Welcome back for another installment in Talking 10’s “Nebraska Week” series. Although most of our articles for “Nebraska Week” are focusing on football, this is our weekly chance to check in on all the other athletic success stories going on in the Husker state.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of 2014-15 and how that will project forward for Huskers fans in 2015-16. Unlike Indiana last week, the Cornhuskers have a little bit more to show in this article series thanks to success around the athletic department.
Previous “Around the Campus” articles can be found here:
(the new team, photo courtesy Huskers.com)
This sport leads the way not because the Huskers won a national title, but because a program heading into its 4th year and a sport being elevated to the NCAA Championship level makes for a potential championship contender at the cutting edge of new emerging NCAA sports.
Next year will be the first time an 8 team NCAA Championship occurs, and Nebraska would have had a chance at such a field in the 2014 season. The Huskers ended 6-2 on the sand this spring, only losing two games to the top two ranked teams in the country USC and Hawaii (in Hawaii). Nebraska did defeat highly ranked Arizona and Arizona State on the road, which led to a top 15 ranking at the end of the season.
Nebraska also loses nobody to graduation in 2015-16, so all the pieces are in place for the west coast sport to become a big deal in Lincoln. It’s certainly something different than you find at most, if not all, other Big Ten schools. So it’s worth watching as the sport develops whether Nebraska can be an unlikely national power of beach volleyball.
Men’s Track and Field
(photo courtesy Huskers.com)
Long time coach of the men’s and women’s track and field program, Gary Pepin has watched his teams bring home 70 conference championships in his tenure, which stretches back through the Big 12 days to the Big 8 conference. This season was another great one, particularly for the men’s program.
In June, Pepin received word that three of his team members received All-American honors for the 2014-15 school season. Senior sprinter John Welk joined junior sprinter Levi Gipson and sophomore Drew Wiseman (who does hurdles) as the award recipients. Welk and Gipson have put up great indoor performances on the conference and NCAA championship stages, while Wiseman is just building his career at Lincoln into something memorable.
Pepin will enjoy having two of these three athletes back next season to defend the indoor track and field Big Ten conference championship, which was won as shown in the team photo above. Nebraska ran away with the team competition by over 40 points this winter thanks to event victories by Oladapo Akinmoladun in hurdles and by James White in high jump.
The men and women both finished 2nd at the Big Ten outdoor championships this spring. Although there were no notable performances in the NCAA championships to speak of, this program remains as a team at the very top of the conference. That’s an achievement worth celebrating even in such a highly decorated program.
This is Pepin’s 30th team conference title in his 35 seasons at the helm. As long as he is around this program, the Huskers will continue to perform highly, particularly with the All-American caliber talent coming back. The men and women have a shot at even bigger things in 2015-16.
(your NCAA champion, photo courtesy Huskers.com)
Bowling, much like beach volleyball, was not a NCAA sanctioned championship sport until recently (2003). However, Nebraska was one of the best bowling programs in the country both before and after this sanctioning. A team that came into this season having won 4 NCAA championships in the past decade looked to add another trophy to the case.
And that’s precisely what happened, as the Huskers made their 3rd consecutive NCAA championship game appearance. Last year Sam Houston State knocked off the then-defending (2013) national champions, but this year Nebraska had avenged that loss in the preliminary double elimination rounds of the NCAA championships. Instead, this championship was against top-ranked Stephen F. Austin and ended in a 4-2 victory.
Senior Lizabeth Kulhkin ended her career with three of the most dominant years in recent bowing history. Surprisingly, she was not named national bowler of the year, but she likely deserves a lifetime achievement award for leading this program to two national championships in the past 3 seasons. The other strong bowler this season was freshman Julia Bond, who won MVP of the NCAA Championships weekend.
Bond was a highly-heralded recruit coming out of high school, so perhaps this should not come as a surprise overall. However, her natural talent paired perfectly with the senior leadership and developed prowess of Kulhkin to make a team that was hard to stop. Bond almost made it even better a week later at the individual NCAA championships, falling short in the final against a former Nebraska walk-on bowler Emily Eckhoff.
With three more years in the program, Bond could become the best bowler in Nebraska history, if not make a run at many NCAA records. That will be a solid anchor for coach Bill Straub’s team, and it should help avoid a big dip that would normally happen when a senior like Kulhkin is lost to graduation.
Nebraska will be back in the mix for national titles again next year, so keep close watch on this program that brought the biggest piece of hardware home to Lincoln last year.
(photo courtesy Huskers.com)
The Huskers wrestling program was not quite up to the same level of snuff as Iowa and Ohio State in 2014-15, but that should not disparage the strong individual efforts and accomplishments on this team. Senior Robert Kokesh was the leader of the team and he dominated his weight division at 174 pounds all season long.
Heading into the Big Ten championships, Kokesh was 30-0 on the season. He did not disappoint as the top seed in this bracket, pinning the Michigan wrestler in the quarterfinals in 15 seconds before narrowly defeating a Minnesota wrestler in the semifinals and then dominating #2 seed Matt Brown from Penn State 7-3 in the championship match. That led to the crowning shown above.
In the NCAA Championships, Kokesh lost in the semifinals before rebounding with a 3rd place match victory. That led to his third All-American honor as well as a third consecutive top 4 finish in the NCAA Championships. Kokesh won 144 matches in his career and 39 as a senior, which ranks 2nd in program history.
Kokesh is not the only notable senior to leave the wrestling program to graduation. Fellow senior James Green won 3rd place at the 157 pound weight division in both the Big Ten Championships and in the NCAA Championships. Green finished with 129 career victories (5th best in program history), which pairs nicely with his second-straight 3rd place finish at the NCAA level.
Wrestling may take a small step back with the loss of these two great performers, but there is some young talent that earns plenty of valuable experience every season in the best wrestling conference in the NCAA.
Be sure to support and enjoy these other achievements that the student athletes are bringing home to Lincoln now and in the near future.