Interim coach Paul Klempa is determined to keep the Nebraska bowling team headed straight down the lane toward a second straight national championship.
That means keeping things as normal as possible for the Huskers, even though it hasn’t been so calm for him since coach Bill Straub fell ill on Jan. 9.
Straub is now recovering from emergency surgery for an aortic dissection, in which a tear develops in the inner layer of the large blood vessel branching off the heart. He’s on a leave of absence and there is no timetable for his return. Also out is his wife Kim, the office manager.
“There is three of us and two-thirds are now not here,’’ Klempa said. “The big change has been absorbing all of that responsibility. We’re in the heart of our season at the moment. There is a lot of paperwork and a lot of reconciling when we get back.’’
The NU athletic department has offered lots of help, Klempa said, and Ellen Shutts has stepped in from another program to help with the administrative work.
Klempa’s work days have grown to at least 12 hours and the program’s goals haven’t changed. NU has won four NCAA titles in the past 10 years and would love to add another.
“The girls are still very talented and they are driven,’’ Klempa said “I have been here long enough, I think I’m capable of trying to reach those goals. It certainly makes it more difficult but not impossible.’’
Klempa has been an assistant since 1996. He and Straub often made decisions together, so Klempa said said he’s been able to stick with the plan the two formulated earlier in the season. The Huskers, 29-13 in head-to-head match play, didn’t want big changes, and neither did he, Klempa said.
Klempa shared the news about Straub’s illness with the team when they returned from winter break. There was some shock, he said, but they’ve stayed focused knowing that he’s on the mend.
Liz Kuhlkin, NU’s leading bowler with a 208.6 average, said Klempa has helped them cope well with the whole situation.
“Coach Straub’s health will always be our No. 1 priority, but the expectations to go to Cleveland have always been there and will continue to be there,’’ she said at a press conference earlier this week. “We still know what our No. 1 job is (qualify for the NCAA championships in Cleveland in April and compete for another national title). As bad as this whole situation was, it has brought us all together as a team, and I feel it’s brought our team chemistry up, too. We’ve shown a lot of leadership qualities.”
The 62-year-old Straub, who is recovering at the Nebraska Heart Institute, has been in contact with Klempa to wish him luck.
“He was telling me if I have any thoughts or concerns, if there is anything I want,’ Klempa said, “to feel free to call him and we can hash it out over the phone and talk about it.’’