By Randy York, The N-Sider
Dan Kendig has spent 24 years at the helm of Nebraska women’s gymnastics, long enough to know that the Huskers’ first NCAA Regional Championship in 12 years in Lincoln is one B1G Darn Deal Saturday night.
That’s why Kendig – who has been a two-time NCAA Coach of the Year (1999, 2003) – invites Big Red fans to be part of a different kind of March Madness, beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday inside the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
“We are not traveling, and we are at home,” Kendig said. “It’s our sport’s version of madness because this is the first time this season where it is one and done. This is it. We compete and we do well, we move on to the NCAA Championships in St. Louis. If we don’t, it’s March Sadness.”
The 14th-ranked Huskers, who shared a 2017 Big Ten Conference Championship earlier this month with Michigan, is locked, loaded and ready to host five other programs – LSU (No. 2 national ranking), Boise State (No. 11), Arizona (No. 25), Iowa State and Minnesota.
Despite the pressure, “we are approaching the opportunity very positively,” Kendig said. “If we perform what we do and have to do, we don’t worry about all of the other things. If we do what we can do and what we expect to do, we should be fine.”
The Huskers had three first-team All-Big Ten Conference selections and three second-team all-conference honorees. But the NCAA Regional is “all about team,” Kendig said. “We need all 24 routines from the whole team to stay on the same page and move in the right direction."
‘We Want to Come Together and Do What We’ve Been Doing All Year Long’
“The team is never more important than it is now,” Kendig said. “We want to come together as a team and do what we’ve been doing all year long. We thrive on team. We do not need heroes.”
The Huskers, however, want enthusiastic support at a pivotal time. “Fans can have an impact on who moves on, especially at Nebraska,” Kendig said. “I’ve always said the bigger the crowd, the better Nebraska competes at home. We really want to reach out and let the community show how important we are and they are.
“Husker fans directly and positively impact what we can do this weekend. We need them,” Kendig said. “We need them to bring their families, bring their friends and bring their neighbors. This is a fun event with great competition. We are excited to host this less than a year after the Olympics. What fans will see is unbelievable.
The Saturday, April 1, NCAA Regional begins at 4 p.m. (CT) at the Devaney Center. Reserved B-level seats are $9, and adult general admission C-level seats are $7. General admission C-level seats are $5 and available for youth (high school and younger), seniors (age 60+), and University of Nebraska-Lincoln students. The first 100 UNL students will receive free admission. Children under the age of 2 (23 months and younger) are also free.
Here is an important backdrop that chronicles Nebraska’s 2017 conference title season that has positioned the Huskers to reach the NCAA Super Six Finals for a 12th time under Kendig:
Nebraska won a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship for the second time since joining the conference before the 2012 season with an 8-1 record. The eight conference wins in the regular season were the most since joining the Big Ten.
Second-team All-Big Ten Husker honorees include: (from left) Danielle Breen, Sienna Crouse and Megan Schweihofer.
Houchin Set Nebraska Freshman Record, Matched Wong’s All-Around Score
Taylor Houchin set a Nebraska freshman record with a 39.650 in the all-around at the Masters Classic. The score bested the previous Nebraska freshman record that stood for over 16 years, a 39.625 by Alecia Ingram on Jan. 28, 2001. The score was the highest all-around score for Nebraska since Emily Wong scored a 39.650 on March 1, 2014.
The Huskers tied for the fifth-highest floor exercise in program history with a 49.550 at the GymQuarters Invitational in St. Charles, Mo., on Feb. 17.
Houchin, Jennie Laeng and Ashley Lambert were named first-team All-Big Ten, while Danielle Breen, Sienna Crouse and Megan Schweihofer received second-team honors. The six total honorees tied with Michigan for the most in the Big Ten this season. It was the most all-conference members since the Huskers had seven All-Big 12 honorees in 2007. Nebraska's three second-team members this season tied with Iowa for the most in the conference and gave NU its most honorees since joining the Big Ten in 2012.
Houchin Follows DeZiel's Footsteps, Earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year
Houchin (above) was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, NU’s second Big Ten Freshman of the Year since joining the conference. She follows in the footsteps of Jessie DeZiel in 2012.
The Huskers also placed three on the Big Ten All-Championships Team. Houchin and Crouse tied for third on vault with scores of 9.875, and Laeng tied for second with a score of 9.90
Houchin (Feb. 27) and Laeng (March 13) were selected Big Ten Gymnast of the Week in 2017. Lambert (Feb. 6 and Feb. 13) also was chosen as the Big Ten Event Specialist of the Week, while Houchin (Jan. 16, Feb. 6 and Feb. 27) earned Big Ten Freshman-of-the-Week honors.
The Huskers currently rank 14th in the nation with a Regional Qualifying Score of 196.725. The latest Road to Nationals Rankings has Nebraska in the top-15 in the nation on vault, bars and floor. The Huskers rank ninth on bars with an RQS of 49.295, 11th on floor with an RQS of 49.300 and 13th on vault with an RQS of 49.185.
The 2017 Women’s NCAA Regional Championship in Lincoln will be streamed live on Huskers.com at 4 p.m. Saturday.
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