In 2000, Heather Brink (middle) won the NCAA All-Around title. Fifteen years later, she's Nebraska's associate head coach.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Husker Women’s Gymnastics on the Brink of Greatness

By NU Athletic Communications

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Heather (Brink) Rennerfeldt (1997-2000) will be enshrined Friday night into the University of Nebraska Student-Athlete Hall of Fame. One of seven Huskers in the 2016 Hall of Fame class, the Lincoln native is uniquely positioned to transform Nebraska women’s gymnastics from a perennial NCAA Super Six qualifier to compete for a national championship sometime in the near future instead of later.

The 2000 NCAA all-around champion and Honda Award winner as the nation’s top gymnast, Brink is the one putting the pressure on her alma mater. As associate head coach and recruiting coordinator to longtime head coach Dan Kendig, Heather believes the Huskers really are on the brink of greatness, pun fully intended.

“When I think of Nebraska Gymnastics, I think of family, hard work and success,” Brink said. “Traditionally, our athletes have been a part of this awesome program. We have academic and athletic goals and recruit people that value good characteristic traits.

“I think the opportunities for this program are endless,” Brink said, “and there’s no time like now for this team to reach new heights. Up until the last couple years, historically the NCAA Championship has been won by only five teams. There has been a constant push for new teams to break into that bracket, and I full-heartedly believe that Nebraska Gymnastics can do that.”

If You Can Imagine It, You Can Achieve It; If You Dream It, You Can Become It

Brink is one of those competitors who believes if you can imagine it, you can achieve it, and if you dream it, you can become it. At least that’s how she reached meteoric heights as the NCAA vault and national all-around champion while leading Nebraska to a fourth-place national finish, one of only two Husker teams to finish that high.  

Kendig is not surprised to hear Brink dream the impossible, seek the unknown and achieve greatness in the process. If anyone knows the fire that burns inside Heather Brink, Kendig does. He’s consistently elevated her status on staff and sees her as a coach who always makes the Husker student-athletes do what they’re supposed to do, so they can be what they’ve always wanted to be.

The simplicity is measured in Brink’s ability to recruit talent and demand the best in practice to develop strength, power and confidence.

The timing for a Nebraska surge in national competition is now, and Brink believes Husker fans can play a pivotal role.

“Off the competition floor and coming off the hugely successful Olympics for our women’s gymnastics team, my hope is that the fan base will continue to reach new heights,” Brink said. “There truly is no place like Nebraska and no fans like our fans. Just like any other sport, fans can be the difference maker. They can provide the energy to propel these student-athletes to success on the competition floor and create an atmosphere that can be unmatched.”

Kendig on Brink: Goal-Driven, Loves Nebraska and Grew Up in Lincoln 

Kendig believes strongly that success is part of Brink’s makeup. “That's the way she was as an athlete. She's goal-driven,” he said. “She loves where she's at here at Nebraska. This is her home. She grew up in Lincoln. She went away for a little bit and trained in Oklahoma and then came back for school. She did a great job and had a great career here.

“What a terrific honor that is for Heather and our program to be inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Kendig said. “She's our associate head coach because she has that passion. That same goal-driven gymnast is doing the same thing as a coach, and she wants to win. She wants to do it the right way, and I don't think I could have a better assistant coach. She’s very passionate about Nebraska and about Lincoln. Who could recruit to that environment better than Heather?"

Kendig has always noticed that when Heather Brink speaks, people listen. "She could be hard in the sense that she expects a lot,” Kendig said. “Whenever everybody realizes why she’s so passionate and expects so much, they realize that’s what she does, so they just jump on board and do the same thing.

“It's been great. She's a really good coach, and I think her goal is to keep getting better and better,” Kendig said. “She doesn't think that she's there. She's still like a sponge, and she picks up anything and everything she can to make her and the team better. She’s been great to work with. She was a good one to coach and she was, by far, my all-time best captain ever. She handled that role extremely well.”

Heather Brink isn’t afraid to tell the team what it needs to hear. “She explains what we need to do because she walked the walk. She didn't just talk it, she walked it,” Kendig said. “She worked hard and did the things that were necessary to be a good athlete, and if she was going to be a good athlete, she wanted her teammates to do the same."

Kendig Recruited Brink, Coached Her, Then Hired Her on Husker Staff

Kendig’s rave reviews about his associate head coach transitions into a predictable punchline. "I think Heather’s going to be an exceptional head coach someday, maybe when I'm ready to be done,” Kendig said.

From 1997 to 2000, Brink helped the Huskers win three Big 12 Conference titles and three NCAA Super Six appearances. She was a two-time individual national champion, an 11-time All-American and an eight-time Big 12 champion. As a senior, she was named the Big 12 Gymnast of the Year, becoming the first Husker to receive that honor. Brink also was the first Husker to win a national all-around title and the first Husker gymnast to score a perfect 10.00 on any event, recording three perfect scores on vault.

Despite having all the credentials to receive Hall of Fame stature, the honor hasn’t fully soaked in. “To be a part of such a hugely successful class of Hall of Fame Inductees is an undeniable honor,” Brink said. “To even be classified within the same sentence that such powerful names and individuals is still very surreal because they’ve achieved so much greatness in their sport.

“I never dreamed of reaching such success or receiving such a huge honor,” Brink said. “I was just a young woman who had the opportunity to participate in collegiate gymnastics at the University of Nebraska. I learned to love the sport and ultimately was able to reach such heights because of the staff, my family and all those who invested their time and effort into my career. For that, I am forever grateful.”

Alumni Who Inspired Brink: Francis Allen, Peggy Liddick, Steve Elliott

Having grown up in Lincoln and beginning her gymnastics career under fellow Husker alumni, such as Francis Allen, Peggy Liddick and Steve Elliott, “I knew from a very young age that there is no place like Nebraska,” Brink said. “I idolized the Husker athletes and was fortunate enough to be able to attend many different sporting events, including volleyball and men’s and women’s gymnastics.

“I have so many fond memories that center round Husker Athletics,” Brink said. “I can remember practicing in Mabel Lee Hall during football games and as we listened to the game on the radio, every time Nebraska scored, we would run outside and do a backflip.”

Brink also remembers performing “exhibitions” during halftime of Nebraska basketball games. She also fondly remembers NCAA rules that were different at that time, allowing gymnasts to connect to host families. She also helped her mom serve on the Booster Club for Nebraska Gymnastics. 

“When I decided to attend the University of Nebraska as an athlete, I truly remembered those athletes and dreamed of growing up to be them one day, but had no idea that I would have the success that I did,” Brink said.

“Had it truly not been for those gymnasts that came before me, establishing the traditions and the legacy that is Nebraska Gymnastics, I could not have achieved what I did,” Brink said. “My teammates continually believed in me and supported me through the whole collegiate experience, I may have never had the dream or may have never known how special it is to represent the University of Nebraska, the state of Nebraska and the people and community that built it.  Something so much bigger than myself was something I truly treasure!”

Nebraska’s Combined Academic and Athletic Culture Strengthened Everyone

The University of Nebraska has long had high standards of academic and athletic success when Brink (pictured above with her family) was an athlete. “Many gymnasts before me had attained Academic All-American and/or Athletic All-American status,” she pointed out. “The legacy and structure was already there.

“What’s so special about Nebraska is the people and the staff at the University of Nebraska truly care for people and want them to succeed,” she said. “They surround you like family, celebrating each individual, and will do and provide many tools and resources for you to achieve your academic and athletic goals.  Realizing the importance of individuals working together as a team, they teach and support you in becoming a better version in yourself.

“I truly treasure so many people along the way that believed in me before I even believed in myself,” Brink said. “They gave me that strength in my academics and in gymnastics and that’s what propelled me during challenging times and allowed me to enjoy the successful times.”

Going through that daily grind and helping others follow in her footsteps gives an associate head coach the tools and tenacity to lead a program that’s been a big part of her life since she graduated from high school. “She'll be a better head coach at the University of Nebraska than maybe anywhere else in the country,” Kendig said, “simply because of what this place means to her."

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