Last month, I had the honor of traveling with our softball team to the Women’s College World Series (WCWS) in Oklahoma City. It was a trip I will never forget. Our young team competed and represented this great university with class throughout the Series, on and off the diamond. It was a memorable trip for all of us, and not just for our play.
Our team saw first-hand the destruction of tornados which had devastated parts of Oklahoma just days before our arrival. There were lives lost, homes destroyed and communities torn apart, but it was amazing to see the manner in which the people of Oklahoma and surrounding states came together to help one another. It certainly put our purpose in Oklahoma City into perspective. If any other team could win the National Championship besides Nebraska, we would want it to be our good friends from Oklahoma—and they did just that. As it turns out, we were one of only four teams to defeat the national champions this season.
After we lost our first game to Washington by one run in eight innings, we had an eventful “off-day” on Friday. In the morning, the team and I separately visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial, honoring the 168 victims of the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. It is an awe-inspiring site. There are 168 empty chairs representing each victim, including 19 small chairs in honor of the children killed that sad day. A reminder of the fragility of life and hope for the future.
In the afternoon, I watched our team’s batting practice at a small, local facility. While watching her teammates take cuts at the plate, freshman pitcher Emily Lockman from Corona, California, shared with me that when she was younger, she played in a national softball tournament in the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium facility. She had her picture taken on the mound and prophetically told her parents that she would one day return to this stadium to pitch in the College World Series. Emily has always been very goal oriented and committed early to Nebraska. There she was, wearing the Husker uniform on the field in Oklahoma City, fulfilling her childhood dream.
Later that evening, Mother Nature would bring many of the teams together. While still recovering from tornadoes earlier the week, Oklahoma experienced another wave of tornadoes and this time, we were in the middle of the storms. Our team and coaches huddled together for 45 minutes in the Sheraton Hotel hallway and in the underground parking garage tunnel that leads to the Cox Convention Center, as we waited for the tornado sirens to end. Coaches and players from the Universities of Michigan, Washington, Florida, Tennessee and Texas were also safely sheltered with our team.
Yet on Saturday, despite an emotional previous day, it was back to business against No. 2 Florida. There were many anxious and celebratory moments during the 15-inning elimination game, such as freshman Alicia Armstrong’s two-out RBI single to give us a 2-0 lead; freshman Hailey Decker’s towering home run to cut Florida’s lead to 6-3; Taylor Edwards' leadoff home run in the bottom of the 10th to tie the game; and when Taylor’s twin sister, Tatum, re-entered the game to pitch the final five innings after starting and pitching the first 4 1/3 innings. Both dugouts were exhausted when the game finally ended after five hours and 20 minutes. And while both teams performed brilliantly, only one team could advance, and this year that team was Florida. Nebraska proved it could compete against the very best. We began the season unranked and finished No. 8 and I am confident that softball can achieve this high level of success again.
Along with all Nebraskans, I am optimistic for next year with the return of 12 of 16 players, including seven freshmen. Junior second-team All-America pitcher Tatum Edwards, freshman All-Region pitcher Emily Lockman and five All-Conference hitters return for next year. Our team is in the capable hands of Head Coach Rhonda Revelle, Associate Head Coach Lori Sippel, Assistant Coach Diane Miller and Softball Director of Operations Katie Brown, who were recently named the National Fastpitch Coaches Association 2013 Midwest Region Coaching Staff of the Year. Congratulations to Coach Revelle for eclipsing 800 career victories and becoming our all-time wins leader across all sports. We look forward to following you to the WCWS again soon.
There was also great pride and optimism inside when I watched our Husker baseball team compete against CWS participant Indiana for the Big Ten Tournament Title. Darin Erstad, Will Bolt, Ted Silva, Jeff Christy, Brad Smith and Curtis Ledbetter have done an excellent job of bringing the Huskers back to a championship-contending level. Darin is a leader for young men on and off of the field and he is also committed to our community. Recently, my wife, Kristin, and I enjoyed attending a Boys & Girls Club event with Darin and his wife, Jessica. I salute Darin and all our coaches and student-athletes who serve their communities, including our football players who followed Coach Bo Pelini’s lead to assist with a road race to raise awareness for pediatric brain cancer.
It was a great pleasure for me to have Donde Plowman, the James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean of the UNL College of Business Administration (CBA), on my June radio show. Donde joined UNL the same year that Nebraska committed to become a member of the Big Ten Conference and has spearheaded the new $84 million CBA building project. Two Husker student-athletes who are in the CBA program also joined us for interviews, including offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles and infielder Mattie Fowler. Mattie is a junior Finance major from Phoenix while Jeremiah graduated in May with a degree in Management. Both are excellent examples of Husker student-athletes doing great things in academics, athletics and life.
One of our state’s best servants, Coach Osborne, is ready to devote his time to the TeamMates Program, which he and his wife Nancy founded in 1991. Their goal is to increase the number of mentors by 3,500 in three years in order to provide 10,000 mentors to young children across the state. Thank you, Coach, for enabling our transition to be so smooth and for your wisdom, leadership and counsel. We hope to see you often and wish you the very best.
Welcome aboard to men’s basketball assistant coach Kenya Hunter who joins our staff after spending six seasons as the top assistant coach for Coach John Thompson III at Georgetown.
Until next time, stay positive and Go Huskers!
Coach John Melton Dies at Age 86
It was a privilege to attend the celebration of life for former Husker Assistant Football Coach John Melton. Coach Melton was the last living member of Coach Bob Devaney’s original staff that moved with Bob from Wyoming to Nebraska. I enjoyed hearing the heartfelt stories and witnessed the respect given to Coach Melton by dozens of former players who attended the service on June 13, including one of my close mentors Barry Alvarez, who I shared dinner with the night before the service. Coach Alvarez was one of the first players recruited to Nebraska by Coach Melton.
Nebraska Pushes Nation-Leading Academic All-America Total to 307
With the addition of five more honor winners this semester, and three previously announced honorees last semester, we are proud to increase our nation-leading total of Academic All-Americans to 307. Wrestler Josh Ihnen and six-time track and field All-American/2013 Male Student-Athlete of the Year Bjorn Barrefors (pictured at right) each captured First-Team Academic All-America honors. Women's gymnast Emily Wong and track and field standouts Mara Griva and Morgan Wilken were Second-Team picks as named by the Capital One College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Josh, an All-America Finance major from Sheldon, Iowa, became our 70th two-time Academic All-American across all sports while Bjorn has the distinguished honor of becoming Nebraska’s first-ever four-time Academic All-American. Josh earned his Bachelor's Degree in December of 2011 while Bjorn graduated this spring with a degree in Computer Science and minors in Mathematics and Physics. Bjorn also has earned an NCAA postgraduate scholarship and plans to continue his graduate studies here at UNL. Congratulations to each of our eight 2012-13 CoSIDA Academic All-Americans.
Bjorn Barrefors (Track and Field), Sr., First Team, Graduate, Computer Science
Rex Burkhead (Football), Sr., First Team, Graduate, History
Sean Fisher (Football), Sr., Second Team, Graduate, Business Administration, Pre-Med
Mara Griva (Track and Field), Sr., Second Team, Business Administration
Josh Ihnen (Wrestling), Sr., First Team, Graduate, Finance
Gina Mancuso (Volleyball), Sr., First Team, Marketing
Morgan Wilken (Track and Field), Sr., Second Team, Mathematics/Mathematics Education
Emily Wong (Women's Gymnastics), Jr., Second Team, Nutrition Science
Big Ten Honors Mary Weatherholt and Bjorn Barrefors
After outstanding senior seasons, Mary Weatherholt and Bjorn Barrefors were honored by the Big Ten Conference as 2013 Medal of Honor winners, two of the 24 student-athletes honored across 18 sports. The conference’s most prestigious award, the Big Ten Medal of Honor, was first awarded in 1915 to one student-athlete from the graduating class of each university who had “attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work.” Five 2013 Medal of Honor winners, including Mary, were also named Big Ten Sportsmanship Award honorees in their respective sports during the academic year. Mary and Bjorn hold the distinction of guiding the Huskers to conference championships. Congratulations Mary and Bjorn.
Buried Time Capsules Represent 50 Years of Sellouts
It was a historic moment when we buried 200 time capsules at the East Stadium Gate 20 entrance on June 13. The commemorative time capsules represent 50 years of Nebraska football sellouts and will remain there for another 50 years. Our family had the privilege to fill a capsule with a few items and personal notes, which I hope that my sons will get to read when the vaults are opened in 2062--the year Nebraska is scheduled to celebrate its 100th consecutive year of football home-game sellouts.
Shawn Eichorst Covers the Bases in HSN Interview
Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst describes his experience watching the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City as a “five-hour commercial for Husker Athletics” on national TV. He talks about Nebraska playing in the best-attended game in CWS history and gives his take on Husker baseball and basketball, including the recent hiring of Kenya Hunter.
This radio segment features Donde Plowman, Dean of UNL’s College of Business Administration. Plowman shares her excitement about the $84 million CBA building that is attracting students from Big Ten states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois.
Eichorst calls the CBA’s vision a potential “game changer” in terms of recruiting “the best and the brightest” students and discusses a variety of topics with Husker Sports Network host Jeff Culhane. Eichorst explains college football scheduling, discusses the success of Nebraska’s track and field program and the highly productive year for Husker women’s athletic programs overall.
Nebraska offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles and Husker softball infielder Mattie Fowler are two Husker student-athletes with majors in the College of Business Administration. Sirles talks about time management and his hope to return to UNL for his MBA someday, and Fowler discusses the many things that set Nebraska apart, including the oil paintings of Nebraska’s 307 Academic All-Americans that line the wall in the Student Life Complex.
Shawn’s next radio show will be live from Valentine, Nebraska, at Jordan’s Fine Dining on Monday, July 8 as part of the annual Sports Nightly Summer Road Show. Head Baseball Coach Darin Erstad will also be a part of the show on Monday hosted by Jeff Culhane. On Tuesday Sports Nightly is live from Johnson Lake, Wednesday the crew is at McCook, Thursday at Hastings and Friday Sports Nightly will be on live from the Fairbury Country Club.