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By Randy York

Here’s a big N-Sider shout-out to Husker fans who want to take cool to a whole new level this weekend. Put in some extra work this week, so you can leave early Friday and catch the hottest Nebraska athletic team that very few know about. On Friday at 3 p.m. at NU’s Varsity Courts (on 17th between Vine and R Streets), the No. 17 Nebraska Cornhuskers will host the No. 14 Michigan Wolverines in the women’s tennis showdown of the season.

The winner will have an inside track on the Big Ten Conference regular-season championship. Yes, Nebraska is a bona fide favorite to win a Big Ten title in women’s tennis, giving the Huskers an opportunity to place a fourth women’s championship trophy alongside ones already earned and encased in volleyball, indoor track and field and gymnastics.

Nebraska, Michigan and Northwestern are all tied for first place in the Big Ten women’s tennis standings with identical 6-1 records. What we have here with Friday’s women’s tennis is the perfect event to kick off a 1-2-3 Spring Fling Saturday that will feature:

1) A Nebraska women’s soccer match against South Dakota State at 9 a.m. at the Nebraska Soccer Field in Memorial Stadium’s northeastern shadows.

2) The Nebraska Red-White Spring Game at 1 p.m. Buy and print tickets here, then go home and watch the replay on the Big Ten Network at 9:30 p.m.

3) NU hosts Wichita State in a 5 p.m. volleyball match at the NU Coliseum. Click and see why the Huskers sold out matches in Maui and in Norfolk.

Of course, the N-Sider understands how important it is to appreciate the student-athletes you will be cheering on once you arrive at any of these venues this weekend. So please take a couple minutes to read about these outstanding senior leaders pictured above, from left:

Gina Mancuso is a senior outside hitter from Omaha. She came to Lincoln as the first-ever high school athlete from Nebraska to earn Gatorade’s National Player of the Year award, plus the same accolade from Volleyball Magazine and the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA). She is a classic case of the product living up to the promotion. Gina was a 2011 AVCA First-Team All-American and First-Team All-Big Ten as well as First-Team Academic All-Big 12 and First-Team Academic All-Big Ten.

P.J. Smith is a senior safety from River Ridge, La. The four-year starter helped lead his prep powerhouse John Curtis High School to three Louisiana state high school championships. He was also a four-year starter in basketball and led his team in scoring and rebounding. P.J. chose Nebraska over Arkansas, Baylor and Southern Miss. Last year, he intercepted a pass in three of the Huskers’ first four games and has been itching to return to starting status this season. An excellent spring should help that cause.

Mary Weatherholt is a senior from Shawnee Mission South High School in Prairie Village, Kan. She’s the highest-ranked American-born player ever to play at Nebraska since her arrival as the top-ranked player in Kansas and one of the top 30 players in the country. She’s been named All-Big 12 and seems a shoo-in for All-Big Ten. Ranked 43rd nationally in singles, Mary excels in the classroom (winning an ITA Scholar-Athlete Award) and in the community (winning Nebraska’s Student-Athlete HERO Leadership Award).

Jordan Jackson is a senior forward from Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park, Kan. The two-time Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year and high school soccer All-American led her prep team to a state championship and No. 7 final national ranking. She adjusted quickly to Division I competition, starting her last 11 games as a freshman before making First-Team All-Big 12 as a sophomore. Like Weatherholt, Jordan’s a well-rounded student-athlete who has earned all-conference academic honors.

Check the composite photo at the top and see Mancuso’s focus, Smith’s enthusiasm, Weatherholt’s tenacity and Jackson’s intensity. They’re all seniors and all worthy of fans taking the time to watch them and their equally deserving teammates compete on a Spring Fling weekend. GOBIGRED!

Send a comment or story idea to ryork@huskers.com

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