Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Becca Mann
Nebraska wins 3 of 4 event titles to move to 4-0
The No. 9 Nebraska women’s gymnastics team ended a trio of consecutive home meets with a 196.850-196.375 win Saturday night against No. 22 Minnesota, to start out the season with a perfect record.
A second-straight win against a ranked opponent means the Huskers are now 4-0 overall, and 4-0 in the Big Ten, with a win at Penn State and wins against Rutgers, No. 8 Michigan and Minnesota.
“I felt like we did our job today and did a solid job on every event,” Nebraska coach Dan Kendig said. “I’m excited about this team. I’m excited about where we’re at now and I’m even more excited about where we’re going to wind up.”
Nebraska entered the night with an all-time 30-11-1 lead against the Gophers with wins in 12 of the past 14 meetings. Minnesota made the trip to Lincoln for the first time since 2016, a night that saw the Gophers knock off a 14th-ranked Nebraska team 196.300-196.100.
There would be no upset Saturday.
The Huskers followed their typical home event schedule by starting on vault, one of their strongest events this season. Freshman Makayla Curtis started off for NU with her second vault run of the season, earning a 9.700 for her efforts. Senior Grace Williams added a 9.85 to the team’s score, and posted a new season-high in the process after her 9.80 last weekend against Michigan.
Rounding out the first rotation was junior Sienna Crouse who won the vault title with a 9.875, her fourth event title on vault this season. Kendig said the team’s 49.175 on vault wasn’t what he was hoping to see, but said he was happy with the strong ending to the rotation. It still could not keep the Gophers from grabbing the early lead.
Minnesota started the night off with a solid bars line-up that included the top two scores from Ivy Iu (9.925) and Lexy Ramler (9.90) to go ahead 49.225-49.175 out of the first rotation.
That lead didn’t last long, as the Huskers took control of the momentum with a strong set of bar routines that didn’t see a score below 9.775. Senior Abbie Epperson led the force for NU with a 9.875 to take third in the event, followed by junior Megan Schweihofer, who tied Minnesota’s Hannah Hitchcock for fourth place with a 9.850.
Minnesota slipped into second place after the second rotation, putting up a 48.800 on the vault led by Ona Loper’s 9.850 effort. Nebraska took a 98.325-98.025 lead headed into the third rotation.
The balance beam was judged tightly, but fairly, according to Kendig, and both teams had to work around strict scoring. It was Williams’ who gave the edge to NU, and finished the rotation with a 9.925 to keep the Huskers above 49 in all four rotations. The score tied a season best earned on Jan. 13 at Penn State.
“I feel very respected but it’s a very humbling position to be in,” Williams said about being the anchor on beam. “That means a lot to me. It’s humbling…for them to have that much trust in my ability.”
Schweihofer put up 9.825, good for fourth place, followed by Sierra Hassel in fifth with a 9.800. Five gymnasts tied for the event’s sixth place seat including NU’s Epperson and Kynsee Roby. Minnesota’s Ramler (9.90) and Ciara Gardner (9.875) rounded out the top three behind Williams.
Nebraska and Minnesota were neck and neck heading into the final rotation of the night. The Huskers 49.050 on beam led to a tight 147.375-147.350 lead in the transition to floor exercise.
Things got so close because of a 9.925 and a 9.90 from Loper and Gardner to lead the Gophers to a 49.325 on floor. Minnesota struggled to match those numbers on beam, though, and the Huskers knew solid performances on floor were what it would take to push them ahead.
Epperson and Schweihofer, Nebraska’s two all-around competitiors, bookended the event for Nebraska, starting with a 9.875 and ending with a 9.95. Both were career-high performances. Crouse finished on Schweihofer’s heels in a tie for second by notching her own career-high, a 9.925 to secure the NU win before Schweihofer even took the floor.
“We don’t watch it, but we knew,” Schweihofer said of the close score heading into the final rotation. “We knew we were going to do well [on floor] and that confidence helps you.”
Schweihofer said even with five solid performances ahead of her, she wanted to put out the best performance she possibly could: “At nationals that’s making Super Six or not. It’s a big deal.”
The Huskers ended the night with three out of four event titles including Crouse (9.875) on vault, Williams (9.925) on beam and Schweihofer (9.95) on floor. Minnesota’s Iu (9.925) took the bars crown and Ramler finished first in the all-around competition with a 39.475 on the night. Schweihofer followed up with a career-high 39.450 and Epperson rounded out the group with a 39.350.
The Huskers will head to Iowa for their first road meet of the season, matching up against Iowa on February 4.
“It’s tough being home for three weeks in a row because what’s going to happen later on with our away stuff, but it was also fun being home being home three weeks in a row to build on what we’ve been doing,” Kendig said.
The Hawkeyes and Huskers were the only two undefeated teams in the Big Ten coming into Saturday, but an Iowa loss at Illinois on Friday (195.325-195.195) gave Nebraska sole possession of that title.
“Our focus right now is to get back in our gym, correct some minor things and be a better version next week at Iowa,” Kendig said. “We’re looking forward to that.”