Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Pat Radigan
Huskers also earn a share of three event titles in Nebraska’s top road showing of the season
Competing in the first session for the first time since joining the Big Ten, it was hard to ignore the impact of last week’s Big 5 Meet at Michigan State.
It was the first meet that saw Nebraska fall below 195 since last February, and put the Huskers in the first session of Saturday’s Big Ten Championships after finishing fourth in the five-team field. Even when the Big Ten had only eight teams, Nebraska had not fallen into the early session until this season.
All it did was fuel the Big Red’s fire.
Nebraska exploded for a 196.950, nearly a point and a half above every other team in the first session, and finished in second place as a team thanks to Megan Schweihofer’s win in the all-around, plus a share of three event titles. Schweihofer also earned a piece of the floor title with a 9.95, and was joined atop the podium by Taylor Houchin (T-1st on vault) and Grace Williams (T-1st on beam).
And although Nebraska’s score was better than eight other team’s season best, it still fell short of Michigan’s 197.200 as the Wolverines won their fifth straight conference team title.
That doesn’t mean Nebraska had any reason to hang its head. With the dramatic rise in the standings, despite the early start, the Huskers became the first team that competed in the first session to finish higher than a tie for fifth in the four years that the Big Ten has had 10 teams for women’s gymnastics.
Schweihofer used a career-high 39.525 to win her first Big Ten individual title, and added a share of the floor title by going for a career-best 9.95. This was the third time this season Schweihofer has hit a 9.95 on the floor. It was also her best all-around score by .05 points, and allowed Schweihofer to hold off Michigan’s Paige Zaziski by a razor thin .025 margin.
The impressive effort from Schweihofer helped Nebraska survive a somewhat slow start on floor, and built the momentum heading into vault. That’s where Houchin stepped in, and hit a 9.90 in just her fourth vault of the season. The score held up, and gave Houchin half of the Big Ten event title after Ohio State’s Jamie Stone matched her score in the second session.
Nebraska then moved to bars, and although no Husker won a share of the event title, Sierra Crouse finished just .025 off the pace thanks to a 9.925 to lead Nebraska’s charge on the skill. More importantly, the Huskers hit all six routines after having to count a fall last week, and improved on its team score by 0.775 as the bars became a strength for NU on Saturday.
That trend continued on beam, where NU again pulled a complete 180 from a week ago. Last week, it was three falls (two that counted) that doomed the Huskers to a 47.675 on the event. This time, five Huskers hit, including Williams title-winning performance, and Nebraska improved its beam score by 1.55 points in a span of seven days.
Williams’ 9.90 left her in a three-way tie with Bridget Hodan of Illinois and Lauren Marinez from Michigan. Houchin finished behind Williams and tied for fourth with a 9.875, while Danielle Breen and Schweihofer hit 9.85s to finish tied in a log jam for sixth place.
No other Big Ten team, outside of NU and Michigan that is, had scored higher than 196.850 coming into Saturday. That mark was produced by Illinois, but even with hosting the Illini still could not match their season-best, and finished 0.325 behind Nebraska in third place.
In the current 10-team format, two teams had finished fifth after competing in the first session of the Big Ten Championship, and no individual had ever broken into the top 8 when starting in that session. Nebraska changed all of that on Saturday, and made a statement heading into NCAA action in two week’s time.
Now, Nebraska will await its path to the Super Six, which will start on Apr. 7 at six campus sites. Then, should NU advance, the NCAA semis would be Friday, Apr. 20 with the Super Six finals set for the next day.