LINCOLN — Maybe Gary Pepin has grown a little softer in his years as Nebraska’s track and field coach.
“We used to have a policy on our team that, if you went to the conference meet and (the team) won the championships, if you didn’t score in the conference meet, you didn’t get a championship ring,” Pepin said recently in an interview.
That’s not the case for the Husker men who just won the Big Ten indoor track and field championships. They’ll all get rings after NU narrowly pulled out the crown by outscoring Indiana on the final event, the 1,600-meter relay.
The final: 93-91. Nebraska won despite having just two individual conference champions — long jumper Elijah Lucy and high jumper Mayson Conner. The Huskers got points from all corners, including that 1,600-meter relay, to squeak out the win. Pepin tries to build both the men’s and women’s teams for balance across many events for the expressed purpose of winning league titles. The strategy works: Pepin won his 73rd conference title and his 43rd conference indoor title.
“We didn’t have any real superstars or real individuals who were going to carry the whole team on their back or anything,” Pepin said. “We knew we were going to have a good contribution from everybody in the meet.”
It was the Huskers’ first Big Ten title of the year. They could make it two if they win the outdoor crown. There are no definitive Big Ten favorites among the rest of the Nebraska teams competing, either, although Husker wrestling and both gymnastics teams are among the nation’s best.
Pepin was named Big Ten men’s indoor coach of the year and United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches’ Association Midwest Region men’s indoor coach of the year.
Does his success garner respect within the Big Ten?
“There are coaches out there in the conference who are very congenial, friendly and all those things,” Pepin said. “Those same people congratulate you. And there’s some out there who never smile and never hardly say anything.”
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Notes and thoughts from other Husker sports:
» Surely, one of the first questions Tuesday Nebraska coach Scott Frost will receive from reporters involves whether Maurice Washington will practice with the team for the duration of spring camp.
A photo circulated on social media Monday appearing to show Washington running the ball during NU’s opening spring practice. For a time, it was in a Huskers.com photo gallery, as well. Later, it was gone.
So Frost can answer definitively whether Washington is working out.
Washington faces criminal charges in California for allegedly sending a sexually explicit video to a girl in the video. Washington is expected to return to California at some point to appear in court.
» The more interesting photo to me was a healthy Cam’ron Jones talking to defensive backs coach Travis Fisher. Injuries robbed Nebraska of two touted safety prospects, Jones and C.J. Smith, last season. Jones’ high school skillset was elite.
» There’s a lot of benefit to having a deep basketball team that shares minutes. One drawback: They get snubbed for postseason honors. The Nebraska women’s basketball team has four freshmen who combine to average 29.9 points and 14.3 rebounds per game. That’s a terrific freshman class. None of the four — Leigha Brown, Sam Haiby, Kayla Mershon and Ashtyn Veerbeek — made the Big Ten’s all-freshman team on Monday. Only Hannah Whitish, who got honorable mention All-Big Ten, received honors of any kind.
Deep teams have to win big to be recognized. Hey, Maryland deals with the same thing in its own way. The Terrapins just won another Big Ten crown, and league coaches only had one UM player each on the first and second teams. That’s two out of 20. That’s as many as Purdue, which finished as the No. 11 seed for the Big Ten Tournament.
» I enjoyed writing on the first family of Nebraska bowling — the Staubs — last Friday. One nugget that didn’t make the story was a question I asked Kim Straub, one of the best bowlers in NU history and an eight-time winner in the pros, whether she’d ever competitively bowled against her daughter, Meghan, who is a senior on the team.
Kim’s answer: Not really. Once she retired from the pro tour, she found herself wondering why she was practicing so rigorously. So she stopped. She only “goofs around” now.
“I’d have to build up my callus,” Kim said, if she was going to take on her daughter. “I’d have to get a new pair of shoes. If you haven’t played for a while, your arm will be sore. No matter how skilled I might be, I’d have to build up that muscle, and my thumb is like a virgin thumb. It almost looks normal.”
» Nebraska’s football defense will make a jump this spring. You’ll hear it from players and coaches. The safeties might be a little wobbly early — the top three from last season are gone — but they’ll get into gear. The Blackshirts are ready to shake off the cobwebs of multiple bad seasons because the leaders are in place.
» Outside consultants aren’t magic bullets. Great players are. Healthy players are. Depth is. Nebraska men’s basketball didn’t have enough of the first two and, thus, none of the third.
Still, it's time for Nebraska’s administrators and coaches to sit down and hash out in what areas outside consultants would ever be preferable to in-house sports performance psychologists and whether NU coaches are using the resources that are available to them.
Photos: Nebraska football's 2019 recruiting class
Check out photos of each member of Nebraska football's 2019 recruiting class.