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 Lincoln.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of 2015-16 and how that will project forward for Husker fans in 2016-17. Unlike two of the three programs which have been covered to start this series of articles, the Cornhuskers put together some notable conference and national achievements this school year. Read on to see more!
(A successful season deserves a White House trip, courtesy Huskers.com)
There’s no place to begin other than the women’s volleyball team, which brought home one of the few national championships won by the Big Ten Conference this year. Before getting there, this team played against a tough non-conference schedule yet survived with a 9-1 record. The only loss came against old rival Texas, which would come up again later in the season.
Entering Big Ten play, Nebraska pulled off a rare feat in sweeping the season series from perennial powerhouse Penn State, only the second such season sweep the Nittany Lions program has suffered since 2002. Although a couple of home losses in the middle of the season led to a second-place finish in the conference at 17-3, the Cornhuskers ended on a hit streak of 10 straight match victories and the best record since joining the Big Ten. Plus, in that hot streak only Michigan State forced Nebraska into a fifth set, so the wins were largely dominant.
The roll kept on going in the NCAA Tournament as well. Following two easy wins at home, the Huskers traveled to Lexington, Kentucky for the Regional. There, the Huskers took down nationally ranked No. 11 BYU and No. 1 Washington. With the top-ranked team knocked off, the Huskers became a local favorite with the national championship finals being held in Omaha. After winning a four-set match against Kansas, Nebraska swept Texas 3-0 in the championship match to avenge the earlier loss and bring home the title.
This was the first national championship in 10 years for the program, and the 32-4 record is one of the best in Nebraska history. Freshman Mikaela Foecke led the way in the NCAA Tournament, winning the Most Outstanding Player award for her efforts. Kelly Hunter, Amber Rolfzen, and Justine Wong-Orantes also made the all-tournament team.
Thus, the team made their way to DC for a trip to see some of the sights like the White House and to celebrate this first title since 2006. It may not be so long until the next title, with the superstar of the team Foecke being only a sophomore next year, and the other three all-tournament team awardees entering their junior and senior years.
With all the talent coming back, coach John Cook will have huge expectations and a serious chance to repeat next season (perhaps also with a Big Ten Championship this time).
Men’s Track and Field
(Winning the Big Ten indoor title, photo courtesy Huskers.com)
Coming off a 2014-2015 season where the Husker men won the Big Ten indoor track and field championship by a wide margin, there were questions about whether long-time head coach Gary Pepin could get his team back on top for a second-straight conference championship. However, the Huskers actually increased their margin of victory this year, finishing with 116 points and a 43 point margin over Wisconsin in second place.
It was dominance all around, but it all started with sophomore Kaiwan Culmer winning the triple jump individual championship. Another sophomore Landon Bartel achieved a personal-best high jump at over 7 feet in order to take home another individual title in that event. The various running teams then racked up enough points to salt the team title away. With many of the same athletes back again next year, Nebraska has to be considered a heavy favorite for yet another indoor title next year.
Although the indoor team did not end up with a great finish at the NCAA Championships (44th place), the outdoor team kept running with the positive momentum and ended the season on a high note with another huge victory and the Big Ten Championships. The Huskers outpaced Michigan by 50 points, the largest margin of victory in over 10 years at the Big Ten event.
The highlight of the outdoor championships was the last event, the 4×400 relay, in which a squad led by seniors Levi Gipson and Cody Rush set a Big Ten record and won an event title which has eluded both the indoor and outdoor teams for years. Despite not taking home any individual titles like the Cornhusker women, the men still finished well enough across the board in all events to win by the large margin over the Wolverines.
The NCAA Championships went much better for outdoor than indoor, with a 10th place team finish. Sophomore Nick Percy won the individual national title in discus throw.
With team captain Cody Rush leaving to graduation and some other key contributors also heading out of the program, the outdoor track and field team will need to reload some heading into 2016-17. However, with a coach that has won 72 team conference titles in indoor or outdoor seasons, this track and field program can never be counted out in the Big Ten.
(team photo courtesy Huskers.com)
One of the best part of covering the Huskers for this series each year is the look at the outside-the-box sports Nebraska participates in, including Beach Volleyball (which we covered last year) and bowling. Turns out Nebraska is pretty good at the quintessential midwestern “beer and pretzels” sport. It’s certainly a more natural fit than beach volleyball because Nebraska is cold in the winter and is hundreds of miles away from any beachfront!
Getting back to the bowling team, the team started the season with six-straight top-4 finishes in events ranging from northern Indiana to Houston, Texas. That helped the team maintain a top-2 national ranking throughout nearly all of the regular season.
That ranking was a No. 1 ranking heading into the NCAA Championships, and the Huskers did not disappoint. In 2015 this team played against Stephen F. Austin for the national championship, and those familiar foes were back at it again in this year’s championship match. It was a back-and-forth affair in a best of seven series, with Nebraska winning game 1 and then rebounding to even the series twice after falling behind 2-1 and 3-2.
The decisive game 7 was one in which Nebraska could not string together many strikes, and that proved to be the difference. SFA won 247-192 to avenge last season’s loss and give Nebraska its second runner-up finish in the last three years. Still, with a title in that mix as well, coach Bill Straub definitely has a national bowling dynasty going in women’s bowling.
Looking ahead to 2016-17, the two best players who made the all-tournament team at nationals will return in Gazmine Mason and Julia Bond. There’s only a couple of seniors departing this team, so expect another top finish next season for this program.
Honorable mentions go to the Husker baseball and women’s gymnastics squads. Both finished in second place in the Big Ten, racking up the points in the race for The Delany award. However, both did not perform incredibly well in the remainder of the post-season, so they unfortunately get left as honorable mentions this year.
Be sure to continue to support and enjoy these other achievements that the student athletes are bringing home to Cornhusker Nation now and in the near future.
Stay tuned next week as we jump all the way across the country to the East Coast and Maryland for our next in the ATC article series. Also, check out previous 2016 ATC articles already done (Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue). Have a great week!