Facing one of the top teams in the Big Ten could be the perfect cure for the Nebraska women's gymnastics team.
At least, that's what coach Dan Kendig is hoping for in Saturday's 3 p.m. early season showdown at Michigan.
Five of the 14 women on the squad have been wrestling with illness, sapping their strength as they work on building routines and endurance.
A big match could be just what the doctor ordered.
“Competition will help get that going on,” Kendig said.
The Huskers, the defending Big Ten champions, have been picked to again win the eight-team league. The Wolverines, with 10 performers back, were picked second.
Both are ranked in the top 10; the Huskers are seventh and Michigan is at No. 10. NU beat Michigan at the Big Ten championships last year.
“We're probably the top two teams in the Big Ten this year,” Kendig said. “We're going to start right out with the best. It's a good barometer, a good gauge to where we need to go.”
Despite the illnesses that have disrupted early preparations, Kendig said his team has been getting better every day at practice. They'll need to keep pace in the Big Ten, which had six teams ranked in the coaches preseason top 25 poll. While Nebraska and Michigan lead the way, Ohio State is 14th, Penn State 16th, Illinois 18th and Minnesota 23rd.
The Huskers, who finished eighth nationally last season, lost only Lora Evenstad and backup Katelyn Busacker. Evenstad leaves a big hole, because although she specialized in bars and floors, she often did three events and sometimes four.
Still, Nebraska has plenty of firepower among its seven returnees. Jessie DeZiel, Brittany Skinner, Janelle Giblin, Kassandra Nathe, Emily Wong and Jamie Schleppenbach are All-Americans. Wong is the defending Big Ten all-around champion.
Kendig is glad to see Nathe, a senior who has been dealing with injuries the past two seasons, return to competition. She'll focus on the bars and beam to start.
Kendig also likes what he sees from his four new gymnasts, Jordyn Beck, Hollie Blanske, Ariel Martin and Madison McConkey. He expects Blanske to be strong in four events with Martin contributing between two to four.
“I think we're as good if not better than last year,” Kendig said. “On paper is one thing, now we have to go out and prove it.”
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