The nation’s eyes will focus on No. 1 Florida when the Gators visit No. 6 Nebraska Sunday in a women’s gymnastics Pepsi Pack the House double dual meet at the Devaney Center. Having claimed the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class in each of the past three seasons, the Gators are loaded with national team member talent, but let’s be straight here: NU Head Coach Dan Kendig wouldn’t trade Husker freshman all-arounder Jessie DeZiel for any other gymnast in the United States.
Why? “She’s a great kid from a great family,” Kendig said. “She’s a two-time national champion. She has lots of confidence. She loves to compete. She loves Nebraska, and Nebraska loves her.” If you’ve never seen DeZiel or her multi-talented teammates compete, Sunday is an ideal chance. Admission is just $1 with 24-ounce Pepsi products another dollar. DeZiel is the nation's No. 2-ranked all-arounder, so we sat down with her this week. Here are our 10 reflections from that interview:
1) She’s already a world-class talent. A couple of months after celebrating birthday No. 18 last August, she won a gold medal at the Pan-Am Games as a member of Team USA, which beat Canada, Mexico and at least six other countries. DeZiel had the the highest vault score among all Pan Am competitors, and she posted the highest American scores in both the beam and floor exercise.
2) Her rigorous training regimen began at age 7. In Champlin, Minn., DeZiel spent four years in a strength and conditioning program that continued to age 10. “I did it with a lot of friends,” DeZiel said. “Even at that age, we all wanted to get better, so we trained super hard and pushed each other.” That’s why some of them went on to the highest competitive level in gymnastics.
3) Her parents provide a positive influence. DeZiel’s mom, Jean, is a special education teacher at a middle school and her dad, Craig, manages two Walgreens stores in suburban Minneapolis. “My parents have always been supportive and kept me grounded and focused on the right things,” Jessie said. “They’re the ones who advised me to start looking at colleges when I was a sophomore.”
4) Her older sister is an ideal role model. Sister Brittany DeZiel is a year older and competes in gymnastics at Division III Wisconsin-Stout. “We grew up together, and I was always competing with her,” Jessie said. “We would do our stuff together, and she would do what she could to make me better. She was almost like having another coach and was and still is my role model.”
5) Lincoln was love at first sight. “My parents drove me to Lincoln when I was a sophomore for a regional meet, and I’ve liked it ever since,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone when I came here the first time, but everyone was so nice, and it was so much fun. Every time I was in Lincoln, I saw girls on the team who made it feel like this was home.”
6) Nebraska coaches were the major lure. “When I came to Nebraska camps, they were really fun, and I Iearned a lot,” DeZiel said. “Coaching was really important to me. Dan Kendig is the reason I came here. I really like our two new assistant coaches, too (Heather Brink and Dan Miller). They’re good coaches, and they’re good motivators.”
7) She’s a quiet recruiter in her own right. “Our coaches are the main reason why we’re getting another recruit from my club team in Minnesota,” DeZiel said. “I’m glad Hollie Bolanske (from the Twin City Twisters) decided to come here next year. I really like her. We get along really well, and I’m looking forward to having her as a teammate again.”
8) Her academic mindset rules the day. “I love the student-athlete complex, and I spend most of my time there studying. It’s a great place for homework,” DeZiel said. “My parents made sure I put academics ahead of athletics. I got a 3.5 GPA my first semester. I haven’t declared a major yet. My life is kind of school, homework and gymnastics.”
9) Jessie’s downtime is movie time. Even though her days are packed with classes, homework and practices and her nights include more homework, DeZiel tries to create some time to chill. “Mostly, I just go over to some teammates’ house,” she said. “We just hang out and watch movies. It helps you relax and gets you away from the grind.”
10) Primetime: Jessie’s time to shine. DeZiel is so dialed in that some of her own teammates misconstrue her mindset. “It’s hard for me to get out of it (her concentration zone),” she said. “I’d like to cheer teammates on more and wave to people I know, but when you do, you lose focus. I’ve been this way (highly focused) since I was little.”
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