pursuing health-related careers. Among attendees (and pictured above, from left, were: former Husker football student-athlete Dr. Jeff Hill, Dean of UNMC Admissions, along with Husker football players Johnny Stanton, center, and Tyler Evans, right). Also attending were Explore Center Pre-Health Advisor Jaci Gustafson; Dr. Curt Kuster, past Assistant Dean of UNL College of Dentistry; and first-year UNMC Medical Student Brett Grieb, a former Husker cross country and track and field student-athlete. Students received insights about the application process, test preparation, importance of shadowing and leadership, along with the opportunity to personally network with the panelists. The night was another valuable illustration of campus collaboration, bringing academics and athletics together for a lifetime benefit.
Anna Filipcic, a freshman from Omaha Burke High School, became the first Nebraska diver in nine years to qualify for the NCAA Diving Championships, where she finished 22nd in both one-meter and three-meter diving competition in Minneapolis, Minn. The last Husker diver to compete in the NCAAs was Canadian native Amie Buoy. Natasha Chikina, a two-time Olympic diver from Kazakhstan, coached Filipcic, who earned her NCAA appearance through a zone qualifying meet where she defeated the 2014 Big Ten champion.
The Nebraska economy is expected to grow steadily in 2014, with the pace of growth accelerating later in the year. UNL economist Eric Thompson, also the director of the Bureau of Business Research, told UNL communications that the leading economic indicator for Nebraska is produced each month by faculty and students in UNL's Department of Economics. Six components – single-family building permits, airline passenger counts, initial unemployment claims, hours in manufacturing, the value of the U.S. dollar and business expectations – are included in the monthly reporting to the Survey of Nebraska Business. The indicator is designed to predict economic growth six months into the future. Thompson and his staff are a year into compiling Nebraska Athletics second Economic Impact Report.
Terran Pettewey Earns First-Team All-Conference Honors
Congratulations to sophomore guard/forward Shavon Shields, a catalyst on Nebraska’s NCAA Tournament-qualifying basketball team, and microbiology major with a 3.77 grade-point-average. Shavon is one of 16 finalists for the 2014 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award, presented by Diverse: Issues in High Education magazine. The finalists were selected from more than 600 outstanding minority student-athletes nominated by their respective institutions. Shields is the only Big Ten Conference student-athlete among the 16 finalists. In 1992, Black Issues in Higher Education, now Diverse magazine, established the Sports Scholars Awards to honor undergraduate students of color who exemplify the standards set by tennis great Arthur Ashe Jr. In addition to their athletic ability, Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholars must maintain academic excellence and exhibit active community service. Past award recipients include former Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, who led the Seattle Seahawks to the 2014 Super Bowl Championship. Congratulations also to Terran Pettewey, who earned 2014 first-team All-Big Ten Conference status in March. Terran is the first Husker since 1998 to achieve that distinction and the second Nebraska men’s player to make first-team all-conference in the last 15 years.
Rachel Theriot Honorable-Mention Selection
Congratulations to senior Jordan Hooper, who claimed a first-team All-America Award from the National Women’s College Basketball Coaches Association last weekend. Jordan also earned second-team All-America honors from the Associated Press. Congratulations also to sophomore Rachel Theriot, who added honorable-mention All-America accolades for the Huskers. Jordan earned the 2014 Big Ten Conference Player of the Year honor after ranking second on Nebraska’s career scoring and rebounding charts. She is also a finalist for both the Wooden Award and Wade Trophy national player of the year honor and is headed to the NCAA Final Four for both women and men. She made the simfinals of the State Farm College 3-Point Championships Thursday night in Dallas and flew to Nashville on Friday to attend the NCAA Women’s Final Four festivities. We are all proud of Jordan for the national impact she has had and for the character and class she has shown throughout her collegiate career.
Congratulations to 13 more Husker student-athletes who have recently earned All-America recognition. Six competed in track and field and five were first-team All-Americans, including Levi Gipson, Ricco Hall, Patrick Raedler, Cody Rush, and Drew Wiseman. Oladapo Akinmoladun was a second-team honoree. Three competed in rifle, including first-team All-Americans Denise Martin and Lauren Phillips and second-team All-American Rachel Martin. Two competed in women’s gymnastics, including first-team All-American Emily Wong and second-team All-American Jessie DeZiel. Two also competed in wrestling with James Green and Robert Kokesh both earning first-team honors. Congrats to each of these outstanding individuals for their superior accomplishments.