It was a year of the good, the bad and the downpour. We were introduced to new faces and welcomed back some old ones. Not necessarily a year to remember, but there were some things we’ll never forget.
Here are my top 10 stories/moments in our sports world for 2018:
If you want to put Scott Frost’s first season into a picture frame, it’s that freeze frame of the Husker football coach walking off the field after the Michigan State game.
With snow falling all over him, Frost broke into a huge smile as he looked up at the Husker crowd cheering wildly above the tunnel. In his right hand he held up a football, his game ball, as a salute to the crowd. It was a signature moment.
The photo may not have said 1,000 words, but it spoke for 12 games.
The win over MSU made the Huskers 4-7, but it was how they won it, fighting back, coming back, against a tough-as-nails Spartan defense. The win showed that the Huskers were pretty tough, too.
That was a message that the coach, the team and the fan base needed to know this year. If nothing else, they needed that. The images of a full Memorial Stadium — with fans sitting through bitter cold and snow in a 4-8 season and celebrating along with the players on Senior Day — were worth savoring. Fighters. Survivors. A program better off.
The expression on Frost’s face seemed to say this is why he came back. It seemed to say, too, there will be many more smiles in the future.
I thought about putting Nebraska volleyball here. It impacts more people in this region than Kansas and Duke. But in terms of significance of the sport and the teams involved, what we saw on a Sunday in March in downtown Omaha is near the top of all the events staged in this big-event town.
Two iconic college basketball programs, two Hall of Fame coaches, and a multitude of future NBA players, going at it with a Final Four bid on the line. For Omaha, it doesn’t get much better, or bigger, than that.
Another reason it was huge: This was Omaha’s first regional final tournament. The city won going away.
That won’t be our last NCAA hoops regional final.
Of course, we had some help. Goodness, Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self and Jim Boeheim were in the house. On Sunday, Duke and KU staged the best game of the entire NCAA tournament — a Jayhawk win in overtime — on our stage.
Afterward, Coach K said, “It was an honor to play in this game.” Well, it was an honor to host it. Can’t wait until the next one.
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
Nebraskans love their volleyball. Why not? The ladies keep pushing the bar higher and higher.
The Nebraska and Creighton volleyball teams were ranked in the top 10 most of this season. The Jays went undefeated to win another Big East crown and host NCAA tournament matches for the second straight year, though they once again couldn’t make it out.
Nebraska? In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the defending national champs went all the way to the fifth set of the NCAA title match before losing to Stanford. It was the fourth final four in the careers of Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney and the ninth for coach John Cook. And nobody was surprised. We’re spoiled.
Meanwhile, UNO went 12-4 in the Summit League. Can it be long before we have three teams in the NCAA Division I tourney? How about two in the final four when it comes to Omaha in 2020? Check back in two years. Volleyball is sure to stay a regular on this list.
Nebraska men’s basketball coach Tim Miles had to have it. And he got it: a 94-75 win over his nemesis, Creighton.
The heat was on: Nebraska had lost seven straight to CU, and Miles had never beaten Greg McDermott over 14 games in their careers. NU had a veteran team and the home court. The Huskers came out firing, with James Palmer knocking down 3s, and won every hustle play.
The evening at Pinnacle Bank Arena was capsulized early in the game by a heated exchange on the sideline between “old” friends Miles and McDermott. A month or so earlier, Miles’ comments about allegations Creighton was involved in the hoops recruiting scandal touched a nerve at CU. The gloves were off.
Did this win signal a good 2019 for Miles? It’s too early to say. But this night made his 2018.
Frost’s opening game at Nebraska was historic, but not for the reasons anyone expected. The Sept. 1 game against Akron was canceled after a freakish rain and lightning storm that lasted from 7 p.m. to about 3 a.m.
Much like the storm, this story lingered for weeks. The loss of the game set in motion a 0-6 start for the Huskers, and a lot of what-ifs. There was back and forth between NU and Akron officials about why the game couldn’t have been played the next day and why Akron left town. Some Husker fans were upset the game hadn’t been moved up to earlier in the day.
It’s unlikely this sort of thing will happen again at Nebraska. But years from now, Husker fans — probably more than the 90,000 actually in the stadium — will say they were there the night nobody saw Frost’s first game.
For a second straight year, Creighton hoops had a player taken in the NBA draft. And, for a second straight season, the Jays looked uninspired in an NCAA tourney loss.
But suddenly the Jays were in the news for the wrong reasons: They were being accused of offering to pay $100,000 for a recruit to come to CU.
The accusation came to light as the Jays were swept up in an Adidas trial in New York City, with the spotlight on the recruitment of Brian Bowen. Creighton had pursued Bowen, using a family connection that assistant coach Preston Murphy had with the Bowen family.
Both Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen and McDermott denied the charge — made by Bowen’s father in the trial. Later, an ESPN story detailed phone records of McDermott and Murphy calling Christian Dawkins, the street agent who was representing Bowen — but also helping represent former CU player Justin Patton before the 2017 draft.
A federal jury found Dawkins guilty on fraud charges. Meanwhile, there has been no evidence found of wrongdoing on Creighton’s part. But it was a big story here, and made for some uncomfortable moments on the Hilltop.
After dominating the light welterweight class, Terence “Bud” Crawford needed a new world to explore. In 2018, Omaha’s champ moved up to welterweight (147 pounds) looking for a challenge.
What did he get? More of the same. Crawford’s first challenger was Australian Jeff Horn in Las Vegas, and Crawford won with a ninth-round TKO. In October, Crawford defended his WBO title against Jose Benavidez before the home crowd (13,323, the largest crowd to see him fight in Nebraska) at the CHI Health Center.
What’s next for Bud? The politics of boxing make it uncertain if Crawford will get the biggest fights. One thing he made clear in 2018: He’s still the man.
The old line from “Bull Durham” described our baseball season. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.
The season started with a splat: The Kansas City vs. Omaha exhibition at Werner Park was canceled because of the cold and rain. Then we hosted a Big Ten tournament — without Nebraska.
But things picked up in the summer. Old friend Dave Van Horn was a foul pop-up from winning the College World Series for Arkansas, but it dropped and Oregon State went on to win. Meanwhile, out at Werner Park, the Chasers celebrated 50 years of affiliation with the Royals in style.
What a year for Omaha Burke football. The Bulldogs won their first state championship and sent two highly recruited players to Nebraska. Meanwhile, classy, hard-nosed coach Paul Limongi battled cancer. The emotional season ended with medals for all at Memorial Stadium. Well done.
One of the surprises of the year came in April, when UNO announced its new men’s soccer coach: Bob Warming.
Yep, the same Warming who built the current Creighton soccer machine. Warming, 65, thought he had retired from Penn State. But when he returned to Omaha to be near his granddaughter, well, things happened. It’s a huge boost for UNO soccer and brings intriguing possibilities as the program continues to find its Division I identity. Could Warming take a third school to a College Cup?
Five Stories to Follow in 2019
1. Husker hoops: Did Miles and the Huskers get that first NCAA tournament win? Did Bill Moos keep Miles?
2. Frost, Year 2: The schedule eases up. A great young quarterback returns with a year under his belt. The foundation has been poured. A return to a bowl game will be expected. What more can they do?
3. Omaha and the Royals: History comes to the plate in June: Kansas City and Detroit will play the first major league regular-season baseball game in Omaha, at TD Ameritrade Park — two days before the 2019 CWS begins. That will be the Royals’ second appearance in Omaha in 2019: Weather permitting, the Royals and Storm Chasers are set to play the Werner Park exhibition game that was called off in 2018.
4. Darin Erstad: Plagued by injuries that decimated the pitching staff, the Huskers missed the Big Ten baseball tournament in Omaha. A year earlier, the Huskers went 0-2 in the NCAA regionals. Erstad, a Husker legend, drew the ire of many Husker fans. Can he get a healthier team back on track?
5. State of the Jays: Creighton sports are in a postseason slump. Volleyball dominates the Big East but lost in the second round at home in the NCAA tournament. Men’s hoops has had two straight clunkers in the NCAA first round. Men’s soccer missed the NCAAs again and baseball couldn’t make the Big East tourney. Time for a rally.