Nebraska gymnast Jessie DeZiel wasn’t looking forward to competing in the NCAA championships without her team.
The 13th-ranked Huskers missed qualifying for this weekend’s event at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion for the first time since 2009, falling .150 points short.
Then DeZiel, one of three Huskers to qualify as an individual, got some good news after regionals. She was paired with Minnesota in the 2 p.m. first session of Friday’s team preliminaries, reuniting with former Twin City Twisters teammate Hanna Nordquist.
Fellow Husker Emily Wong will rotate with LSU and Britanny Skinner with Stanford. DeZiel and Wong will be chasing an all-around title, while Skinner is competing in the vault.
“I’m actually kind of excited about it,” said DeZiel, a sophomore from Rogers, Minn. “That’s where I’m from. I know most of the girls on the team.”
The support and cheers from her temporary teammates should help her performance, DeZiel said. She’s trying to repeat as a first-team All-American in the floor and all-around. She was second team on the vault.
The No. 10 Nebraska men also are competing at nationals at Penn State, along with the other six teams in the Big Ten.
The Huskers are in the first team qualifying session Friday with No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Michigan, No. 6 Minnesota, No. 7 Illinois and No. 11 Air Force.
DeZiel said it’s been different having just her, Wong and Skinner at practice since regionals. She’s been working on little things to improve her routines, like squeezing her knees and pointing her toes on certain skills and sticking her landings.
DeZiel’s performance has been hampered by wrist problems and soreness in her ankles and shoulders. She goes in for treatment every day, but said she won’t let it affect her performance at nationals.
“It still hurts a little bit, but I know I only have a couple of more days of practice, so I’m just going to push through it,” she said.
DeZiel figures it will take a 9.9 in each of her four events to reach the individual event finals on Sunday. She’s hit that mark already this season on the bar, floor and vault, but her highest score on the beam is a 9.875.
Her favorite event is the vault, and she closed the regular season with four straight scores of 9.95 to rank seventh nationally in the event.
“That’s the one I really want to get in the finals in,” DeZiel said. “It’s quick and you get a lot of adrenaline going into the vault. I hope we can all three make it in the finals.”
DeZiel and Skinner shared the vault title at the Big Ten championships. The Huskers won their second straight team title, which DeZiel said was the highlight of her season.
The Huskers brought plenty of energy into that meet, knowing they’d have to win a showdown with Michigan to claim the title. That mindset is what they’ll need this weekend, DeZiel said.
“It’s going to be harder without our team there to support us,” DeZiel said. “It might be a little bit harder to get the energy up, but we know we are competing for ourselves and the girls that aren’t going. We know how bad they want to be there.”
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