AtC: The French Hakuna Matata

Photo by Pat Radigan

By Pat Radigan

For the first time in my career covering Husker hoops, I stepped into the hallway to partake in Tim Miles’ small group session this past Saturday.

Miles had spoke about the team’s “Hate Will Never Win” at the press conference, but it was quick, and I had a few questions. I’ll get to that piece later this week. What struck me about this interview, though, was how quickly one of the other journalists involved lost his focus and reverted to the last ‘hot topic’ on Nebrasketball: Jordy Tshimanga.

It’s been a month since Tshimanga briefly left the team to work out some issues, and the Big Red’s big man has provided a spark off the bench since returning. Even with all that in mind, I was confused as to why anyone would think it was necessary to provide more perspective on something that had drawn the full attention of the Nebrasketball hype machine last month.

Then I listened to Jack McVeigh’s Podcast with Tshimanga, and I realized how wrong I was.

[ Story continues below ]

Sizing Up Their
Seasons

Husker softball makes a statement, while the Nebraska hoops teams continued their impressive rise in the Big Ten. And that’s not even all of it.


What’s Going On

Men’s Basketball

Nebraska67
Rutgers – 55

Recap   |   Photos

Pinnacle Bank Arena

Women’s Basketball

Nebraska51
Wisconsin – 48

Recap   |   Photos

Pinnacle Bank Arena

Wrestling

No. 15 Nebraska24
No. 20 Wisconsin – 10

Recap

Madison, Wisc.

Women’s Gymnastics

Nebraska195.675
Iowa – 194.900

Recap

Iowa City, Iowa

Men’s Gymnastics

Nebraska409.350
UIC – 372.250

Recap

Devaney Center

Men’s Tennis

Nebraska7
N. Dakota – 0

Recap

Dillon Tennis Center

Nebraska4
Omaha – 0

Recap

Dillon Tennis Center

Nebraska4
UMKC – 1

Recap

Dillon Tennis Center

Women’s Tennis

Nebraska7
N. Dakota – 0

Recap

Dillon Tennis Center

Nebraska7
SIUE – 0

Recap

Dillon Tennis Center

Softball

Nebraska5
No. 19 BYU – 4

Recap

Tempe, Ariz.

Nebraska4
No. 23 Arizona St. – 6

Recap

Tempe, Ariz.

Nebraska – 5
No. 15 Utah – 0

Recap

Tempe, Ariz.

Nebraska – 5
San Diego St. – 3

Recap

Tempe, Ariz.

Nebraska – 5
CSUN – 0

Recap

Tempe, Ariz.

Nebraska – 3
Seattle – 2

Recap

Tempe, Ariz.

Senior Safety Net

The new-look Nebraska softball team went 5-1 over the opening weekend, including 2-1 against ranked teams. Sophomore Tristen Edwards split the Big Ten player of the week award and Nebraska got contributions from up and down the lineup, but there was a familiar face at the heart of sparking the big weekend: Senior Kaylan Jablonski.

Jablonski gave NU the early lead against No. 19 BYU with an RBI double in the first inning, then came up with the RBI single that completed Nebraska’s dramatic seventh-inning comeback.

After the Huskers dropped a decision to No. 23 Arizona State in Friday’s nightcap, Jablonski made a statement on Saturday against No. 15 Utah. This time it came from the mound, too.

Utah managed just four hits over six innings, and could not get a run across in Jablonski’s first start of the season. Oh, right: She also opened the scoring with a solo home run to lead off the second inning. Nebraska added four more runs in the seventh inning, and coach Rhonda Revelle gave Jablonski the final inning off.

She still wasn’t done, though, as Jablonski got all but two outs in Sunday’s win over Seattle.

So yes, it’s going to be a new year and much different looking team this season for Nebraska softball, but what can make this team special is the returning core of senior leadership.

Diving Into the Deep End

Speaking of newcomers on the softball team, freshman Olivia Ferrell was thrown right into it on Nebraska’s opening weekend.

That’s not surprising, Revelle has touted the depth and options in the bullpen from the opening day of practice. What is of note is how Ferrell handled the opportunity.

Ferrell was picked to be Nebraska’s starter in the season opener against No. 19 BYU. The Cougars had kicked off the season the day before, including a 10-1 win over Stanford. Nebraska had a few days in January where the temperature was far enough above freezing they could play catch outside.

The lack of preparation didn’t affect Ferrell, and the freshman struck out two of three batters in the first inning to put the Cougars down in order. BYU got a hit in the second inning, but a double play made it three up, three down for a second-straight inning. Ferrell, clearly upset about the one hit, retired BYU’s hitters in order in each of the next two innings.

Although the Cougars eventually put a pair of runs past Ferrell, it was still an impressive collegiate debut.

Ferrell went on to pitch an inning in the nightcap, a loss to No. 23 Arizona State, then pitched the final inning in Nebraska’s win over Utah and slammed the door on a 3-2 win over Seattle for her first save. The ‘worst’ outing of the weekend for Ferrell was against San Diego State, when the Aztecs managed to plate three runs in Ferrell’s 4.1 innings, yet THAT was the game Ferrell won in five appearances.

There’s a long way to go for the 2018 season, but make sure you keep an eye on Olivia Ferrell.

Holding Onto Their Own Destiny

It’s still a bit early to be looking to postseason play for really any of the spring semester sports, but a pair of Husker squads find themselves in what Husker women’s gymnastics Dan Kendig loves to call the “driver’s seat.”

Kendig’s squad is included as one of the two teams, after Nebraska won a dual at Iowa this weekend, and now sits as the only undefeated Big Ten team in either men’s or women’s gymnastics. That moved NU to 5-0, and kept Nebraska ahead of Michigan (4-1) in the conference standings.

The Huskers beat Michigan earlier this year, but will not face the Wolverines in their Big Five meet later this year. That means that Nebraska can simply take care of its own business, and win the outright Big Ten regular season title with two more solid outings.

On the hardcourt, the women’s basketball squad is also making moves in the Big Ten, even if they aren’t making a run at the conference crown. Nebraska held on against Wisconsin on Sunday, and moved into a tie with Ohio State for second place in the conference at 9-3.

With four games to go in the regular season, that leaves NU in a great spot to earn a double-bye to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. The top four seeds earn the trip straight to day 3. Minnesota sits a game behind Nebraska at 8-4, and the Huskers got extra breathing room when Purdue fell to Indiana on Monday. That moves Purdue into a tie with Iowa and Michigan with five losses in conference play.

The good news for Nebraska? The Huskers beat Minnesota in the two teams’ only matchup, same with Purdue, and NU swept the season series with Iowa. A last-second foul call on a 3-pointer allowed Michigan to sneak out of PBA with a win, but there’s a good chance the Wolverines could drop one of their two remaining matchups.

Michigan travels to Minnesota on Wednesday, while the Huskers will head to East Lansing to battle a Michigan State team that just beat the Wolverines. Conference-leading Maryland is Michigan’s final game. In fact, Maryland’s four remaining games are against Michigan, Purdue and Minnesota before hosting the Huskers in the regular season finale.

That means there is a lot of opportunity for Nebraska to get a little insurance in the race for a top-four seed, even if NU drops a game. And with matchups against Penn State (5-8) and Indiana (7-6) on Nebraska’s remaining schedule, the Huskers are in a solid spot.

Your Featured Presentation…

I Want To Be Like Jack

Appreciating a people-first version of sports podcasts

So let me get back to what I was talking about with Jordy.

It was myself and two newspaper columnists interviewing Miles, and after a couple of questions about the team and how they handled last week’s off-court issues, the attention turned back to Tshimanga. Miles repeated a lot of what had already been said, and added a few tidbits about technical things the coaching staff worked on with Tshimanga.

The columnist was still searching: Would Miles have handled this the same way as a younger coach?

I still don’t get the point of that question. And on a deeper level, most of the coverage of Tshimanga’s break from basketball hinged on similar queries. Why would he do this if he had to sit out for three semesters? What did it mean for Nebraska’s chances and rotation?

Beat reporters scoped out practices that were supposed to be closed-door, and got statement after statement from Miles saying the same thing. When Tshimanga came back to the team, Glynn Watson gave a smiling “C’mon man” as the same questions piled up about what it meant for the team.

But no one really talked about Jordy the person, and what he went through on a level outside of basketball during this process. Except for Jack.

Check out the Podcast here.

In the 23 minute interview, McVeigh works from how Tshimanga grew up to working through his “sophomore slump” and getting back in the rotation. When Tshimanga came to prep school as a teenager, one of his biggest challenges was learning English. That, and dropping his weight from 350 pounds to the 268 where he plays today.

McVeigh asks about the process of being recruited, and how Tshimanga fits in with his three siblings who are also playing Division I basketball. And then he got to the good stuff: How did you handle your sophomore slump? What was it like to have to work through an offseason injury matter? What’s your go-to dance move?

OK, so maybe the last one is a bit silly, but I think we got an answer this Sunday at the women’s hoops game.

My point is this: In a sports culture that is defined by a short attention span, maybe we need to do a better job of zooming out and focusing on the players and the people in these stories, rather than just thinking about on-court implications and the ‘business’ side of sports.

I know there is a huge audience for roster updates and pandering to sports talk, but as I sat there and listened to Jordy laugh and explain his version of ‘Hakuna Matata,’ I couldn’t help but laugh myself and think about much we can all learn from these athletes. Even McVeigh, who came to Nebraska to play a role in NU’s revival, and now joyfully jokes with his teammates on his podcast about being a scout team player and planning out bench celebrations.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of using sports to exercise angst and to see athletes only for their performance on the court. I just wonder how it would impact society if we got back to a culture that thought about, and appreciated, the person over the ‘athlete.’

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*