Randy York's N-Sider Blog

Mar 12

Freshman First Husker NCAA Diver Since 2005

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From left: Anna Filipcic, Payton Michaud, Nicole Schwery, Natasha Chikina.

By Randy York

Pressure, nerves and stress were three words that came immediately to mind Wednesday night when Anna Filipcic tried to describe her ninth-place three-meter diving performance three weeks ago in the Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championships in Minneapolis. Focused, relaxed and determined were the three words that popped out Wednesday when she described her fourth-place three-meter performance in the Last Chance Zone diving competition that helped her qualify for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. Filipcic edged a 2014 Big Ten champion Minnesota diver who finished fifth among the 50 divers making their own Last Chance bids to qualify for next week’s NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships at Minnesota.

"To finish in the top four proves you are elite and earns you a ticket to the Big Dance," said Nebraska Swimming Coach Pablo Morales, who also commended Husker Diving Coach Natasha Chikina. Both Husker coaches were multi-Olympic competitors in swimming and diving, so they understand what the difference can be for an 18-year-old freshman in the short span of three weeks. “Maturity,” said Chikina, a Kazakhstan native and USC All-American who competed in Olympic diving events in Atlanta and Sydney. “Anna wanted to win so badly in the Big Ten Championships that she was afraid to make mistakes. She was a little uptight and didn’t do so well.”

The best way to trump mistakes that often result from a fear of failure is to change mindset. “We’re extremely proud of how Anna battled against some of the best divers in the country to claim one of the few NCAA slots,” said Morales, a Stanford graduate who won three gold and two silver medals at the 1984 and 1992 Olympic Games. “Even as a freshman, Anna proved she can handle the pressure of elite-level competition, and we look forward to her gaining the invaluable experience of competing at the NCAA.”

Filipcic First Husker NCAA Diver Since 2005

Filipcic, a graduate of Omaha Burke, made such a dramatic comeback, she beat the Big Ten one-meter diving champion in the Zone meet to seize an opportunity both desperately wanted. In the process, she also became the first Husker diver since Canadian native Amie Buoy, who earned that same honor in 2005.

“I had some really good dives in the Big Ten, but they just weren’t at the right times,” Filipcic said in a telephone interview from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “I ended up finishing ninth, but if I would have done better in prelims, I would have finished third. I felt the pressure in the Big Ten and felt a lot more relaxed in the zone meet.”

The overall performance of Nebraska’s three divers at the Zone Championships “represents a great breakthrough for our diving program,” Morales said. “To come out of a very deep and competitive zone with an NCAA qualifier is a tremendous accomplishment.”

Schwery Comes Close; Michaud a Role Model

Sophomore Nicole Schwery also performed incredibly well, qualifying for finals in both platform and three-meter and finished just one place shy of qualifying in a third event. “Our young divers performing so well bodes very well for the future and demonstrates that our diving program is in a great state under the leadership of Natasha,” Morales said.

“The Zone meet also was the farewell performance for Payton Michaud, one of our all-time great divers,” Morales said. “True to form, Payton competed extremely well and once again provided a great example for our young divers to follow. She has been a great influence on our program and the current success being enjoyed by both our swimmers and divers.”

Teammates Michaud and Schwery helped a self-described “overstressed” Filpcic regain her composure and show Minnesota, the only other college scholarship she considered, that the Gophers’ loss was the Huskers’ gain. “Lincoln felt just as much like home as Omaha did,” she said. “Just about everybody I met inside the program sealed the deal for me.”

Chikina: Comeback Performance Bodes Well

This week’s experience was a valuable lesson in perseverance for Filipcic. “When the first day of Big Ten didn’t go well for Anna, she started to focus and concentrate on one dive at a time,” Chikina said. “She knew she could do it. It’s easy to crack as a freshman, and I’m really proud of the way she came back. She put everything together when she had to do it. She quit being tight and really got competitive. It’s going to help her a lot in the next three years.”

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New Husker Captain Has Mary-Like Qualities

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Sophomore Maggy Lehmicke follows Mary Weatherholt as an NU captain.

NU Hosts Big Ten Opener Against Iowa

By Randy York

Meet Maggy Lehmicke (pronounced Lem-a-kee) from Kirkland, Washington. She’s the No. 1 singles player on the Nebraska women’s tennis team. Even though she’s just a sophomore, Maggy is the one and only 2014 team captain. At 10-0, she’s also unbeaten in singles competition heading into Friday’s 3 p.m. match against Iowa at the Nebraska Tennis Center and Sunday’s 4 p.m. match against Wichita State at the same Lincoln location – 7600 North 70th Street.

When you talk to Maggy, you hear the same tone, tenor, and theme as the person she succeeded as captain, and I’m not the only one who comes to that conclusion. Nebraska Head Coach Scott Jacobson sees remarkable similarities between Mary Weatherholt, the most legendary tennis player in Husker history, and Maggy Lehmicke, the new kid on the block who’s systematically trying to build an equally solid foundation for her future.

“Maggy’s learned a lot from the leadership of both Mary and Patty Veresova when they were senior captains last year,” Jacobson said. “Maggy has just stepped up and become a very similar leader in all aspects. It’s just been amazing to see, but not surprising. Maggy has always been someone who’s had tremendous work ethic on the court. She’s selfless in nature and has very similar characteristics to Mary, and that’s been great for our program.”

Sophomore Lehmicke Creating Her Own Legacy

Lehmicke is genuine, sincere and philosophically immersed in the day-to-day process of getting better. “She holds the bar pretty high for herself, just like Mary, in terms of expectations,” Jacobson said. “She’s a perfectionist by nature and doesn’t want to leave this university feeling like she didn’t do her best in every single aspect of her life, academically, athletically and personally. She’s creating her own legacy and has a burning desire to succeed in everything.”

A Journalism major with a 3.75 grade-point-average, Lehmicke ranks writing right up there with fashion design and yoga to help balance the ultra-competitive side of her life.

With Weatherholt ranking among the 10 most elite student-athletes in all of collegiate athletics, male or female last year, Lehmicke said it would have been hard not to learn from being her teammate. “She was definitely one of the most positive people I’ve ever met, and that positivity really helped her on the court,” Lehmicke said.

Huskers are Rebuilding in Next Couple Years

That framework helps Lehmicke understand how a young captain leads a young team. “I’d say this year is about rebuilding,” she said. “I feel like teams go through different phases and these next couple of years will be rebuilding, but there’s nothing to say that this group of girls will be any different than the group of girls that came here with Mary. Four girls built up that team, and a few of us just happened to show up at the right time.”

The Huskers reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history because they aimed high and achieved. “Mary was all about team,” Lehmicke said. “She had great team spirit, and she was just a big part of having that energy on the court. She was completely fearless and played without fear all the time. Every one of us is a different type of player. We’re all our own people, but there are definitely things we can take from Mary and build our own legacy.”

In many ways, Lehmicke doesn’t feel her own role has changed much. “I feel like I would have done many of the same things I’m doing now, even if I wasn’t designated captain,” she said. “Most of the things I do are because I feel obligated to do them. I don’t think too much about the title captain.”

She does think about and appreciate the diversity on the team she captains. “I didn’t just want to go to college and be on a team with just American girls,” she said. “We have girls from Sweden, Germany, India and Canada. I don’t see a huge separation. Our chemistry is genuine. Any differences we have are not big ones. There are little things we joke about as we learn each other’s languages, so we can cheer each other on in each other’s languages. I don’t look at us as a fully international team because I’ve seen those teams and I don’t like thinking of us being like that. I like to think of us as just being diverse.”

Late Bloomer Experienced Early Knee Problems  

Because she had fairly severe knee problems growing up in Washington, Lehmicke was a late bloomer who didn’t receive a bushel of scholarship offers, even though she was ranked as the No. 2 player in both the state of Washington and the Northwest Region. Her final two collegiate choices were Missouri or Nebraska. “I’m glad I came to Nebraska. Being a student-athlete here is different than most places,” she said, acknowledging that she also took official visits to Iowa and Wisconsin. “Nebraska makes an athletic scholarship a full-fledged program.” Academic standards and life skills development are built into the experience. “Because I really didn’t know what I was capable of (achieving), Nebraska was like a dream come true,” Lehmicke said.

As a captain, Lehmicke goes out of her way to understand different motivational and philosophical approaches. A member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, she enjoyed hearing former Husker and NFL tight end Jamie Williams speak to the group.  “He talked about servant leadership, and I think that’s a good way to describe what our team is all about,” she said. “We want to be leaders who serve each other. We want to do things for other people. We’re not talking about bossing people around. I feel like that’s sort of our legacy. I feel like my job as a captain is to represent that servant leadership and carry that out.”

Introspection has helped Lehmicke come to that conclusion. “I feel like I’ve changed over the years. I used to take myself too seriously,” she said. “Having one year of college tennis under my belt, I realize that I’m doing this because I love it. If I miss a forehand, it’s not the end of the world. The team environment has caused me to pay more attention to them. Everything’s about how our team does and not just how I do as an individual.”

Russian Step Dad Introduced Her to the Sport

Lehmicke’s step dad is Russian. “He’s helped me a lot,” she said. “He was my tennis coach who got me started on the court. I got a late start in tennis because I played a lot of other sports,” she said. “I started tennis the spring before I turned 12 in the same area in Washington where I grew up. My step dad didn’t own a club or anything. He just taught me how to play on middle-school courts, and he ran summer camp. He gave me and my friends lessons. I played my first tournament two months after I started and got into the finals of it.

“I was a very different person at the time,” she recalled. “The instant gratification was what got me motivated to play. After that, my stepdad coached me for a few years and then I got involved in some tennis academies with some coaches in the Seattle area. Most of those coaches are international, too. All of the people I trained with were Russian. When I started training in the academy, most of them were American. That’s where I learned that you only get out of something what you put into it. You couldn’t survive in that place without being a hard worker.”

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Mar 11

Miles Gets a Congratulatory Call from Izzo

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Tom Izzo and Tim Miles became friends before the 2012-13 season started.

Transformative Leap: Spectators to Fanatics

How Trust, Togetherness Moved a Mountain

By Randy York

Tim Miles has done innumerable smart things since becoming Nebraska’s head basketball coach, and two of the smartest were: 1) sharpening his relationship with the national media; and 2) being a genuinely nice guy who respects all Big Ten Conference colleagues, including Tom Izzo. Michigan State’s legendary head coach once asked Miles if he could fly from Las Vegas to Kansas City on NU’s chartered plane to reach the same tournament both would attend for recruiting. Out of admiration and a great sense of camaraderie, Miles had a quick one-word answer: “Sure!”

Monday night, Izzo returned the favor. Soon after he heard that he and his fellow coaches had voted Miles the Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year, Izzo picked up the phone and dialed Miles’ cell number to congratulate him on the honor that had been announced earlier in the evening. He also wanted to commend Miles for Nebraska’s sprint to the Big Ten finish line that included 10 wins in the Huskers’ last 12 games.

The gesture reinforced something both coaches embrace – a veteran coach who is, for all intents and purposes, a mentor of sorts for a Big Ten newcomer.

Izzo Offers Wisdom, Tips for the Upper Echelon  

“He was so good and said ‘Listen, I’m going to give you some advice now that you’re going to start playing for championships…he was really nice about mentoring, and I really appreciated it,” Miles told Chris Childers, who was filling in as host Tuesday morning on The Tim Brando Show on SiriusXM College Sports Nation.

“I can’t believe I’m talking to Tom Izzo about competing at the highest level of the Big Ten,” Miles said. “Are you kidding me? Is this real life? He’s just such a good guy and really looks out for us younger guys, so to speak, even though I’m 47, but younger to the league. I just can’t say enough about the good people in this league. It’s really a fun league to be a part of.”

Childers told Miles that before this year, he rarely received calls from Nebraska during basketball season and now he gets “a ton of them” on satellite radio.

Miles Calls Lincoln ‘The San Diego of the Big Ten’

Like a veteran, Miles transitioned to why basketball interest keeps multiplying in Nebraska. “When we moved to the Big Ten, our administration built a great practice facility and a state-of-the-art playing venue,” he said. “You have to understand our fans were backed up Sunday. It was 70 degrees. We are the San Diego of the Big Ten, by the way. It was just perfect. The Haymarket Area looked like the Power and Light District in Downtown Kansas City where the Sprint Center is.”

Miles pointed out how dozens of students arrived at Pinnacle Bank Arena’s front door at 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning and were rewarded with sub sandwiches and pizza for their spirit and passion.

At that point of the radio interview, Miles didn’t wait for more questions. He segued to stories that captivated him most and mentioned Nebraska’s “No Sit Sunday”, a battle cry that encouraged all Big Red fans to stay on their feet from opening tip-off to final gun – a competitive tactic that seemed to work, especially down the stretch.

89-Year-Old Man Stands for the Entire Game

“There’s an article on the front page of our newspaper today about an 89-year-old gentleman who stood up the entire game,” Miles said.

Indeed, Dick Knutson, a 1950 NU Law School graduate, “has been going to games since the 1950s (actually the 1940s) and he said it was the best game he’s ever been to – unbelievable…just unbelievable,” Miles said, before adding one more anecdote to one amazing Sunday.

“I had a Wisconsin kid, who’s a heck of a player, say to me after the game, ‘Coach, I have something I gotta tell ya – we respect the heck out of your guys…this is the most fun I’ve had as a collegiate player…and we lost’. So I think that tells you what the atmosphere was like at Pinnacle Bank Arena. It was rocking. It was just a riot. Our fans have been tremendous. Maybe we should have a watch party for them Sunday (for NCAA Selection Day).”

SI Declares Nebraska Started March Madness

Childers consistently has given Miles kudos throughout the past six weeks and Tuesday he told Nebraska’s second-year head coach that he thought the Husker-Badger Big Ten regular-season finale “felt like a championship.” Sports Illustrated must have agreed because it posted a video Sunday night declaring that the Huskers had officially launched March Madness with their exhilarating win over Wisconsin.

Miles would be the last to dispute such a statement. “Our fans felt like it was a must-win to get in the NCAA Tournament. Our players felt that,” he said. “Coaches are paranoid. We never share anything, even if there’s a one-percent chance to screw everything up.”

Bottom line, “Wisconsin’s so good they make you play that way,” Miles said. “You have to be at your best to beat them. At some point, they were 15 and 4 against the Top 25 (RPI – Rating Percentage Index). That’s just amazing! Nobody’s ever done that, so they’re probably going to be on the No. 1 or No. 2 (seed) line in the NCAA Tournament, almost automatically, I think.”

Childers Agrees: Badgers Worthy of No. 1 Seed

If that prediction becomes a debate, the studio host will support Miles’ analysis. “When you think about it, you beat a No. 1 seed,” Childers told Miles. “That’s nothing to sneeze at. It’s a pretty darned big deal, especially when it’s do-or-die and your boys rose to the occasion.”

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Mar 10

Team Jack Gala Educates, Motivates, Inspires

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Andy Hoffman and Bo Pelini flank Jack Hoffman at the First Team Jack Gala.

By Randy York

The first annual Team Jack Gala Saturday night at Lincoln’s downtown Cornhusker Hotel was more than just a night to inspire. For a sold-out crowd of 700 who attended the Lincoln fundraiser to support pediatric brain cancer research, it also was a night to educate and to motivate.

"That was our No. 1 goal, more than anything else," said Andy Hoffman, the father of Jack Hoffman, the pediatric brain cancer patient who has become a catalyst for a grassroots movement that has committed $1.1 million to specific research investments that will benefit children who have the deadly disease.

Even though it was an inaugural event for Honorary Co-Chairs Bo and Mary Pat Pelini, and Jack Hoffman, the gala was so well orchestrated, it seemed like an event that has been a staple for years. The program went off like clockwork and ended with a number of standing ovations, including one for featured speaker Rex Burkhead before he was even introduced, then another standing ovation after he spoke. Coach Pelini also received two standing ovations: first when he was introduced as an honorary chair; and then again after he shared his feelings on Team Jack. Both Jack and Andy Hoffman also received a standing ovation, and so did the families who live with the disease daily and joined together at the end to show their appreciation for Team Jack’s leadership role in supporting the cause.

The Goal: Get Money to World’s Best Researchers

"Our goal is simple," Andy Hoffman said. "We want to raise as much money as we can, and get that money into the hands of the best researchers in the world."

Three of the gala’s speakers provided insight into that goal: Dr. Don Coulter, a pediatric oncologist at Children’s Hospital Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center/Cancer Center; Dr. Kari Galyen, an internal medicine/family practice doctor and member of the Team Jack Foundation Board of Directors; and Dr. Liliana C. Gooumnerova, director of clinical pediatric neurosurgical oncology at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and associate professor at Harvard Medical School.

The Hoffmans have developed a close relationship with all three speakers, who received their own spirited levels of appreciation from an enthusiastic crowd after learning more about the disease. “Thanks for helping us make a real impact in the lives of children,” Andy said. “We’re inspired to do even more in 2014, and we’re not letting up.” The banquet also featured several heartfelt videos that chronicled the beginning of Jack’s relationship with Burkhead and how that initial meeting, followed by a footrace at Memorial Stadium, became a full-fledged relationship.

Burkhead, Zimmerer Are Rare Disease Honorees

Jack’s friendship with Rex led to a number of milestones that increased the national awareness of pediatric brain cancer. One was Burkhead’s national Rare Disease Champion’s Award from the Pennsylvania-based Uplifting Athletes organization – the same award that recently graduated Husker fullback C.J. Zimmerer will receive next weekend at the annual Maxwell Awards Banquet in Atlantic City. Nebraska Associate Athletic Director Keith Zimmer helped Nebraska launch its own chapter of Uplifting Athletes, and Coach Pelini and Burkhead made sure that Saturday night’s gala audience understood Zimmer’s leadership role and appreciated his commitment to the overall cause.

Zimmerer was among the “All-Stars” who closed the event, joining children battling pediatric brain cancer and their families on stage, along with former Huskers Burkhead, Jared Crick, Eric Crouch, Matt Davison, Quincy Enunwa, Alex Henery, Jemarcus Hardrick, Lindsey Moore and Andrew Rodriquez. Nebraska native Danny Woodhead, now a running back for the San Diego Chargers, gave the invocation and discussed the All-Stars’ support for Team Jack and pediatric brain cancer.

Nebraska graduate and ESPN commentator Shelley Smith emceed the gala and kept it moving at a professional level. The event included 96 silent auction items and 65 super silent auction items. After the evening’s program, bidding began for 14 live auction items that included a Tom Osborne commemorative rifle, a guitar signed by Nebraska’s three Heisman Trophy winners, a Rose Bowl trip, a personal call from the voice of Mater in the Disney movie Cars and a Larry the Cable Guy Party Package, which includes 10 front-row seats to his April 25th show at Pinnacle Bank Arena that will benefit Team Jack.

Hoffman Wants to Change Prognosis for All Children

Jack has won an ESPY Award, experienced a Spring Game record touchdown run and was invited to the White House with his family and his buddy Rex. But his dad reminds everyone what the overarching goal of Team Jack is. “We are resolute in changing Jack’s prognosis through additional research,” Andy said, “but more importantly, we want to change the prognosis of other children suffering from pediatric brain cancer and others who have yet to be diagnosed.”

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Mar 08

Sunday Biggest Game in Nebrasketball History?

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Nebraska anticipates a loud and proud crowd Sunday night for Wisconsin.

Huskers Host Badgers Sunday

Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology

By Randy York

On a Saturday when college basketball followers were preparing to watch some intriguing national match-ups, ESPN took a timeout from its College Game Day coverage. The network checked in with Joe Lunardi, and the “bracketologist” made a rather compelling comment about Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. Nebraska-Wisconsin game at Pinnacle Bank Arena. He called the BTN national telecast “the most important game in Nebraska basketball history.”

Lunardi’s analysis isn’t hype to me, especially when you consider that 1) Nebraska (18-11 overall and 10-7 in the Big Ten) has qualified for six NCAA Tournaments, but the last appearance was 16 years ago; 2) Nebraska is one of only two BCS schools never to win an NCAA Basketball Tournament game; and 3) Nebraska has proven all season that it can compete against some of the nation’s best teams.

If the Huskers can beat Wisconsin and add another win over a top 10 team to match last month’s upset at Michigan State, they can create serious momentum, heading into the Big Ten Tournament and, hopefully, into NCAA’s Big Dance. Incidentally, Lunardi’s most recent bracket on ESPN.com on Thursday projects either Arkansas or Nebraska as a No. 11 seed playing No. 6 seed Texas in San Antonio’s Midwest Regional. In Lunardi’s bracket, the Arkansas/Nebraska vs. Texas winner would advance to a second-round match-up against the winner of a No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 14 Belmont game.

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Mar 07

Saturday Last Chance to See Wong at Home

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Emily Wong and Eric Schryver were interviewed on Huskers Sports Network.

Shawn Eichorst’s Latest Connecting on Campus Column

Women Point to Home Finale  Men Take on No. 1 Oklahoma

Wong, Kendig   Schryver, Chmelka   Eichorst 1    Eichorst 2

By Randy York

Dan Kendig was one of this week’s guests on Nebraska’s Talk to the Director of Athletics Show on the Huskers Sports Network. Cognizant that most Husker winter athletic programs are reaching the peak of their respective seasons and most spring sports are just getting off the launching pad, Nebraska’s two-time National Women’s Gymnastics Coach of the Year hit his primary talking point in a matter of seconds.

“If you’ve never been to a gymnastics meet, this is the one you want to come to…this is going to be something special,” Kendig told studio host Greg Sharpe, referring to No. 9 Nebraska’s 6 p.m. Saturday matchup against No. 14 Arkansas at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. The match goes beyond emotional farewells for Husker seniors Emily Wong and Jamie Schleppenbach. This is a power-packed dual that pits two All-America all-around performers against each other. Arkansas’ Katherine Grable is the No. 3-ranked all-around gymnast in the country. Wong is the nation’s No. 4-ranked all-around gymnast.

“It’s been a great opportunity and a great journey to be on,” said Wong, who was arguably Nebraska’s most decorated individual student-athlete on a nationally competitive scale in 2012-13 and wants to ramp up her 2013-14 performance standard in honor of her father, John, who died last fall.

Without Her Dad, Emotional Meet for Wong

“It will definitely be emotional without my dad here for my last home meet,” said Wong, who earlier this week was named a recipient of the prestigious Wayne Duke Postgraduate Scholarship Award from the Indianapolis Big Ten Community Partnership.

Nebraska’s Spencer Long, a first-team Academic All-America football player, was the male winner of the same Big Ten award, giving the Huskers a two-year Big Ten sweep. Last year, Nebraska football player Sean Fischer and Husker cross country/track and field standout Katelyn White won the same $10,000 award. Wong and Long will be honored in Indianapolis during the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinals on Friday, March 14.

Saturday night may be Wong’s home finale, but her focus will continue to be intense as the five-time first-team All-American points to NCAA Regional competition on April 5 and the NCAA Championships on April 18 and April 20. “This is the closest team I’ve been on,” Wong said. “Our chemistry has gotten tighter every year since I’ve been here.”

In his 21st year as Nebraska’s head coach, Kendig remembers recruiting Wong out of Grand Forks, N.D. “She was a gym rat,” he said. “She loved gymnastics and loved whatever she would do. She just had a passion for the sport and has exceeded every expectation since she’s been here.”

Wong, also a second-team Academic All-American and two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, hopes to attend Physical Therapy School at the University of Nebraska Medical Center or in her home town of Grand Forks.

Physical Therapy School up Next for Wong

Eric Schryver, a senior from Richardson, Texas, and a first-team Academic All-American, also appeared on the Talk to the Director of Athletics Show on Tuesday night, along with Chuck Chmelka, the head coach of the Nebraska men’s gymnastics team, which travels to Norman to compete against No. 1-ranked  Oklahoma on Sunday. Mark Williams, a gymnastics teammate of Chmelka’s at Nebraska, is in 15th season as OU’s head men’s coach.

On this week’s radio show, Chmelka raved about the renovated Devaney Center and the opportunity gymnastics fans will have when Nebraska hosts Iowa, Minnesota, Air Force and Illinois on Saturday March 15. The meet will be a precursor to the Huskers hosting the Big Ten Conference Men’s Championships on March 28-29.

“Our fans are going to love it because the Big Ten is the best conference for men’s gymnastics in the country,” Chmelka said. Schryver agrees with his head coach. “Since we’ve downsized the Devaney, it’s the perfect arena for gymnastics, just like it is for volleyball and wrestling,” he said. “I’ve never seen a facility quite like ours.”

Chmelka goes beyond that. “I’ve never seen a gymnastics arena like ours, and I’ve been all over the world,” he said. “I don’t know any gymnastics facilities with skyboxes. The Big Ten is only going to charge $5 for finals tickets. I’d love to see us pack that place for the conference meet. It’s a beautiful facility, and if you’re a fan, you just have to come out and see it.”

Medical School in Texas Next for Schryver

Like the women’s program, the Husker men’s program is producing its share of outstanding student-athletes. Schryver, for instance, announced on this week’s Husker Sports Network radio show that he has been accepted to attend medical school at the University of Texas-Galveston.

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Mar 05

Eichorst’s Radio Show Reflects One Busy Man

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Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst honors senior Jordan Hooper.

Huskers Earn Prestigious Big Ten Honor

Huskers Dominate All-Big Ten Teams

By Randy York

If you ever wonder what occupies the time and energy of an athletic leader, tune into Shawn Eichorst’s monthly Talk to the Director of Athletics Show on the Huskers Sports Network. In less than an hour Tuesday night, Eichorst described what it’s like to follow and support more than two dozen sports programs, at the same time he’s building relationships with coaches and student-athletes, attending major events in and out of the state, meeting with staff and interacting with donors and alumni.

In his next Connecting on Campus column on Huskers.com, Eichorst will reinforce something he mentioned on Tuesday night’s show – why he believes his primary responsibility is to ensure that student-athletes receive the resources and the support services that make Nebraska a very special place to live, learn and grow. He has done voluminous homework, and it will enlighten all of us about the value of an education at UNL.

Host Greg Sharpe caught up with Eichorst before Nebraska’s second-year Director of Athletics boarded a plane to Bloomington, where he will watch the Nebraska men play Indiana Wednesday night. On Thursday, Eichorst will drive a rental car to Indianapolis where he will meet Big Ten colleagues and support the Husker women in the conference tournament on Friday. Eichorst’s radio show reflects one busy man, who moves fast enough and strategically enough to discuss a laundry list of topics in two segments of his monthly radio show before turning over the second half of the show to gymnastics.

Sharpe interviewed gymnastics coaches Chuck Chmelka and Dan Kendig and a prominent senior from each program – Eric Schryver and Emily Wong. Nebraska coaches and seniors are featured in the last two audio segments of Eichorst’s monthly radio show. In the first two segments, Tuesday night’s topics included, but were not limited to:

Audio Segment 1: Shawn Eichorst

Audio Segment 2: Shawn Eichorst

Segment 3: Men’s Gymnastics (Chuck Chmelka, Eric Schryver)

Segment 4: Women’s Gymnastics (Dan Kendig, Emily Wong)

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Mar 04

NU’s Gipson Realizes His Boyhood Dream

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Levi Gipson: All-Big Ten first team (600 meters) and second team (4x400 relay).

Huskers Secure Six Bids for NCAA Indoor Championship

By Randy York

Like so many kids who grew up in the shadows of the University of Nebraska, Levi Gipson could close his eyes and imagine himself being a Cornhusker. The mere thought of competing seemed like a dream. To compete and win a Big Ten Conference championship in the 600 meters is enough to make a 20-year-old sophomore push the pause button and reflect on realizing a boyhood dream.

“It’s great being a Husker. I never thought I’d be running for Nebraska,” Gipson said. “Sometimes, I’ll just be walking around the football stadium or around the Hendricks Training Complex and just stop and think how blessed I am. We’re all truly blessed to be student-athletes here. I love competing here – something I’ve always wanted to do while growing up here. I love the culture that surrounds Nebraska Athletics. I can really tell that people are genuine and hardworking.”

Gipson fits the mold. The  Lincoln Christian High School graduate earned first-team NCAA All-America honors as a freshman before reaching his collegiate highlight last weekend at the Big Ten meet in Geneva, Ohio, where his 1:17.07 in the 600 meters edged five other runners who ran under 1:18, including teammate London Hawk, who finished third in the 600 with a time of 1:17.41.

Akinmoladun, Englund, Raedler Also Win Big Ten Titles

Gipson was one of four Huskers who achieved first-team All-Big Ten status for his winning performance. The other three Husker Big Ten champions were Oladapo Akinmoladun, a sophomore from Grandview, Mo., who won the Big Ten 60-meter hurdles in a school-record time of  7.61; Travis Englund, a senior from Grand Island (Neb.) Northwest who won the Big Ten high jump (7-0½, 2.15); and Patrick Raedler, a senior from Germany who repeated as Big Ten champion in the long jump, even though his 25-2½ leap fell short of his 25-10 effort a year earlier.

As pleased as each Husker was to win a gold, all were disappointed that Wisconsin outscored Nebraska, 122.5 to 118 to claim the Big Ten Indoor Championship. “We won the conference Outdoor Championship, and we really worked hard to win the indoor,” Gipson said. In track and field, the difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat is often fractions of a second on the track and mere inches in the field.

Less Than a Second Separates Top Six in 400 Meters

Just ask Cody Rush, a sophomore from Grand Island Northwest who had the Big Ten’s second-leading 400-meter time in the preliminaries before finishing sixth in the event’s finals. Get this, Rush was one one-hundredth of a second behind junior teammate Ricco Hall, who was three-hundredths of a second behind the runner ahead of him. The top six runners in the 400 finals were all less than a second of each other in a blanket finish. Jake Bender, Gipson, Drew Wiseman and Rush all earned second-team All-Big Ten status after finishing second in the men’s 4x400 Meter Relay. They were 25 hundredths of a second behind Ohio State.

Seth Wiedel also earned second-team All-Big Ten honors with a 24-7¼ long jump to finish runner-up behind fellow senior teammate Raedler. Christian Sanderfer was the only other male Husker to earn second-team All-Big Ten after tying for second in the pole vault (5.21 m, 17-1).

Five Huskers Earn Second-Team All-Big Ten Status

Nebraska’s third-place Big Ten women’s team did not have any first-team All-Big Ten selections, but had five student-athletes achieve second-team status. Four Huskers – Mara Weekes, Ellie Grooters, Shawnice Williams, and Chantal Duncan – combined to finish second in the 4x400 Meter Relay. Duncan also finished second in the 400-meter finals (54.06). The Huskers’ only other second-team All-Big Ten choice was Ellie Ewere, who finished second in the Triple Jump (42-0½, 12.81).

A nutrition, exercise and health science major, Gipson was disappointed that the Huskers didn’t win another championship to put into an enormous trophy case for legendary coach Gary Pepin last weekend. But at Nebraska, there’s no time to dwell on what didn’t happen. “One of the coolest things about competing here,” Gipson said, “is that they stress the student aspect just as much as the athlete aspect. So we do the very best we can on any given day and then move on to the next challenge.”

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Talk to the Director of Athletics Show Tonight

imageFrom left: Dan Kendig, Desire’ Stephens, Chuck Chmelka, Grant Perdue.

Huskers Earn Prestigious Big Ten Honor

By Randy York

Tonight’s Talk to the Director of Athletics Show on the Huskers Sports Network focuses on the Nebraska men’s and women’s gymnastics programs, which are in the stretch drive of their respective seasons. Greg Sharpe will interview Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst in the first two segments of tonight’s show that begins at 7 p.m. Sharpe will showcase the Nebraska men’s gymnastics program in segment three and the Husker women’s program in the fourth and final segment of the hourly show.

Sharpe also will interview multiple All-American and Academic All-American Emily Wong live in the final segment. The timing couldn’t be better. Earlier today, Wong and fellow Nebraska senior football player Spencer Long were announced as the 2014 Wayne Duke Postgraduate Award recipients. The Indianapolis Big Ten Community Partnership selected the two Huskers to receive $10,000 scholarships. The two will be honored in Indianapolis during the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinals on Friday, March 14.

In addition to Wong’s live appearance after head coach Dan Kendig on tonight’s final segment, Eric Schryver, a senior from Richardson, Texas, and a first-team Academic All-American, will follow his head coach, Chuck Chmelka, during the third segment.

Kendig’s team is ranked ninth in the latest NCAA women’s gymnastics rankings that includes five more Big Ten Conference schools in the Top 25 – No. 7 Michigan, No. 12 Minnesota, No. 13 Illinois, No. 19 Penn State and No. 24 Ohio State. Cmelka’s team is ranked 11th in the latest NCAA men’s gymnastics rankings, which also includes six Big Ten schools in the Top Ten – No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 5 Minnesota, No. 6 Illinois, No. 7 Penn State and No. 8 Iowa.  

Nebraska will host its lastwomen’s home meet of the season Saturday at the Devaney Center. Wong and Jamie Schleppenbach will be honored on Senior Night, which begins at 6 p.m. The Nebraska men travel to Oklahoma Sunday to compete against the Sooners in Norman.

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Feb 27

Petteway Honors a Fallen Husker from the ‘80s

image

Huskers Go Old School for Northwestern Game

Video: Blending Yesteryear’s Era with Today’s

Hoppen Predicted Prodigious Petteway Potential

Nebraska’s 1983-84 Basketball Roster

Nebraska’s 1984-85 Basketball Roster

By Randy York

Nebraska basketball fans remember Dave Hoppen and Brian Carr, Eric Williams and Stan Cloudy, Bill Jackman and Anthony White. They remember Curtis Moore and more players who competed on NIT teams in 1983-84 and 1984-85. One name, however, will emerge Saturday from that same fleet of players when Nebraska sophomore Terran Petteway pays a special tribute to the memory of Ronnie Smith, a 6-foot-10 center from Galveston, Texas, by way of Henderson County Junior College in Athens, Texas.

The Huskers unveiled throwback uniforms for Legends Weekend that will honor the 1911-12 unbeaten Husker team that won the Missouri Valley Conference with an 8-0 record. Petteway is switching from his usual No. 5 to No. 44 to pay homage to Smith, who was killed as a law enforcement officer on Dec. 17, 2011, while responding to a fight call.

Smith played for Moe Iba at Nebraska on two teams that qualified for the National Invitation Tournament. The ’83-84 Husker team beat Creighton in Omaha in the NIT, then lost to Xavier, 58-57, in a game I remember covering in Cincinnati because Nebraska basketball fans were still mourning the death of Jack Moore, the Huskers’ legendary guard.

Ronnie Smith: Basketball Player, Family Man, Role Model

Ronnie Smith was not a star player at Nebraska but he was a superstar human being. Read this obituary and you’ll understand why Petteway, the Big Ten Conference’s leading scorer and a native of Texas himself, wanted to do something special for a former Husker who went on to play 15 years of professional basketball in South America and Europe.

I want to thank Shamus McKnight, Nebraska’s associate media relations director for men’s basketball, for sharpening my memory of Ronnie Smith, a player that Iba could not find one summer after recruiting him. Projected to be the Huskers’ starting power forward, Smith was not AWOL. But he was somewhat of a missing person through no fault of his own.

I remember writing a column in the Lincoln Journal-Star about Smith becoming a longshoreman. He was loading ships on the wharfs when Hurricane Alicia hit his hometown of Galveston, which also happens to be the hometown of Petteway, who found his way to Lincoln three decades later.

Former Husker Forward Survived on a Deserted Island

“It was like being on a deserted island struggling for survival,” the late Ronnie Smith told me about his hurricane experience. “All the telephone lines were down. They weren’t letting anyone on or off the island. There were no lights, no electricity. Windows were broken out. If you were on the streets after 8 o’clock, the National Guard threw you in jail. They didn’t want any vandalism or loitering. It was unbelievable.”

Smith’s disappearance was equally frustrating for Iba, who wondered if his recruit and family were okay. Most people didn’t communicate for a week-and-a-half. Iba wired Smith a letter, but he didn’t receive it until three days after the storm. Two days later, Smith found a working telephone to relay the good news that he was fine, his family was fine and he’d be in Lincoln right on time.

I offer up an interesting footnote to the man that Petteway will honor Saturday against Northwestern. Actually, it’s more like a “You’re not going to believe this” kind of story. Ronnie Smith is, perhaps. the most unusual recruiting story I’ve ever written. Why? Because he did not play on an organized basketball team during his junior and senior years at Ball High School in Galveston. He did not play his first year out of high school either.

Petteway’s Parents Requested Way to Honor a Friend

But an amazing thing happened on Smith’s way to obscurity. He grew 4½ inches after someone handed him his high school diploma. Someone also talked him off the courts of neighborhood playgrounds and into a junior college basketball scholarship. Iba discovered Smith, recruited him and then coached him at Nebraska. When Nebraska’s head couldn’t could not find his recruit that summer, imagine what Galveston prep coaches were thinking. They never did find him because they never knew he was around.

We finish with the most interesting twist about the No. 44 jersey that Petteway will wear Saturday afternoon at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The late Ronnie Smith was a long-time family friend of Terran’s parents, Terry and Joetta. Petteway’s family asked Ronnie’s widow if Terran could honor the former Husker by wearing his jersey during Legends Weekend. Because Petteway will wear No. 44, junior teammate Kye Kurkowski will switch to No. 55 for Saturday’s game.

Now you know the rest of the story.

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Voices from Husker Nation

What an awesome idea. One of the great tragedies of my law enforcement career was losing a fellow officer in the line of duty. Even more so, the world lost a good man. I was the chief deputy of the Sheriff’s office where Ronnie Smith worked, and I will never forget the events of that dreadful night. Ever since that night I have kept close ties on his wife and daughters. They are very special to me and always will be. I have always looked for ways to honor Ronnie’s memory and someone wearing his number is an awesome idea. I can tell you that the day of this game, I will be wearing number 44 on my uniform. Way to go Nebraska! What a class act!! What a team!!! Larry Mooney, McDonough, Georgia

I’m Ronnie Smith’s older sister, and I just want to thank Nebraska’s basketball team and Terran Petteway for thinking of my brother. I wish the Cornhuskers the very best of luck on Saturday in the game against Northwestern. It will mean so much to us to see the video and the photos that honor Ronnie in such a special way. God bless you all. Yvonne Thomas, Galveston, Texas

I want to thank everyone for this special tribute to one of the most talented and very special people I have ever known. I have known Ronnie for 50 years, and he was a very beautiful person. I taught him almost every basketball move he had and taught him to fight for everything he wanted. Together, two-on-two, we never lost a basketball game. I was two years older than Ronnie. I was his best friend and sometimes his dad. As his older brother, I will always keep Ronnie alive in my heart. Love you guys and thank you, Terran Petteway, for this wonderful moment. God bless. Neal Smith, Houston, Texas

I’m a former Butts County Sheriff’s Deputy, and Ronnie Smith was my friend. His call sign was 643. Mine was 610. His Georgia license tag was 610, plain and simple, because he was 6 feet and 10 inches tall. When Ronnie was getting ready to graduate from training academy, I was mortified that I could lose my call sign to him. I shouldn’t have been worried because he got 643, but every time we greeted each other, it was a boisterous 610 for both of us. I will never forget what happened to Ronnie before his death on that particular call that took his life. A few months earlier, he survived a rollover fire/car/patrol car accident. It’s still a wonder how Ronnie was able to get out of his patrol car before it was engulfed in flames. I miss you, Ronnie, 610!! Rest in Peace, Brother. Clark H. Darden, Lafollette, Tennessee

When Ronnie left Texas to play basketball at Nebraska, he came to our house several times with Harvey Marshall, his teammate and good friend. We were very close to Harvey and thought Ronnie was a great guy, too. Ronnie became a family favorite. He was very funny, and our family still tells Ronnie Smith stories at almost all of our gatherings. Alan Domina, Lincoln, Nebraska