First-Time Fans Give NU Women Gymnasts a 10

By NU Athletic Communications
Makenzie Johnson, 7, from Omaha, saw her first gymnastics meet Sunday. She will return to Lincoln with her family and friends Friday night to watch No. 12 Nebraska take on No. 1 Utah at the Devaney Center.
Makenzie Johnson, 7, from Omaha, saw her first gymnastics meet Sunday. She will return to Lincoln with her family and friends Friday night to watch No. 12 Nebraska take on No. 1 Utah at the Devaney Center.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

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No. 1 Utah Visits Devaney Center on Friday Night
Nebraska Plays Host to NCAA Championships April 16-18

An Omaha mother of a 7-year-old gymnast, a redshirt freshman on the Nebraska men’s basketball team and at least five members of the University of Nebraska’s faculty saw their first women’s gymnastics meet on Sunday.

After seeing the product and measuring the entertainment value, there’s no doubt what score those first-time fans would hold up for the rest of us to see . . . a perfect 10.

The experience of 12th-ranked Nebraska’s razor-thin win over 7th-ranked Oklahoma Sunday was so positive that Dawn Johnson, an Omaha mother, is already checking into the Huskers’ home battle against No. 1-ranked Utah Friday night. She’s also getting an early line on tickets for the 2009 NCAA Women's Gymnastics tournament that also will be held at the Devaney Center in Lincoln from April 16-18.

“Our 7-year-old son (Garrett) had a wrestling tournament Sunday morning at Lincoln East High School, so we looked online at to see if there was anything that would interest his twin sister (Makenzie),” Johnson said. “We saw where Nebraska was hosting Oklahoma. We’d never seen a gymnastics meet in our life, so we decided to give it a try.

“I don’t know how that meet could have run more smoothly or been more exciting,” Johnson said. “My daughter was already falling in love with the sport. Now, she’s really hooked and wanting her friends to get the fever. While we drove home Sunday, all Makenzie could talk about was getting her teammates to see what we’d just seen. She also wanted to get back home and try some tricks that she recognized in the meet. We all loved it, and we’d all come back to another one in a heartbeat.”

So would Toney McCray, Nebraska’s 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman guard who scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds Saturday in the Huskers’ 58-55 win over 16th-ranked Texas.

“I’d never seen a gymnastics meet in my life,” McCray said. “I watched the whole meet and am definitely going to watch another one whenever I can. I don’t know much about the sport, but I’m going to learn. We have some great athletes out there competing, and I bet we’ll see them in the NCAA Championships here in April.”

Woo and Stone Headline the Huskers’ Talented Lineup
In terms of overall athleticism, Nebraska’s two best gymnasts, Tricia Woo and Kylie Stone, are in a league with such other Husker All-Americans as Jordan Larson in volleyball and Megan Wheatley in track and field.

Woo scored a 9.95 on the balance beam and a 9.925 on the floor exercise Sunday. She wowed the home crowd with her elegance. Stone, more a power gymnast, also caught the eye of at least one first-time fan.

“Kylie Stone just sparkled. She was amazing,” said Sharon Zumbrunn, an instructor in Nebraska’s Educational Psychology Department. “I also became a big fan of Woo. Her beam routine was just outstanding. This was the first gymnastics event that my husband and I have ever attended, but we’re both looking forward to watching more in the future.”

They are not alone. Several other first-time fans vowed their future support after getting the chance to see the sport on Sunday’s “UNL Faculty and Staff Appreciation Day.”

“This was my first gymnastics experience. What I enjoyed most was seeing the passion of the crowd in supporting not only the team, but each individual athlete,” said Lindsay Campbell, a child development instructor and an NU doctoral student. “My overall experience was fantastic, and I look forward to sharing that knowledge with friends. The experience was so positive that I will certainly attend future events.”

Sue Wortmann, an assistant professor in the Sociology Department, and Scott Stempson, a lecturer in the History Department, were equally impressed with their first-time experiences Sunday.

Talent, Atmosphere, Camaraderie and Fast-Paced Action
“I wasn’t sure what to expect since it was my first meet ever, but I loved it!” Wortman said. “I will definitely go again this season. The women are so very talented, the atmosphere was great, and with two events going on at once, it went so quickly. Another faculty member and I were also really impressed with the camaraderie of the team and the coach.”

Stempson had attended some NU men’s gymnastics events “back in the Jim Hartung/national championship days,” but Sunday was the first women’s gymnastics event for him, his wife and two sons. “We all really enjoyed it,” he said. “My 2 1/2-year-old son especially liked the bars event . . . and the popcorn. His attention span isn’t very long, so the relative shortness of the meet was a good thing for us as well. We’re talking about attending another one in the future.”

Radha Balasubramanian, an associate professor, vice chair and major advisor for Russian in NU’s Department of Modern Languages, “thoroughly enjoyed” seeing her first gymnastics meet. “The event is very well suited for families to attend because it feels so personal,” she said, adding that it’s also obvious that “the athletes serve as role models for younger, aspiring girls.”

Nebraska Head Football Coach Bo Pelini, a strong supporter of many Nebraska athletic programs, attended Sunday’s meet with his 7- and 5-year-old daughters, who take gymnastics lessons. Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne and his wife, Nancy, also watched the meet.

Christina Perry, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences, had not attended a women’s gymnastics meet in years. “I stood in awe of the incredible talent of each athlete and the discipline and respect they have for each other,” she said. “As I sat in the stands and the meet began, I remember thinking, ‘Where have I been?’ This is amazing.”

Amazing enough that Husker fans need to check out what they’re missing in a Nebraska program that is one of only six in the nation to qualify for the Super Six finals at least nine times over the last 15 years. The Huskers have won 11 of the past 15 conference titles and have qualified for the NCAA Championships in 12 of the past 14 years.

Sunday, in a rare idle moment between the second and third rotations, Nebraska Coach Dan Kendig encouraged 1,227 fans in attendance to come back Friday night and bring their friends and family members for the NU-Utah meet.

It’s ‘The Power of Pink’ and ‘Pack the House’ Night
Friday’s 7 p.m. match at the Devaney Center is “The Power of Pink” Night supporting breast cancer awareness. It’s also “Pack the House” Night, presented by Pepsi, with $1 admission and $1 Pepsi products.

“Our family of four spent $20 to get in to Sunday’s meet, and we thought that was the best $20 we’d ever spent on any tickets – you just can’t beat it,” said Johnson, the Omaha mother who charted the course for the couple’s 7-year-old twins in Lincoln. “We were so impressed that we let Makenzie join the junior booster club for kids 12-and-under. For $10, she got a membership card and a T-shirt, so we will definitely keep track of the program on and go to as many meets as possible. In fact, we’re heading to Lincoln with some friends on Friday.”

Will Sheppard, an academic counselor and the coordinator of Multicultural Programs in Nebaska’s Athletic Department, likes the fast-moving pace of a women’s gymnastics meet.

“What an exciting atmosphere!” he said. “Seeing the scores go back and forth and knowing that it was going to come down to the wire (Nebraska won, 196.175 to Oklahoma’s 196.00) really made each individual performance intense. I could feel myself move on any notion of a wobble from the gymnasts, so I guess I was trying to help them not fall. It really puts you into the sport.”

Fans who haven’t experienced women’s gymnastics don’t know what they’re missing.

Karen Lyons, associate director in the University Honors Program and assistant professor in English and Women’s and Gender Studies, has followed both Nebraska men’s and women’s gymnastics programs for years.

“I was very impressed with the team spirit and sportswomanship shown by both teams Sunday,” she said. “I was also pleased with Nebraska fans when an Oklahoma athlete took a fall on the uneven bars, and they cheered when she was able to stand.”

You Might Want to Fill Out Your Own Virtual Scorecard
Two talented, well-coached teams competed aggressively Sunday. Nebraska won, and Oklahoma lost – graciously.

The beauty of this sport goes beyond winning and losing, so bring the family whenever you can.

In addition to hosting top-ranked Utah Friday night, the Husker women entertain UCLA, North Carolina State and Minnesota in the Masters Classic on Sunday, Feb. 22, at 1 p.m. and host Iowa State on Sunday, March 8, at 2 p.m. The NU men’s gymnastics team will host Minnesota and Arizona State in its biggest home meet of the season on Sunday, March 15, at 2 p.m.

Once you buy a ticket and circle your calendar, you no doubt will describe your first-time gymnastics experience the same way all these other fans do – with nothing but a ‘10’ on that virtual scoreboard in your mind.



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