Photo by Isabel Thalken/Nebraska Communications

Healthy Orel, Huskers Ready for NCAAs

By Brian Rosenthal

While gymnastics and cheerleading sometimes can go hand-in-hand, Catelyn Orel would rather not embrace the latter role.

Yet, the redshirted Nebraska sophomore had no choice as her teammates prepared for the postseason this time a year ago.

“I was the biggest cheerleader ever,” Orel said with a big laugh.

As in, Orel provided positive, moral support on the side, trying to keep her teammates light and relaxed. No jumps. No tumbling.

It’s the most she could do while recovering from a torn Achilles she’d suffered in a preseason practice.

“It kind of sucks,” Orel said bluntly. “I’m not going to lie.”

Orel, a native of Blue Springs, Missouri, had been enjoying a strong preseason. Everything, she felt, was coming together nicely. That is, until she was working on her floor tumbling passes one day.

“I punched the ground, and it felt like I punched on something metal in the ground,” Orel said, “and all of the sudden my foot was just kind of hanging there.”

This, she thought, couldn’t be good.

It wasn’t. Orel would have to miss the entire season.

“That’s something no athlete wants to hear, ever,” Orel said, “because we love to compete.”

Earlier this week, when Nebraska coach Dan Kendig asked his gymnasts who’d they be competing for this postseason, Orel had an answer.

“I kind of thought about it,” she said, “and I thought this is for me, but for me last year. I wanted to be out there so bad.”

Now, Orel is, healthy and competing on floor exercise as Nebraska participates in the semifinals of the NCAA Championships on Friday at noon in St. Louis.

Joining the Huskers in Semifinal I are LSU, Utah, Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama, with Washington, Oklahoma, Utah, California, Florida and Kentucky competing in Semifinal II.

The top three teams from each session advance to Saturday’s Super Six Finals, a spot the Huskers have missed the last two years.

Nebraska is coming off its best outing of the year at the Raleigh Regional, scoring a 197.525, its best score since the 2013 Big Ten Championships. Orel helped the Huskers earn a second-place finish when she scored a 9.85 on floor. 

Known for her expressive and energetic floor performances, Orel posted a career-high on floor, 9.900, in the Big Five meet on March 17. She has also competed on uneven bars, with a season-high score of 9.825 at the Masters Classic on March 4.

“I’m honestly just excited,” Orel said. “I didn’t get this opportunity last year, so I’m kind of giddy, almost. We’re in such a great place as a team mentally right now, and the energy has been really good and practice has been going really well.”

Orel has a tattoo of a small cross on her left ankle as a reminder of how she persevered through her injury to return to this point.

“Just throughout that whole process last year, my faith grew a lot,” she said. “I realized there’s more to me than just gymnastics, and I’m not defined by my gymnastics, either.”

Orel has been competing in gymnastics since she was 3 years old.

“It’s been a part of my life since the beginning,” she said. “It’s made me into the person I am today, because of all the hours and all the intense discipline. It’s made me very organized, very disciplined, but also the pure joy of doing the sport and getting better every single day.”

Orel will reunite in St. Louis with many of her former club teammates from Great American Gymnastics Express in Blue Springs, Missouri. Not only will the current club members attend, but the club will have former gymnasts represented by six of the participating schools.

If Nebraska advances to the Super Six, the team’s next goal will be to finish among the top three teams, which would set a school record. The Huskers’ highest finish ever at the NCAA Championships is fourth.

“I think we’re ready to kind of prove some people wrong, almost, and show them what we’re capable of,” Orel said.

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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