The Nebraska women’s gymnastics team can’t wait to get the season started.
The Huskers hope fans are just as excited about their opener against Northern Illinois at 6 p.m. Saturday — the Tumble N’ Rumble .
The Huskers are following the lead of other colleges by putting on a show with the NU wrestling team. Gymnastics will be on one side of Devaney Center and wrestling on the other.
“I think it will be entertaining for the crowd,” gymnastics coach Dan Kendig said. “Hopefully they’ll have some new fans keep coming to wrestling and some new fans keep coming to gymnastics.”
Gymnastics fans will see a squad with the potential to claim a third straight Big Ten title and earn a trip to the national tournament, Kendig said. The Huskers were ranked 10th nationally in the preseason and were picked to finish second in the conference.
The Huskers graduated just three seniors. Seven letterwinners are back, including All-Americans Emily Wong, Jamie Schleppenbach and Jessie DeZiel, and NU will have plenty of depth at every position. Twelve gymnasts are working on the uneven bars and balance beam, 10 on the floor exercise and eight or nine on the vault. Six participate in each event.
Kendig said the competition among the Huskers will make both them and the team better.
“They can’t rest, they can’t relax,’’ he said. “There is someone right behind them who wants to compete, too.”
Desire Stephens, a junior from Millard West, has impressed Kendig with her hard work and has the potential to help NU in all four events.
Stephens has been aggressive and explosive on the vault, is cleaning up her bars routine and is learning new skills on the beam and a new tumbling pass in her floor exercise, Kendig said.
“If she keeps continuing to improve, she’s going to be a big, big force in our success,” Kendig said.
This also will be the opening meet for Northern Illinois, which NU beat the last time the programs met, in 2006. The Huskies, 7-11 last year and 0-6 on the road, are led by senior Kim Gotlund, a 2013 first-team All-Mid-American Conference choice who was nominated for MAC gymnast of the year.
The Huskers face a tough schedule, with competition kicking up a notch the following weekend in the Ozone Collegiate Classic in Knoxville, Tenn. No. 2 Alabama and No. 21 Kentucky are in that field.
Kendig said if the Huskers stay on task and keep it simple, the season should take care of itself.
“It’s a long year, and a lot going on,” he said. “The biggest part of the job is day to day getting better and finding ways to do that.”
The 10th-ranked Husker men open at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Rocky Mountain Open in Colorado Springs, Colo. They’ll face No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 11 Air Force, Arizona State and Washington.