Despite overall improvement, top men’s teams still lagging behind model set by Husker women
Column by Sam McKewon / World-Herald Bureau
INCOLN — The best moment of the Nebraska athletic department’s year in sports was like an early Christmas present, the tree stationed just an hour from campus.
The Husker volleyball team won its fourth national title in front of a raucous, partisan, NCAA-record crowd at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center. In ESPN prime time, NU swept an old, familiar foe, Texas, in three tight games.
“It’s hard to put into words the environment tonight,” Nebraska coach John Cook said after the match on Dec. 19.
Roughly six months later, after all of Nebraska’s athletic teams were finished competing for the year, Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst reflected on what made Cook’s program so effective.
“The recipe for success is different in all kinds of places but, by and large, you’re looking for an exceptional coach with a great staff, who has a mission, a vision, a plan and executes it,” Eichorst said.
“He holds folks accountable. And you’ve got to have a support unit that provides all of the things they’d need to be successful.”
The national title was a key part of Nebraska’s 27th-place finish in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup, which assigns points, from 0 to 100, for various postseason achievements by athletic teams. In the Big Ten, NU tied Wisconsin for fifth.
The finish was a 12-spot improvement from the previous year, a fact Nebraska’s athletic department found worth noting in a press release.
Fueled by the volleyball title, Nebraska teams notched seven national top-10 finishes: volleyball, men’s track, women’s bowling, rifle, men’s gymnastics, women’s gymnastics and wrestling. Of those seven, Nebraska generally faces a smaller pool of competitors in bowling, men’s gymnastics and rifle.
Cook’s volleyball team scored 100 of the 707.5 overall points in the Directors’ Cup, while the bowling team got 90 points. NU’s wrestling team, which finished eighth at the NCAA championships, was the third-highest scoring team at 70.5 points.
Most of NU’s athletic teams contributed points in the Directors’ Cup standings. Even the football team, which landed in a bowl game thanks to a high Academic Progress Rate score, put some points on the board.
RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD
Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst saw his new head coach, Mike Riley, endure a 6-7 season. But Eichorst said he likes the way the Huskers are recruiting in both football and men’s basketball.
The Directors’ Cup might be the only metric that classified NU’s football season as some kind of success.
The 6-7 football campaign was the Huskers’ third losing record in 55 years. It stood in stark contrast to the volleyball team, whose season runs concurrently with football. The 2015 season was the 20-year anniversary of the football and volleyball teams’ twin national titles in 1995. Only one of the two programs, at least right now, resembles what it once was.
Two other major men’s teams at Nebraska also endured bumpy seasons.
» Men’s basketball finished 16-18 and 11th in the Big Ten. The team’s best player, Shavon Shields, crucially missed four games midway through the league slate that slowed the Huskers’ momentum. NU won two Big Ten tournament games but failed to qualify for the NIT and chose to turn down other potential bids to postseason tournaments.
As a result, the football and men’s basketball teams both had losing seasons for the first time since 1961.
» The baseball team received one of the final spots in the NCAA tournament, but lost both games in regional play. Those two losses were on top of an 0-2 showing in the Big Ten tournament, held in Omaha at TD Ameritrade Park. Nebraska scored four total runs in those four games.
The Husker football, men’s basketball and baseball teams — the three most-attended men’s sports at Nebraska — have in recent years generally lagged behind their counterparts in women’s sports: volleyball, basketball and softball.
In the last five years, for example, the combined winning rate of the three women’s teams is 70.6 percent. For the men, it’s just 56.4.
The NU women’s basketball team this season was so dysfunctional that the coach was investigated and resigned amid allegations of player mistreatment. But the Huskers still won 18 games — two more than the men.
What accounts for the gap in winning?
Is it relative competition level? Probably not, since the Big Ten has had four teams in the last five Women’s College World Series and eight teams — including three national champions — in the last five volleyball final fours.
“I don’t really judge them based on that,” Eichorst said. “I judge them based on each individual situation. The women’s programs have done a terrific job. They have excellent coaches. They do a terrific job recruiting the best and the brightest that fit what we’re all about at Nebraska. They’ve had a level of success.
“On the men’s side, each one of those coaches will tell you they want to win them all, and we’re trying to do everything we can to put resources around them to do what it is we want to do collectively. And we have room to improve. I see one women’s program doing great as inspiration for us to all do better.”
Video: Nebraska volleyball year in review
Take a look back at the 2015 Nebraska volleyball season that ended with a national title.
Eichorst has a board outside his office that recognizes Nebraska’s Big Ten title teams. Since NU joined the league, only one men’s team has won a league crown of any kind: coach Gary Pepin’s track squad, which won the 2013 outdoor, 2015 indoor and 2016 indoor and outdoor titles. Pepin recruits internationally and has a veteran staff with strong recruiting contacts. His best men’s thrower, NCAA champion Nick Percy, hails from England. Of the four members on the men’s 1,600-meter relay team — Big Ten champs and third at NCAAs — two (Cody Rush and Levi Gipson) are from Nebraska and two (Tanner Townsend and Sam Bransby) are from out of state.
Can coaches within the athletic department learn from a sage like Pepin, who’s repeatedly retooled his program to win titles?
Eichorst said he’s creating a “coach’s council” so program leaders can bounce ideas off one another. The council will include head coaches and assistants alike.
“We’ve designed it in a way that it doesn’t have an agenda,” Eichorst said. “It’s just an opportunity for everybody to take a deep breath, sit around the table and talk about current events and their program — whether it’s recruiting, how you’re going about visits, or the academic side, or time demands.”
Not every NU program, Eichorst said, has the same facility advantages. The tennis and soccer programs just recently got major facility upgrades — previous setups may have slowed recruiting to some extent. Eichorst is bullish on recruiting top talent, or what he calls the “total person” — a top student and a top athlete who fits Nebraska.
Eichorst wants his coaches to be bullish in recruiting, too. Asked specifically about recruiting efforts in football and men’s basketball, Eichorst said he was pleased.
“We’re very encouraged with our recruiting efforts in both of those programs,” he said. “We’re really focused on building sustainable programs, not just one team. And I think there’s been a comprehensive and holistic review into all the things that go into recruiting and making sure that everybody understands we’re all sort of responsible and accountable to help in that way.
“There’s a positive attitude in recruiting. I like the attitude of, ‘We can go out and recruit anybody who fits what we’re trying to get done.’ We’re not going to take a backseat to anybody.”
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MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD
After losing two straight matches at home in late October, the Huskers won their final 16 matches en route to the program’s fourth national title. Nebraska loses two senior starters from last year’s championship team, but returns All-Americans at every position.
Big Ten regular season: 17-3, second (32-4 overall)
Preseason prediction: Nebraska was picked to finish second in the conference behind defending conference and NCAA champion Penn State. NU began the season tied for fifth with Wisconsin in the national coaches poll.
How it played out: After a midseason swoon that included back-to-back home losses, the Huskers rode a wave that crested in Omaha with their fourth NCAA championship. Nebraska reeled off 16 straight wins to end the season, capped by a sweep of Texas in the national title match.
Success or struggle: Going into the season, conventional wisdom indicated NU might be a year away from making a run to the final four. All-America middle blocker Briana Holman was forced to sit out the season after transferring from LSU, and position shuffles left the team with new starters in three spots. But the team ultimately jelled with Amber Rolfzen transitioning from opposite hitter into one of the country’s top middles. Sophomore setter Kelly Hunter led an efficient offense in her first year as a starter, and Kadie Rolfzen flipped sides to earn first-team All-America honors at opposite. The championship represents one of John Cook’s best coaching jobs in his 16 years running the program.
Standouts/stars: Several players could receive a mention here, but the 2015 season will be remembered for the successful transition of Kadie Rolfzen and the breakout debut of freshman outside hitter Mikaela Foecke. Rolfzen led the Huskers with 3.3 kills per set, and her double-double (20 kills, 15 digs) against Washington in the Lexington Regional final helped the Huskers clinch a final four berth. Foecke’s star shone brightest in two of Nebraska’s biggest wins of the season, with a combined 41 kills in wins at Penn State and over Texas for the NCAA title.
Season high: This one’s easy. Near the end of Nebraska’s sweep of Texas in the championship match, the NCAA-record crowd of 17,561 fans at the CenturyLink Center set a new standard for noise at a college volleyball match. The Huskers beat their longtime rivals to avenge an early-season loss and clinch the program’s fourth NCAA crown. Foecke’s performance in the championship match will be talked about for years. The Longhorns had no answer for NU’s freshman outside hitter, who had 19 kills and hit .385.
Season low: The championship seemed far away when Nebraska dropped back-to-back home matches in late October to Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Huskers lost a 3-1 decision to the Gophers with all four sets being decided by three points or fewer, then came out flat the following night against the Badgers. Wisconsin held Nebraska to a season-low .133 attack percentage and out-blocked NU 15-8.
Trending: If you can believe it, up. Nebraska loses two senior starters from last year’s title team, but returns All-Americans at every position. Holman and freshman Lauren Stivrins join Amber Rolfzen to again make the middle a strength, and newly arrived Baylor transfer Andie Malloy, who is eligible to play this fall, adds a six-rotation outside hitter to the team with Foecke on the left side. The Huskers have the talent necessary for a second straight title this fall. But so did Nebraska’s two most recent post-championship clubs in 2001 and 2007, which were favored to repeat but fell short.
— Jeff Sheldon
Big Ten regular season: 3-5, fourth in West Division (6-7 overall)
Preseason prediction: The consensus among preseason magazines, computer projections and polls was that Nebraska would finish No. 2 in the Big Ten West, behind Wisconsin.
How it played out: Nebraska had a series of gut-punch losses. Each of its defeats in 2015 was by 10 points or fewer, and the first five losses were by a combined 13 points. The Huskers were in each game, yet made enough mistakes to lose them. If not for a late-season rally in which NU won three of its last four games, the entire year might have been lost. Nebraska struggled on defense all season, and struggled at the wrong times on offense. The result was a season that left fans frustrated but hopeful for the next year.
Success or struggle: Struggle. Mike Riley’s first season was a transition for players and coaches, most of whom followed Riley from his longtime job at Oregon State. By midseason, Riley’s crew had fully realized they weren’t in Corvallis anymore. Injuries and suspensions didn’t help. If Nebraska’s season were a person, it would have been a teenager’s year of bad acne, weird hair and so-so grades.
Standouts/stars: Was there one? Not exactly. Jordan Westerkamp had one of the best receiving years in Husker history, and Maliek Collins played decent at defensive tackle. Fullback Andy Janovich (pictured) did a heck of a job on special teams.
Season high: The last-second 39-38 win over Michigan State, and resulting celebration, was just what Nebraska needed after its awful season low.
Season low: A loss at Purdue that might have been the worst in more than 50 years. Purdue wasn’t good, the crowd in Ross-Ade Stadium was small and uninterested, and Nebraska played sloppy, almost careless football with five turnovers and terrible tackling.
Trending: Up. Year Two should be a little more stable, with the offensive coaches better understanding their personnel and the defense shrugging off the self-pity that seemed to mark much of last season.
— Sam McKewon
Video: Nebraska football year in review
Take a tour of the top moments from the 2015 Nebraska football season.
Big Ten regular season: 6-12, 11th (16-18 overall)
Big Ten tournament: Won two games, ousted in quarterfinals.
Preseason prediction: The Big Ten failed to conduct a coaches or media preseason poll, but most magazines projected Nebraska to finish 11th or 12th. From a team that finished 12th the season before, NU returned just two seniors and no true inside presence.
How it played out: About as projected. The Huskers lost their first two Big Ten games, both at home, and got back above .500 in the league only once at 4-3.
Success or struggle: It was mostly a struggle. The 8-5 nonconference record was filled with wins over teams near the bottom of the RPI and just one win of note (Rhode Island). In conference play, NU started the regular season slowly (losing its first three) and ended slower (losing its final five).
Standouts/stars: Forward Shavon Shields (pictured above), a four-year starter, was voted second-team All-Big Ten after leading Nebraska in scoring (16.8) and averaging 5.1 rebounds. Wing Andrew White, a Kansas transfer, earned honorable mention after averaging 16.6 points and 5.9 rebounds.
Season high: A 72-71 upset of No. 11 Michigan State in East Lansing on Jan. 20. It was the third straight win over MSU, and the second on the road.
Season low: A home loss to Samford — not Stanford — of the Southern Conference. Samford finished 14-19 overall, 4-14 in its league and 253rd in the RPI.
Trending: Slightly down. Nebraska has three losing seasons in four years under Tim Miles, who is 63-67. Critics note that if you remove the six-week hot streak in 2014 that sparked the Huskers to an NCAA bid, the mark is 53-65. The late transfer of White is a serious blow. On the plus side, NU has four top-150 national recruits on the roster and signed a true center (6-foot-11 Jordy Tshimanga).
— Lee Barfknecht
Big Ten regular season: T-7th
Big Ten tournament: Lost in second round
Preseason prediction: Nebraska was not among the top three teams, according to the coaches and media.
How it played out: Well, it was kind of a disaster, even if the record wasn’t. Though the Huskers finished 18-13 and made the WNIT, they had much better talent than that, but very little chemistry, and longtime coach Connie Yori was investigated for mistreating players. She eventually chose to resign and receive a large buyout, while the team’s second-best player, Natalie Romeo, blasted her teammates’ immaturity on the way out the door. Nebraska lost its two highest-rated recruits, too. After a brief search, Nebraska hired former NU player Amy Williams to run its program.
Success or struggle: A massive struggle. Though Jessica Shepard (pictured) won Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, she was slowed by knee pain, and half the team battled injuries. One guard (Kyndal Clark) left the team, while another (Rachel Theriot) decided she was too hurt to finish the season. NU had dysfunction written all over it.
Standouts/stars: Shepard, who was often unstoppable in the low post, and Romeo, who had the better, more consistent season of the two, breaking NU’s record for 3-pointers in a season.
Season high: Shepard’s dominant game at Michigan, where she had 35 points and 20 rebounds, which won her National Player of the Week honors by several outlets.
Season low: A miserable 68-50 home loss to Purdue, where all the frustrations and sorrows of this team could be seen clearly by fans and media alike.
Trending: Down. Nebraska will likely be worse next season, and if it doesn’t make the NCAA tournament, one wonders how long the rebuilding process might take. Williams has yet to prove she can recruit at this level, and losing two top recruits doesn’t help her momentum.
— Sam McKewon
Big Ten regular season: 16-8, second (37-22 overall)
Big Ten tournament: Went 0-2
Preseason prediction: Coaches didn’t pick Nebraska in the top six of the preseason conference poll.
How it played out: NU spent three-fourths of the season trying to find its identity as newcomers adjusted and returners adapted to expanded roles. The Huskers started slowly, surged in March and then were humbled for a week in April. But by May, everything clicked. Nebraska finished the regular season on a 15-4 run. The Big Ten tournament didn’t go as planned, though. A 0-2 showing nearly knocked the Huskers out of an NCAA regional. NU did make the 64-team field for the second time in three years, but lost both of its games.
Success or struggle: The Huskers’ finish left a sour taste. They scored four runs in four postseason games. But the regular-season victories that put them in position to play in June should be commended. They finished second in the Big Ten for the third time in four years. There were growing pains, but overall, what Nebraska accomplished in 2016 should be viewed positively.
Standout/star: Jake Meyers (pictured) finished with a team-high .326 batting average as Nebraska’s starting right fielder. The sophomore from Omaha Westside was also inserted into the weekend rotation midway through the season and flourished, recording a 1.42 ERA and 6-1 record in nine starts. He was an All-Big Ten third-team performer.
Season high: The final week of the regular season. NU blew out Creighton 15-2 at TD Ameritrade Park, then the Huskers won all three of their games against Indiana — a series sweep that included two shutouts.
Season low: The postseason flop. But another midseason low likely cost Nebraska a Big Ten regular-season title as it finished a half-game behind Minnesota. The Huskers got blown out in a Sunday series finale by Northwestern, lost a heartbreaker to Creighton and then made enough mistakes to get swept at Michigan.
Trending: Status quo. Nebraska has been in the hunt for a regional each of the last four years. But coach Darin Erstad knows the importance of taking the next step. He doesn’t want to be sitting in a locker room on selection Monday wondering if Nebraska will be part of the NCAA tournament. The Huskers need to win their league. They need to host a regional. They need to play their best baseball in June. There is an urgency within the program to continue to aim higher.
— Jon Nyatawa
Big Ten regular season: Tied for fifth
Big Ten tournament: Fourth
Preseason prediction: The Huskers knew they had holes to fill at 157 and 174 pounds with All-Americans James Green and Robert Kokesh completing their eligibility in 2015, but the team was hopeful it could remain one of the nation’s best with eight starters returning.
How it played out: Leaning on its experience, Nebraska was a solid dual team and, with few holes in its lineup, even better in tournaments. After placing second at the Midlands Championships in late-December, the Huskers came in fourth at the Big Ten meet, their best finish since joining the conference in 2011. They were eighth at nationals.
Success or struggle: A success. The team’s starters stayed relatively healthy and all 10 finished with more than 20 wins. That included 149-pounder Jake Sueflohn, who sat out 2014-15 with a torn ACL before finishing his career with a 29-8 senior season. The Huskers lost six duals, but all were to teams that finished in the top 15 at nationals — four placed in the top six.
Standout/star: TJ Dudley (pictured). The 184-pound junior was at his best when the lights shined the brightest. Dudley, who placed eighth at nationals as a sophomore, was runner-up in the Big Ten meet, then won his first four matches at nationals to reach the championship. He lost a 5-3 decision to defending champ Gabe Dean of Cornell.
Season high: A strong showing at nationals. NU not only qualified all 10 wrestlers, but all 10 won at least two matches. Dudley, Eric Montoya (fifth at 133) and Austin Wilson (seventh at 165) gave NU three All-Americans in back-to-back seasons.
Season low: Nebraska’s 19-14 loss to sixth-ranked Missouri on Feb. 21 wasn’t lopsided, but it was the way the Huskers lost. NU led 10-6 midway through the dual before losing four straight matches, and coach Mark Manning was upset afterward with the way his team didn’t finish matches. That loss, though, refocused NU and spurred it to good showings at the Big Ten meet and nationals.
Trending: Up. Seven starters are expected to return, including three — Dudley, Tim Lambert (125) and heavyweight Collin Jensen — who will be four-year starters. Montoya also will be a senior, and Manning really likes his recruiting class.
— Gene Schinzel
Big Ten regular season: 13-9, fifth (35-21 overall)
Big Ten tournament: Lost in quarterfinals
Preseason prediction: A lot of offense to go with an experienced pitching staff, though one that was untested in big games. Still, there was plenty of reason to hope that Bowlin Stadium could host one of the 16 NCAA regionals.
How it played out: Another regional berth came, but the Huskers got thumped twice by host Missouri for a runner-up finish. Of the Huskers’ 35 wins, 17 were come-from-behind victories, including eight walk-offs.
Standouts/stars: All-America seasons from junior MJ Knighten (pictured, left) and senior Kiki Stokes. Knighten became NU’s seventh first-team All-American. Stokes was a third-team honoree for the second straight year to become the ninth Husker to earn multiple All-America honors.
Season high: For the first time in program history, the Huskers defeated a No. 1 team at home. That 1-0 victory April 8 over Michigan looked like it could rocket NU to a nice run in the NCAA tournament. Things didn’t work out that way. Nebraska still had two early-season wins over top-10 teams Oregon and James Madison. It also played eventual national champion Oklahoma close in a 4-2 loss.
Season low: A 7-4 loss April 1 at Maryland, which finished 12-40. A close second was losing both ends of a March 26 doubleheader at Illinois after defeating the Illini 10-2 in five innings less than 24 hours earlier.
Trending: Neutral. There is a lot of ifs but there is also enough talent to go either way. How bad do the returning players want to be good? More than improved pitching is needed. Only Knighten returns with a batting average north of .300. The All-American needs protection in the batting order. Who will step up? The season begins with a tournament in which the Huskers face the two WCWS finalists — Oklahoma and runner-up Auburn.
— Steve Beideck
Men’s track and field
Big Ten meet: The Husker men earned the double in 2016, winning both the Big Ten indoor and outdoor conference titles.
Preseason prediction: After winning the 2015 Big Ten indoor title, the Huskers were considered among the favorites in 2016.
How it played out: The Huskers captured their second straight indoor championship in February and followed it up with the outdoor title in front of home fans at the Ed Weir Track in Lincoln in May, giving longtime head coach Gary Pepin 72 career conference championships. Nebraska finished tied for 10th at the NCAA championships, its highest finish since 2003.
Success or struggle: Despite a number of injuries to key performers, Nebraska cruised to victory at the Big Ten outdoor championships to complete the double. With 140.5 team points, the Huskers finished 50 points ahead of runner-up Michigan.
Standout/star: Nick Percy didn’t go into the season as a favorite for national honors, but the sophomore from England had an outdoor season to remember. In March, he set the school record in the hammer throw, and he came through on a windy day in May to win the Big Ten discus title. Three weeks later, he became the third Husker to win the NCAA discus championship with a personal-best throw of 201-0.
Season high: The Big Ten outdoor team title was clinched long before the meet’s final event on May 15, but it was a goosebumps moment when the Huskers’ 1,600 relay team brought the weekend to a close with a record-setting run. The team of Levi Gipson, Tanner Townsend, Sam Bransby and Cody Rush set a Big Ten meet record with a winning time of 3:03.74, the No. 4 time in Nebraska history.
Season low: Not a lot to complain about this season, but injuries held Nebraska back from its full potential. Landon Bartel won the Big Ten indoor high jump title but missed most of the outdoor season. Sprinter Drew Wiseman and hurdler Mate Koroknai, both of whom could have contended for Big Ten points, also were injured.
Trending: Up. Despite losing All-American Cody Rush, Jacob Bender, Ricco Hall and Oladapo Akinmoladun, much of Nebraska’s scoring at the Big Ten meet will be back in 2017, led by Percy, sprinters Malcolm White, Antoine Lloyd and Oliver Alexandre, jumper Kaiwan Culmer and a talented group of pole vaulters.
— Jeff Sheldon
Women’s track and field
Big Ten meet: The Huskers finished sixth at the league’s indoor championships and moved up to third place at the outdoor meet.
How it played out: Two Huskers picked up conference championships, led by junior Tierra Williams. The Auburn, Nebraska, product swept the indoor and outdoor long jump and triple jump titles. Reka Czuth won the outdoor high jump after finishing third indoors.
Success or struggle: Czuth and Williams, along with a talented trio of javelin throwers, provided the highlights, but the women struggled on the track. The Huskers didn’t place in the top five in any running event at the Big Ten outdoor meet.
Standout/star: Williams’ four individual titles were the highlight for a team that should expect to perform better with its pedigree. The triple jump crowns were a surprise after she added the event this year. She finished fifth at the NCAA indoor and outdoor championships.
Season high: The women won the Kansas Relays quadrangular April 23 with 206 points.
Season low: Nebraska has the resources and the history to do better than a sixth-place finish at the Big Ten indoor championships.
Trending: Up. Most of the point scorers from this year’s Big Ten meets should be back. The young sprinters will need to show better for NU to have a chance at a conference title next year, but Czuth, Williams and some quality in the field events should help improve upon this year’s results.
— Jeff Sheldon
Big Ten regular season: 4-5-2, tied for ninth (8-7-2 overall)
Big Ten tournament: Didn’t qualify for the second straight year
Preseason prediction: The Huskers were picked 10th in the Big Ten coaches poll. Jaycie Johnson, Caroline Flynn and Jaylyn Odermann were chosen as players to watch.
How it played out: NU won one of its first seven league matches. The Huskers hoped that an RPI of 42 and a strength of schedule rated third nationally would still get them into the national tournament, but that didn’t pan out.
Standouts/stars: Odermann (pictured) was the only Husker named to the All-Big Ten team, earning second-team accolades. The senior from Gretna started all 17 games and played a key role on defense. She added four goals and four assists.
Season high: The Huskers won three of their last four games to keep hopes of qualifying for the Big Ten tournament alive, but outcomes in the rest of the conference didn’t fall their way.
Season low: Months before the season started, assistant Peter Underwood was killed in a car accident while on a recruiting trip.
Trending: Up, maybe. Nebraska has a new soccer stadium, so that bodes well for the future. Still, NU was outshot 217-190 last season. The Huskers need to find some firepower, or they’ll continue to dwell in the bottom half of the conference.
— Marjie Ducey
NCAA championships: Second
Trending: The Huskers won four invitationals and advanced to the NCAA championship match for the fourth straight season. NU lost the title match to Stephen F. Austin in seven games. The team’s top three bowlers — Julia Bond (pictured), Gazmine Mason and Briana Zabierek — return.
NCAA championships: Eighth
Trending: Another strong season ended in a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA championships. NU lost six duals in the regular season, all against teams that finished in the top five in the nation. Incoming freshman Kayla Gadeken of Seward is the team’s first in-state recruit in eight years.
Big Ten championships: Sixth
Trending: NU was seventh as a team at the NCAA championships, its highest finish since 1999. Seniors Sam Chamberlain and Ethan Lottman both had third-place finishes at the NCAAs, and two All-Americans return: Anton Stephenson and Austin Epperson.
Big Ten championships: Second
Trending: After a runner-up finish at the conference championships in Lincoln, NU took eighth place at the national championships. It loses only two seniors, but one of them — Hollie Blanske (pictured) — was the Huskers’ only first-team All-American this year.
Big Ten championships: Lost in second round to Ohio State
Trending: The Huskers went 4-7 in Big Ten play, with six of the losses coming against top-40 opponents. They lose five seniors, including Dusty Boyer, who finished 19-5 at No. 1 singles. Just one upperclassman returns.
Big Ten championships: Did not qualify (Tied for 10th in regular season)
Trending: NU just missed out on a spot in the conference championships but returns four of its top five singles players. No. 1 singles player Maggy Lehmicke departs after winning 135 matches in her Husker career.
Big Ten championships: 13th
Trending: The team finished next-to-last in the Big Ten for the second straight year but did it this season with only one senior on the roster. The Huskers will be much more experienced next year as they return their top six players — four of them will be sophomores.
Big Ten championships: 13th
Trending: Three of the top four graduate, including Cassidy Stelzmiller, who tied for 25th at the Big Ten meet to lead NU. Wahoo native Haley Thiele, who finished tied for 39th in the conference as a freshman, is the top returner.
Swimming and diving
Big Ten championships: Ninth
Trending: One of the best divers in NU history, Anna Filipcic, enters her senior season. As a junior, the Omaha Burke grad qualified for the NCAA championships for the third straight year and earned All-America honors in the 1-meter dive.
Big Ten championships: Men 12th, Women 13th
Trending: The women’s team’s top runner, Anna Peer, redshirted the season with an injury and will be back. Senior-to-be Peter Spinks finished 47th at the Big Ten meet, the best result for a Husker men’s runner since 2011.
— Zach Tegler