Blanske, Hollie – Senior – VT, UB, BB, FX
Breen, Danielle – Sophomore – UB, BB
Chung, Kelli – Freshman
Crouse, Sienna – Freshman
Kuo, Megan – Freshman
Laeng, Jennie – Junior – VT, UB, BB, occasional FX
Lambert, Ashley – Junior – VT, FX, but can also do UB, BB
McConkey, Madison – Senior – in-a-pinch backup on UB
Orel, Catelyn – Freshman
Schweihofer, Megan – Freshman
Shows, Kami – Freshman
Williams, Grace – Sophomore – VT, UB, BB, FX
2015 – 8th
2014 – 6th
2013 – 14th
2012 – 8th
2011 – 4th
2010 – 7th
It’s difficult to have fluffy, leprechaun-filled Super Six dreams for Nebraska this year after even a cursory glance at the roster. For a team that has lost its star in Jessie Deziel and returns such a sparse supply of realistic routine options, a great deal of pressure will be heaped on an unproven freshman class to contribute not just depth but multiple counting routines on every event, every week. Otherwise, I fear this could turn into a “just the five vaulters again” kind of season. This freshman class does have potential, and with the scoring strength of some of those vital returning gymnasts, remaining a solidly mid-high 196 team and adopting a fairly secure position in the fight to return to nationals seems realistic, as long as actually everyone stays healthy. Competing with the greater star power and depth of the teams ranked in the preseason top 10, however, seems a much greater challenge that would require the emergence of some diamonds in the rough.
Grace Williams. For someone who was one of the great standout JO gymnasts in her age group after a brief stint with junior elite, Williams’ performances were a little too 9.825 last year. I had higher expectations of her becoming the replacement DeZiel on this team, not languishing as a supporting player. She has the talent to be the best-scoring gymnast on this team, and now that DeZiel is gone and those critical 9.9s have been lost, the pressure is on her to become a couple times more brilliant. Those 9.9s have to come from somewhere if Nebraska is to have any chance of unsticking itself from 8th-12th ranking purgatory.
Vault is Nebraska’s event, traditionally the team’s highest score by a pretty healthy margin. The beginning of last season was no exception when the Huskers started with those back-to-back 49.750, 49.600 scores led by the Lambert 10s. While those scores did not hold for the whole year and drooped down toward the 9.850s as we went along (an issue to keep an eye on) the possibilities remain solid. Much like a more powerful version of Oregon State, however, the Huskers have lately been a team of fulls. If they aren’t able to forage for as many 10.0 starts as other teams, will they begin to lose some margin on an event that is more important for them than it is for others?
Lambert will lead the way with the biggest and most stickable full on the roster. She certainly has the power to up the difficulty (and did perform more complex yurchenkos back in the day), though that was a lifetime of health traumas ago. Similarly, Blanske had a 1.5 as a JO gymnast, as did Williams for a hot second when she tried elite, but we’re talking 2010-2011 here. So who knows? Part of the fun of vault at the beginning of this season will be watching for who suddenly has a secret 1.5 we weren’t expecting. Nebraska can certainly teach a vault. We know that.
Expect Lambert and Blanske to be the top vault scorers regardless, with Laeng and Williams also returning for scores at least somewhere into the 9.8s. Among the freshmen, I like Schweihofer to get into the lineup since she has the biggest full of the group. Beyond her, Crouse also has an OK full, Shows had a full for a minute way back pre-Achilles tear, and then Orel and the sophomore Breen had 1/2s in JO, so people do exist. It’s just a matter of how existy they are. Because of the top-scoring vaulters, I still like this lineup for somewhere around a 49.300 average, but they’ll have to Nebraska a couple vaults from the newbies to remain at the level we expect.
Last season, bars was just OK, if a little too unremarkable. In too many meets, everyone got stuck in the 9.8s with no huge scores to shoot them up toward the 49.3s and 49.4s where the big teams live. In other words, needs more Emily Wong. Also a good title for the history of the world. The four likely returners to the lineup—Blanske, Williams, Laeng, and Breen—were all consistently 9.800-9.850 last season, sometimes 9.875 at home. It’s fine, but it’s not Super Six. They often relied too much on DeZiel to get that 9.9+ and save the score, and that’s not an option anymore. Jennie Laeng will be particularly important. She boasts a ton of pretty potential on bars with great toes and a winning gienger (and has actually exceeded expectations by being an AA contributor—I saw her more as a bars specialist coming in). Laeng scored as high as 9.950 last season, and in the search for a bars star, she’s the best nominee.
I also expect Sienna Crouse to come into the lineup. Talk about people with a bigly big gienger. She could also be the spark on this event. Other options will include Lambert, who can give the team a routine as necessary, but it’s probably going to be 9.750. Kami Shows has a solid tkatchev…Catelyn Orel has gienger/tkatchev composition…but I have some questions about how to fill out that lineup with six good bars workers. Weak early scores could render it a little 49.1, so Laeng and Crouse will be critical. (And hopefully Grace Williams can slam out a few stuck landings too. She is a JO bars champion after all.)
Beam, often the biggest struggle bus for Nebraska. It’s easy to forget (translation: I forgot) that Nebraska came just four tenths shy of catching Auburn for the last spot in Super Six last year, a deficit largely the result of a 48.875 on beam. With a 2014-nationals level beam score, the Huskers would have been in as the upset queens yet again. As on bars, they’ll be returning four slightly nerve-wracking but necessary 9.850s from Blanske, Williams, Laeng, and Breen, but on this event in particular, Grace Williams will need to emerge from the perfectly OK 9.840 RQS of last season and become the leader. Williams was a fantastically confident beamer in JO, dominant on her acro skills, and is fully capable of 9.9s. For the team overall, if beam is going to be stronger than last year it will be a matter not only of finding the consistency to keep them out of the 9.7s this time, but also minimizing dance and minor form deductions, to which they are susceptible. In the video above, Williams shows leg and foot form issues that can bring the score down. There can be a pretty wide variation in the scores for hit routines depending on how much form grumpies the judges have.
Among the freshmen, I like perhaps Schweihofer and Crouse here to join the lineup (if Lambert doesn’t), but once again, the main fight will be to find that big anchor score or two so that the team doesn’t stick on 9.850s.
Floor should be slightly worrying for the Huskers because they return just three routines from last season’s lineup, which is basically zero routines, but this year I’m more confident about floor than the other events because they do return more believable and reliable 9.9s here than anywhere else. Blanske and Lambert both have pretty big routines that should consistently bring in top scores, the type that can save a rotation even if the team is, say, struggling to fill out the lineup with a couple freshmen who wouldn’t normally be called upon to do floor. Just for instance. Floor was also Williams’ highest-scoring event last season, so that’s a pretty compelling trio that should do well.
The rest of the lineup won’t have to be great to keep the team on track, just clean and acceptable. We may see Laeng slot in. She doesn’t often compete floor but did twice last season and got 9.825s both times. They’ll take that as an early score. Of the freshmen, Crouse has a front double full in her repertoire, while the rest of the pack of likely competitors boasts your basic double pike/double tuck routines that could work if not necessarily stand out.
As the season begins, count how many freshmen are actually contributing routines or exhibitions and, even more importantly, how many of those routines are 9.800+. That will be very telling. It needs to be eight 9.800+ routines at the very least for Nebraska to be successful. Since this isn’t a big team, the looming depth monster is always going to be the biggest nemesis, and the freshmen will have to be the shield. The more the newbies manage to get into the lineup, the less blood-pressure medication you’ll need.