The atmosphere within the main arena of the Bob Devaney Sports Center is relaxed. If it weren’t for the hubbub happening around them, you would have no idea that the women’s gymnastics team is preparing to host the NCAA Lincoln Regional in just a matter of days. If there are nerves, they’re hidden well. Ask head coach Dan Kendig and he’ll credit it to confidence. This team is very confident in what it can do.
But it’s not just confidence. The women also know there’s quite a bit left for them. Both Kendig and his gymnasts believe they have not peaked. That’s why they predict that the best is yet to come on Saturday.
“We haven’t hit our peak yet,” sophomore Catelyn Orel said. “We have so much we can show and that I’ve seen these girls can do. I’m excited for them to bring it all together. We’ve had such a great week of practice and I think they’re really gaining their confidence so I’m excited for them to have that confidence in themselves and put it all together and have a great meet.”
Orel, a Blue Springs, Missouri, native, won’t be competing on Saturday. She has had to sit out the 2017 season after injuring her Achilles during the preseason. While she won’t personally be competing in the regional events, she’s stepped into a mentoring role within her team.
“I get to be another set of eyes that maybe the coaches don’t see or the girls don’t see,” Orel said. “I can put in my two cents there and sometimes it helps.”
Her bubbly personality has been especially helpful for the team as they prepare for regionals. A self-proclaimed “very enthusiastic” person, Orel can be found dancing around and cheering on her teammates from the start of practice to the finish.
“Whatever I can do to keep them loose and keep them feeling good and feeling positive about what they’re going to do is the goal,” Orel said.
A Pandora station plays everything from Twenty One Pilots, Beyonce and Rihanna over the Devaney Center speakers. The gymnasts work through their events, splitting up their time between the uneven bars, vault, beam and floor. And as if that weren’t enough action, a crew of people work around them preparing the arena.
There’s a lot that goes into prepping the Devaney Center for the NCAA Lincoln Regional. The banners at the top of the arena have to be swapped from the men’s team’s banners to the women’s. Black sheets have to be hung to cover the lower level seats. There are signs, speaker issues and a number of other items that have to be worked through.
For the gymnasts, they’re focused solely on their events. Moving from their home at Mabel Lee Hall to the Devaney Center, there has been a method to the madness. Tuesday was all about vault and uneven bars. Thursday was all about floor and beam. Through it all, there has also been conditioning, volunteer work and an appearance at Tuesday’s baseball game.
“Our kids are really good about [supporting others],” Kendig said. “They’re doing Matt Talbot House today and then they have to go to the baseball game and then they have to study. It’s a full day but it’s what they do and they know the importance of it.”
And the gymnasts put the time and effort into the university and community simply because they enjoy doing so. If it paid off in extra supporters though, they wouldn’t complain.
“I’m really hoping it does,” Orel said. “We love doing it too. It’s really fun for us. We’re busy all the time but the support we could get back would be awesome.”
The Huskers will be joined by No. 2 LSU, No. 11 Boise State, No. 25 Arizona, Iowa State and Minnesota on Friday for practice. Nebraska is currently ranked No. 14 in the country, which places the team as the third seed for the Lincoln Regional. To make it to the NCAA national championship in St. Louis, Missouri, the team will have to place in the top two.
Nebraska knows it’s in the position of the underdog in its current situation, but the Huskers also have one major advantage – the home floor. Having placed a bid, Nebraska was awarded the opportunity to host a regional in 2017. On Saturday, the day the Huskers had long waited for will finally be here.
There’s just one piece missing and that’s the fans. The last time Nebraska filled the Devaney for gymnastics was when the Huskers hosted nationals in 2003. Kendig said 7,500 fans showed up for that event. Fourteen years later, Nebraska wants to fill the Devaney once again.
“We need that,” Kendig said. “I know that LSU put out a shout out because they go to the College World Series a lot, so they’re trying to get all the LSU fans in the area to come and support them. We want to make sure we double or triple the amount of Husker fans. We just need to pack this house with Husker fans.”
If a lot of fans do show up, they’ll be delighted to find many things to cheer for. In fact, Husker fans will want to pay special attention to the floor and beam routines. There’s a moment in each that is sure to draw cheers from the Nebraskans in the crowd.
“If the crowd looks for it, every single girl [throws the bones] in their beam routine and their floor routine,” junior Grace Williams said. “It started with Jessie DeZiel. Our choreographer put it in her routine one year and I think all the girls liked it and were like, ‘Let’s put it in our routines.’
“It’s a school pride thing. Florida does the ‘gator chomp.’ Utah holds up a ‘U.’ We figured throw the bones because that’s the thing Nebraska has going.”
Plus, if the crowd gets into a routine and cheers loudly, it can have a bigger impact than just motivation.
“It makes such a big difference and it makes a difference for the judges as well,” Orel said. “When the crowd gets really excited and we get excited, the judges kind of think, ‘Oh, wow. That was really good.’ It convinces them to bump up that score and it really makes a difference on our result also.”
Orel would love to experience a full Devaney by the time she graduates. Williams would too. It’s something they have yet to experience (although they’ve been present for volleyball matches and know what it could feel like), but Saturday provides another opportunity.
And if Saturday were to be a packed arena, it would provide experience for the Huskers if they were to advance to the NCAA nationals in St. Louis, Missouri.
“It’d be crazy,” Williams said. “I mean, nationals is going to be pretty full so it’d give us a pretty good idea of what to expect.”
For fans still on the fence about attending, Kendig wanted them to know that it’s a big family event. It’s not expected to take more than a couple of hours and admission is fairly cheap. Fans will also play a major part in Saturday’s competition, which is only another reason to show up and be loud.
“It’s important they know they can make a difference,” Kendig said.
For more information on the Lincoln Regional (which begins at 4 p.m. CT on Saturday) and how you can attend, visit here.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.