Photo by Pat Radigan
By Pat Radigan
I’ve always enjoyed getting to cover sports I knew no one else was watching, but even I never would have guessed I’d be focusing a feature on a gymnast from Rutgers.
Yet here we are.
And we’re here because I wanted Around the Corn to be about stories and people, rather than accomplishment and typical snarky commentary. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still do my best to make it witty and entertaining. You may even laugh a time or two if you aren’t careful.
We’ll save you the task of counting. There are 12 events listed below. Nebraska won 11 of them. That’s quite a success rate, if you ask us.
Nebraska – 59
No. 13 Ohio State – 64
Nebraska – 52
No. 25 Rutgers – 42
No. 1 Nebraska – 196.300
No. 3 Ohio State – 192.975
No. 12 Nebraska – 196.300
Rutgers – 192.975
No. 18 Nebraska – 19
No. 20 Northwestern – 18
No. 18 Nebraska – 19
No. 16 Rutgers – 13
Nebraska – 7
Creighton – 0
Dillon Tennis Center
Swim and Dive
Nebraska – 183
Illinois – 112
No. 8 Nebraska – 4,682
No. 15 Navy – 4,655
No. 8 Nebraska – 4,670
No. 11 N.C. State – 4,655
Track and Field
Men – 1st
Women – 1st
#1: Shutdown Silver Lining
I don’t mean to undercut the early season success of the Husker men’s gymnastics team in any way, but did you know the federal government has played some sort of a role in keeping NU at No. 1?
No, I haven’t been watching InfoWars.
It more so has to do with the fact that the Air Force Academy has men’s gymnastics, and last weekend the Falcons were set to host the three-time defending national champion Oklahoma Sooners. Until the federal government shutdown this weekend. Because of it, the meet was cancelled, and the preseason No. 1 Sooners still have not posted a score.
Again, this isn’t about undercutting Nebraska: The Huskers are going to turn some heads on the national scene this year, and the No. 1 title is well deserved over these first two weeks. It’s just kinda funny to me that one of the tangible effects of a two-day shutdown is the fact Nebraska is still firmly holding on to the top spot in the country.
#2: By THAT Much
It’s pretty typical for the 50 yard freestyle to be the closest race at any swim meet. All it consists of is one trip down and back at the Devaney Natatorium, and it usually draws a big roar from the gathered fans. The energy builds over the first leg, but as soon as the swimmers make the touch and turn back toward the finish line, it gets wild.
But on Saturday, the race finished about as close as it possibly could.
Nebraska’s Lindsay Helferich finished first, and won the race by just .02 seconds. In fact, the top five swimmers all finished within .24 seconds of each other. I know Al Pacino never gave a speech about seconds, but it’s still crazy to think of all the small things that could change a race that close.
#3: The Green Flag Squad
We could devote a whole newsletter to the atmosphere of Saturday’s gymnastics double dual. However, there is one thing about the men’s side of this equation that needed to be pointed out in this newsletter.
I get a tad preoccupied when I’m taking pictures, yet there was no way I was missing the giant green flag being carried by Nebraska throughout the meet.
— Brian Rosenthal (@GBRosenthal) January 21, 2018
As far as I could tell, the flag was for routines that scored 15 or higher (NU finished with one on vault), and was meant to be carried across the Devaney Center floor to fire up the home fans. They wound up using it more than just the once, and no one seemed to mind one bit.
I know most Husker fans aren’t huge men’s gymnastics fans, that’s not what this is about. If you can’t get pumped for a stuck landing, a team full of gymnasts going wild and someone streaking across the floor with a giant green flag… maybe sports just aren’t for you in general.
Your Featured Presentation…
Getting Back Up
When a 9.825 feels like a perfect 10
None of you will probably ever read or hear the name Makenzey Shank again after this column.
And that’s OK, but after Saturday, I’m going to be keeping an eye on her scores throughout the season. It’s not for the reason you think, either.
Shank didn’t win any event titles on Saturday in the three rotations she participated in. In Rutgers’ opening meet, Shank was part of RU’s bars, beam and floor lineups, and was set to do the same when the Scarlet Knights took on No. 12 Nebraska at the Devaney Center. Nebraska starts home meets on vault, which means Rutgers kicked things off on the uneven bars.
With the Husker men hosting Ohio State in a co-ed double dual, there was a lot going on as the meet got underway. I can’t remember if anyone else was competing at the time, but when Shank started her bars routine, there was a lull in other action that put the focus on Rutgers’ routines in a relatively quiet Devaney environment at that moment.
When the time came for Shank’s release move, disaster struck.
If you’re not familiar with women’s gymnastics, the release move is when the athletes let go of the tall bar, which is 8.2 feet of the ground, and do some sort of flipping and spinning nonsense before latching onto the bar and pretending like you didn’t just flirt with a broken everything.
If we had been judging on Saturday, you know what score we would have given Shank on floor.
When Shank finished her move, her hands missed the bar, which meant she literally fell flat on her face in front of the nearly 4,500 fans.
I’ve been covering gymnastics long enough to have seen my fair share of falls on the bars, and I decided long ago how I’d respond if that ever happened to me. If I had been in Shanks shoes on Saturday, I would have gone back to the locker room, taken off my leotard, retired from the sport and then booked a commercial flight back to New Jersey.
Seriously, I can’t imagine more of a daunting task than having to overcome the physical and mental distress of dropping 10 feet onto your face in front of a gym full of fans. When Shank hit the mats, you could practically feel the gasps of the fans paying attention to the bars at that moment.
The routine finished with a score of 7.40. I can’t consciously remember ever seeing a score below 8.0, and on further inspection it’s only happened one other time in the past five seasons at Devaney.
At this point, let me make one thing clear: This is not in any way shape or form a criticism of Shank. She’s been a key contributor for Rutgers for the past three seasons, and has been one of the team leaders on the bars. The last time Shank was in Devaney, for the 2016 Big Ten Championships, she hit a 9.875 on bars, which left her in an 11th place tie out of 60 gymnasts.
Falls just happen, and on Saturday, it happened to Shank in the opening event.
Rutgers went to vault next, the one skill Shank has not competed on this season. That gave her plenty of time to think about what had just happened before the Scarlet Knights moved to the floor routine and Shank was back in the lineup.
Again, if I were in her shoes, I’d probably have still been lying motionless on the mats over by the bars at this point in the meet. Instead, Shank moved onto floor, and stepped into the one skill that requires you to put on a smile and ride the energy of the music and the crowd through the routine. Or in other words, the exact last thing you’d want to do after a fall.
It didn’t hamper Shank even a little.
The senior put on a show to lead Rutgers with a 9.825. Not only is that the best floor routine on the team over two meets, it set a new career-best for Shank after improving from a 9.650 the last time out.
I know it’s easy to watch for the highlight performances. And it feels more natural to clap and admire the efforts of the players that win titles and put up superhuman efforts. But if I’d been a fan in that crowd, especially someone with a young athlete or gymnast in attendance, I would have given Shank’s floor routine a standing ovation.
Sometimes the strongest people aren’t the ones who get all the attention and win awards. Sometimes it’s just about getting back up again after missing the bar.