Four years in, 'championship habits' help UNO gain traction at Division I level

UNO sports enjoyed a banner year this past season. “I’ve always thought we can take a leadership position in the Summit League,” Athletic Director Trev Alberts said.

As the UNO watch party for the NCAA baseball selection show began to wind down at DJ’s Dugout in Aksarben Village, Athletic Director Trev Alberts paused to reflect on a banner year for Mav sports.

UNO’s men’s soccer, women’s soccer, men’s basketball and baseball teams all played for automatic NCAA tournament berths in Summit League finals, with the last of those earning its first Division I bid.

“I’m just so proud of them,” Alberts said. “It’s hard to put into words, to be honest with you. Much of this has come so much quicker than we anticipated. I’ve always thought that we can take a leadership position in the Summit League. I think the speed at which they’ve done it has been pretty remarkable.”

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This past athletic year was UNO’s fourth with full postseason D-I eligibility. And in that time, men’s soccer and baseball have reached the NCAA tournament, while women’s soccer, volleyball and men’s basketball (twice) have come within one victory of qualifying as a league champion.

The Maverick programs new to Division I have quickly risen to the challenge of a higher level of competition, while hockey, UNO’s inaugural D-I team, continues to go through a transition period under new coach Mike Gabinet. Alberts said great leadership, in all sports, has been a key for the Mavs so far.

“We’re just really blessed to have incredible coaches, people who really work hard at their craft,” he said. “They’re grinders. They do things the right way. And all I believe in is, if you do the right things over and over again, and you have championship habits, success comes.

“It’ll come for Gabinet. He has championship habits. Evan Porter has championship habits, not just in baseball but in life. Bob Warming, the same thing. Watch Tim Walters and Matt Buttermore, the same stuff will happen. How many men’s basketball coaches are you going to find that are better to deal with than Derrin Hansen? They’re not only really good coaches, they’re really good people.”

UNO athletics wrapped up its 10th year under Alberts. The Mavs made great strides during that decade and enter the next one primed for expanded success. UNO’s soccer programs should contend for conference titles, as should Buttermore’s first volleyball team. Men’s basketball returns three starters with a deeper roster. And baseball will host the Summit League tournament next spring.

Porter’s group, which won both the Summit League regular-season and tourney titles, gave UNO athletics its marquee moment this past year by becoming one of 64 teams competing to make the College World Series. The memory of seeing “Omaha” on the bracket with No. 1 UCLA will endure.

“It’s incredible. It’s why you do athletics at the highest level,” Alberts said. “If you’re going to compete in the NCAA, you compete at the highest level. Part of that’s economics. There are benefits there. But there’s the whole brand investment component. I’m not sure what it’s worth. But we’re on ESPNU. There’s lots of coverage. It’s got to benefit our institution. It helps grow the brand in a positive way.”

Baseball

UNO baseball

UNO baseball dogpiles after clinching its first Summit League title and first trip to the NCAA Division I tournament.

Record: 31-24-1 overall; 20-10 Summit (first).

Summit League tournament: Won first tourney title.

NCAA tournament: Qualified for the first time in its Division I era.

Preseason prediction: Picked fifth by the Summit coaches.

Season highlights: Winning the Summit League regular-season and tournament championships, qualifying for the NCAA tournament for the first time and beating the legendary USC program.

How it ended: After putting up a fight in a 5-2 loss to No. 1 UCLA in their Los Angeles regional opener, the Mavericks were eliminated when they were beaten by nationally-ranked Baylor.

Standout/star: Senior Payton Kinney went 11-2 with a 1.96 ERA after being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He was the Summit League pitcher of the year and was named to the ABCA/Rawlings All-America third team. Kinney is UNO's first D-I All-American.

Other award winners: Parker Smejkal and Breyden Eckhout were named first-team All-Summit while Keil Krumwiede, Brett Bonar, Thomas DeBonville, Grant Suponchick and Cal Hehnke were second-teamers.

Trending: Up. UNO reached new heights in its third season under coach Evan Porter and has set a new standard for the program moving forward. The Mavs will host the Summit League tournament for the first time next spring and will be playing in a new on-campus stadium in the near future.

Men's Basketball

UNO basketball

The Mavs have made the finals of the Summit League tournament in two of the past three seasons, coming up just short off an NCAA bid on both occasions.

Record: 21-11 overall; 13-3 Summit (second).

Summit League tournament: 2-1, tourney runner-up.

NCAA tournament: Did not qualify.

Preseason prediction: Picked eighth in the Summit by coaches and media.

Season highlights: The Mavs put together a six-game winning streak that included an overtime win in South Dakota, a last-second victory over South Dakota State and a nail-biter against Purdue Fort Wayne.

How it ended: Second-seeded UNO rallied to tie fourth-seeded North Dakota State in the second half of the Summit League championship before struggling down the stretch of a 73-63 loss.

Standout/star: Senior guard Zach Jackson, a four-year starter, became only the second Maverick ever to post 1,500 points and 500 rebounds in a career and was named first-team All-Summit.

Other award winners: Senior Mitch Hahn, who became Mr. Clutch for the Mavs in late-game situations, joined Jackson on the All-Summit first team, bouncing back from a shoulder injury during his junior year.

Trending: Up. The Mavs have made the finals of the Summit League tournament in two of the past three seasons, coming up just short off an NCAA bid on both occasions. UNO will have to replace its senior stars, but there is plenty of talent remaining. The Mavs should be a Summit contender from now on.

Women's Basketball

Record: 8-21 overall; 2-14 Summit (ninth).

Summit League tournament: Did not qualify.

NCAA tournament: Did not qualify.

Preseason prediction: Picked eighth in the Summit by coaches and media.

Season highlights: The Mavs went 4-1 during a two-week stretch from late November through early December. Victories were tough to come by after that.

How it ended: Needing one win down the stretch to sneak into the Summit League tourney as the No. 8 seed, UNO dropped three consecutive road games to close out a tough season.

Standout/star: Freshman Mariah Murdie improved throughout the season and landed a spot on the Summit League's All-Newcomer Team.

Other award winners: None.

Trending: Down. A rough season included a number of lop-sided losses to the top teams in the Summit. The Mavs were young, but they will need to improve dramatically to climb back into the upper-tier of a league that graduated a lot of its top stars but still features high-level programs.

Hockey

UNO hockey

UNO's Taylor Ward, No. 17, who earned NCHC rookie of the year honors, had nine goals and 18 assists.

Record: 9-24-3 overall; 5-17-2 NCHC (tie, seventh).

NCHC tournament: Lost quarterfinal series.

NCAA tournament: Did not qualify.

Preseason prediction: Picked seventh in NCHC by media.

Season highlights: The Mavs swept NCAA qualifier Arizona State in November, a month after getting blown out by ASU. They also posted wins over nationally-ranked North Dakota and Western Michigan.

How it ended: UNO was swept in the NCHC best-of-three quarterfinals by eventual national champion Minnesota Duluth, taking the Bulldogs to overtime in the opener.

Standout/star: Senior captain Mason Morelli bounced back from an ACL injury to lead the Mavs with 19 goals and 15 assists while earning second-team All-NCHC honors.

Other award winners: Freshman forward Taylor Ward was named the NCHC rookie of the year after finishing the season as UNO's third-leading scorer with nine goals and 18 assists.

Trending: Down, but probably not for long. It's hard to envision the Mavs turning things around completely in the season after losing a large, experienced senior class. But coach Mike Gabinet's staff is building for the future and better days are on the horizon. Fans may just have to wait a bit longer.

Men's Soccer

UNO men's soccer

UNO's Diego Gutierrez had seven goals and seven assists to pace the Maverick offense and earn first-team all-league honors.

Record: 7-8-1 overall; 4-1 Summit (second).

Summit League tournament: 1-1, runner-up.

NCAA tournament: Did not qualify.

Preseason prediction: Picked second in the Summit by coaches.

Season highlights: The Mavs had second-half leads on No. 11 UCLA and No. 4 Denver in back-to-back games before suffering a one-goal loss in both.

How it ended: As expected, the Summit's automatic NCAA bid came down to a UNO-DU matchup. The Pioneers scored a first-half goal then held on for a 1-0 win as the Mavs pressed the action late.

Standout/star: Sophomore forward Diego Gutierrez had a breakout season, notching seven goals and seven assists to pace the Maverick offense and earn first-team all-league honors.

Other award winners: Senior Denzel Woods joined Gutierrez on the Summit League first team. Freshman Martin Veys and juniors Marcos Bautista and Ugo Tritz were second-team selections.

Trending: Up. The Mavs were a goal shy of an NCAA bid in their first season under coach Bob Warming, and that was after losing their leading scorer just before the season. After a year in Warming's system and a full year of recruiting, UNO should be a threat to challenge for the league title.

Women's Soccer

Record: 8-11-2 overall; 4-3-1 Summit (fourth).

Summit League tournament: 1-1, runner-up.

NCAA tournament: Did not qualify.

Preseason prediction: Picked seventh by the league coaches.

Season highlights: The Mavs earned a crucial 1-0 conference road win at North Dakota State late in the season that cost the Bison a share of the Summit title and secured UNO's tournament spot.

How it ended: UNO upset top-seeded South Dakota State 3-1 on its home field to advance to the tourney final, where it fell to second-seeded Denver 4-0.

Standout/star: Sophomore forward Bailey Cascio scored her team-leading seven goals over the final 10 games of the season and recorded a hat trick in UNO's stunning semifinal win over SDSU.

Other award winners: Senior defender Susie Dineen was a second-team All-Summit selection while defender Margaret Lavigne and goalkeeper Ina Gudjonsdottir were named to the freshman team.

Trending: Up. The Mavericks took their game to another level down the stretch of their second year under coach Tim Walters, going 4-1-1 in their final six outings of the regular season before advancing to the finals of the Summit tourney. This is a program on the rise and should become a regular challenger in the Summit.

Softball

Record: 4-43 overall; 2-16 Summit (seventh).

Summit League tournament: Did not qualify.

NCAA tournament: Did not qualify.

Preseason prediction: Picked fifth by league coaches.

Season highlights: The Mavs picked up their first victory under coach Amanda Eberhart against Buffalo, thanks to a three-RBI day from Alexa Sedlak at an early-season event in Georgia.

How it ended: UNO dropped its final nine games of the regular season and failed to reach the Summit tournament.

Standout/star: Third baseman Emma Dargy was named to the all-league second team.

Other award winners: None.

Trending: Down, for now. It was a tough season from a win-loss perspective for the Mavs, but Eberhart got some good game experience for a lot of younger players. Next year should go much better.

Volleyball

UNO volleyball

The Mavs have talented young players with legitimate experience heading into new coach Matt Buttermore's first season.

Record: 17-12 overall; 12-4 Summit (third).

Summit League tournament: 0-1, lost in quarterfinals.

NCAA tournament: Did not qualify.

Preseason prediction: Picked third by league coaches.

Season highlights: The Mavericks got off to a 7-0 start in Summit League play and met conference favorite Denver in a matchup of unbeatens at Baxter Arena in mid-October. The Pioneers won in five sets.

How it ended: Third-seeded UNO dropped a tight four-set match to North Dakota State in the Summit quarterfinals in Denver after beating the Bison twice in the regular season.

Standout/star: Sydney Case was the Summit League's freshman of the year and setter of the year while earning first-team all-conference honors in her only season at UNO.

Other award winners: Middle blocker Isabella Sade joined Case on the all-Summit team, and hitter Sadie Limback was with Case on the all-freshman team. Middle Anna Blaschko received honorable mention.

Trending: Up. Retiring coach Rose Shires left the cupboard pretty full for former Hastings College coach Matt Buttermore. The Mavs have talented young players with legitimate experience heading into the fall. The best Division I days for UNO volleyball are coming soon.

Men’s and Women’s Golf

The UNO men placed sixth at the Summit League championship and the women finished eighth.

Men’s and Women’s Tennis

The men finished in a tie for sixth in the league standings and the women tied for third.

Women’s Cross Country

UNO placed sixth in the Summit League championships and finished 32nd at the NCAA Midwest Regionals.

Women’s Track

The Mavs finished eighth at the Summit League indoor and outdoor meets. Senior Stephanie Ahrens earned All-America honors in the indoor high jump.

Women’s Swimming and Diving

UNO placed third at the Summit League championships.

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