Nebraska women’s basketball and gymnastics fans have reasons to smile.
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By Randy York
Two of Nebraska’s most successful athletic programs Sunday came within a whisker of making serious national noise in their respective sports, but both were edged out by the smallest of margins. Their losses created disappointment for Husker women basketball players and NU’s female gymnasts, but even in defeat, the Huskers have to be considered winners in the eyes of their coaches – Connie Yori and Dan Kendig, both of whom have been National Coaches of the Year and know a winner when they see one.
Playing in its fifth game in eight days, Yori’s No. 24-ranked basketball team battled valiantly before falling to Purdue, 74-70 in a double-overtime loss in the Big Ten Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament Championship on Sunday. Here’s betting that Yori had inspiring post-tournament locker room comments for a team that was relentless and resilient for four consecutive days.
Yori knows what the championship scoreboard said, but she has to be pleased with the way the Big Ten’s youngest team finished its regular season. With late-season injuries to two NU starters, plus a key reserve, the Huskers transformed themselves from a shoot first and ask questions later team to an attacking, drive-to-the-basket outfit. Anyone who watched the conference tournament on the Big Ten Network could see how much heart the Huskers have. Avid Nebraska followers also know that only one senior (Kaitlyn Burke) plays. It will be interesting to see what kind of seed Nebraska earns in the NCAA Tournament a week from Monday and equally intriguing to see what kind of national impact the Huskers might have at this same time next year.
Like Yori, Kendig viewed Sunday’s near Nebraska upset of Florida’s top-ranked gymnastics team in the same bittersweet light. Nebraska’s veteran head coach, however, had to be pleased to see his young No. 6-ranked Huskers not have to count a major mistake. Only 15-hundredths of a point kept his team from winning. All the Huskers needed to upset the Gators were a tenth-of-a-point here and half of that somewhere, anywhere else.
Nebraska’s gymnastics team has only one senior (Lora Evenstad) in its lineup. Against the NCAA’s No. 1 team, the Huskers had a freshman (Jessie DeZiel) and a sophomore (Emily Wong) tie for Sunday’s all-around title. Regardless of what the scoreboard said Sunday, Kendig sees his team as winners, and there will be big opportunities this year and beyond to prove just that.
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