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Life Itself XI: Sports Stories from the 2000s


Life Itself XI:

Sports Stories from the 2000s

 

 

Giving a helping hand to Nebraska greats

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/08/giving-a-helping…-nebraska-greats/

The State of Volleyball: How Nebraska Became the Epicenter of American Volleyball

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/01/21/the-state-of-vol…rican-volleyball/

Huskers’ Winning Tradition: Surprise Return to the Top for Nebraska Volleyball

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/01/21/huskers-winning-…raska-volleyball/

An Omaha Hockey Legend in the Making: Jake Guentzel Reflects on Historic Rookie Season

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/07/10/an-omaha-hockey-…ic-rookie-season

Boxing coach Jose Campos molds young men

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/02/01/boxing-coach-jos…-molds-young-men

From couch potato to champion pugilist

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/11/22/from-couch-potat…hampion-pugilist

 

Living legend Tom Osborne still winning game of life at 79

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/10/27/living-legend-to…me-of-life-at-79/

 

The end of a never-meant-to-be Nebraska football dynasty has a school and a state fruitlessly pursuing a never-again-to-be-harnessed rainbow

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/03/26/the-end-of-a-nev…arnessed-rainbow/

Baseball and Soul Food at Omaha Rockets Kanteen

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/06/23/baseball-and-soul-food/

Soul food eatery Omaha Rockets Kanteen conjures Negro Leagues past and pot liquor love menu

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/11/17/soul-food-eatery…liquor-love-menu

A case of cognitive athletic dissonance

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/03/17/a-case-of-cognit…letic-dissonance/

Thoughts on recent gathering of Omaha Black Sports Legends

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/09/29/thoughts-on-rece…k-sports-legends/

 

Marlin Briscoe
  • MATT DIXON/THE WORLD-HERALD

From left, Bob Gibson, Marlin Briscoe, Johnny Rodgers and Ron Boone pose for a picture during a special dinner “An Evening With the Magician” honoring Marlin Briscoe at Baxter Arena on Thursday.

 

Marlin Briscoe: The Magician Finally Gets His Due

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/12/27/marlin-briscoe-t…lly-gets-his-due/

UPDATE TO: Marlin Briscoe finally getting his due

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/09/20/marlin-briscoe-f…-getting-his-due/

Marlin Briscoe: Still making history

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/12/10/marlin-briscoe-n…-of-fame-be-next/

Marlin Briscoe – An Appreciation

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/13/marlin-briscoe-an-appreciation

 

Pad man Esau Dieguez gets world champ Terence Crawford ready

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/04/25/pad-man-esau-die…e-crawford-ready

Some thoughts on the HBO documentary “My Fight” about Terence Crawford

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/07/12/some-thoughts-on…terence-crawford

Omaha warrior Terence Crawford wins again but his greatest fight may be internal

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/05/21/omaha-warrior-te…-may-be-internal

Terence “Bud” Crawford is Nebraska’s most impactful athlete of all-time

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/12/09/terence-bud-craw…lete-of-all-time/

Terence_CrAWFORD_MEDIA_DAY_POSE (720x508)

©Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank

TERENCE CRAWFORD STAMPS HIS PLACE AMONG OMAHA GREATS

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/24/terence-crawford…ong-omaha-greats

This is what greatness looks like. Terence Crawford: Forever the People’s Champ

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/07/24/terence-crawford…he-peoples-champ

New approach, same expectation for South soccer

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/04/14/new-approach-sam…for-south-soccer/

South High soccer keeps pushing the envelope

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/06/south-high-socce…ing-the-envelope

Masterful: Joe Maass leads Omaha South High soccer evolution

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/04/24/masterful-joe-ma…soccer-evolution

The Chubick Way comes full circle with father-son coaching tandem at Omaha South

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/03/03/the-chubick-way-…m-at-omaha-south

A good man’s job is never done: Bruce Chubick honored for taking South to top

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/07/19/a-good-mans-job-…ing-south-to-top

Bruce Chubick builds winner at South: State title adds capstone to strong foundation

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/18/bruce-chubick-bu…trong-foundation

 

Omaha South Coach Bruce Chubick Sr. recovers from heart attack. https://t.co/u7xdhliQwG @nebpreps

 

 

Storybook hoops dream turns cautionary tale for Omaha South star Aguek Arop

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/09/18/storybook-hoops-…-star-aguek-arop/

What if Creighton’s hoops destiny team is not the men, but the women?

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/02/08/what-if-creighto…en-but-the-women

Diversity finally comes to the NU volleyball program

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/11/14/diversity-finall…lleyball-program

Ann Schatz on her own terms – Veteran sportscaster broke the mold in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/30/ann-schatz-on-he…he-mold-in-omaha/

 

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The Silo Crusher: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Trev Alberts

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/08/27/the-silo-crusher…ove-trev-alberts

Former Husker All-American Trev Alberts Tries Making UNO Athletics’  Slogan, ‘Omaha’s Team,’ a Reality

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/15/former-husker-al…s-team-a-reality

Omaha North superstar back Calvin Strong overcomes bigger obstacles than tacklers; Record-setting rusher poised to lead defending champion Vikings to another state title

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/08/29/omaha-north-supe…ther-state-title/

Having Survived War in Sudan, Refugee Akoy Agau Discovered Hoops in America and the Major College Recruit is Now Poised to Lead Omaha Central to a Third Straight State Title

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/01/having-survived-…ight-state-title

Dean Blais Has UNO Hockey Dreaming Big

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/29/dean-blais-has-u…key-dreaming-big

 


 

 

Gender equity in sports has come a long way, baby; Title IX activists-advocates who fought for change see much progress and the need for more

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/11/gender-equity-in…he-need-for-more

Omaha fight doctor Jack Lewis of two minds about boxing

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/21/omaha-fight-doct…nds-about-boxing

An Ode to Ali: Forever the Greatest

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/04/an-od-to-ali-forever-the-greatest

A Kansas City Royals reflection

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/01/a-kansas-city-royals-reflection

Bob Boozer, basketball immortal, posthumously inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/20/bob-boozer-baske…all-hall-of-fame/

Firmly Rooted: The Story of Husker Brothers

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/09/firmly-rooted-th…usker-brothers-2

Sparring for Omaha: Boxer Terence Crawford Defends His Title in the City He Calls Home

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/01/08/sparring-for-oma…ty-he-calls-home

The Champ looks to impact more youth at his B&B Boxing Academy

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/14/the-champ-looks-…ations-expansion/

 

FrontCover

 

 

 

The Champ Goes to Africa: Terence Crawford Visits Uganda and Rwanda with his former teacher, this reporter and friends

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/06/26/the-champ-goes-t…rter-and-friends

My travels in Uganda and Rwanda, Africa with Pipeline Worldwide’s Jamie Fox Nollette, Terence Crawford and Co.

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/08/01/my-travels-in-ug…-crawford-and-co

Omaha conquering hero Terence Crawford adds second boxing title to his legend; Going to Africa with The Champ; B&B Boxing Academy builds champions inside and outside the ring

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/04/21/omaha-conquering…outside-the-ring/

UNO hockey staking its claim

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/06/uno-hockey-staking-its-claim

Austin Ortega leads UNO hockey to new heights

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/05/austin-ortega-le…y-to-new-heights

Homegrown Joe Arenas made his mark in college and the NFL

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/05/homegrown-joe-ar…lege-and-the-nfl/

High-flying McNary big part of Creighton volleyball success; Senior outside hitter’s play has helped raise program stature

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/10/24/high-flying-mcna…-program-stature

 


 

 

Doug McDermott’s magic carpet ride to college basketball Immortality: The stuff of jegends and legacies

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/05/06/doug-mcdermotts-…nds-and-legacies/

UNO resident folk hero Dana Elsasser’s softball run coming to an end: Hard-throwing pitcher to leave legacy of overcoming obstacles

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/04/28/uno-resident-fol…coming-obstacles

HOMETOWN HERO TERENCE CRAWFORD ON VERGE OF GREATNESS AND BECOMING BOXING’S NEXT SUPERSTAR

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/23/hometown-hero-te…s-next-superstar

Terence “Bud” Crawford in the fight of his life for lightweight title: top contender from Omaha’s mean streets looks to make history

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/02/25/terence-bud-craw…-to-make-history

In his corner: Midge Minor is trainer, friend, father figure to pro boxing contender Terence “Bud” Crawford

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/07/30/in-his-corner-mi…nce-bud-crawford

Giving kids a fighting chance: Carl Washington and his CW Boxing Club and Youth Resource Center

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/12/03/giving-kids-a-fi…-resource-center/

JOHN C. JOHNSON: Standing Tall

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/14/john-c-johnson-standing-tall

Deadeye Marcus “Mac” McGee still a straight shooter at 100

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/15/deadeye-marcus-m…t-shooter-at-100

Rich Boys Town sports legacy recalled

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/rich-boys-town-s…-legacy-recalled/

 

Rosenblatt Stadium
Rosenblatt Stadium - 2004 College World Series
The exterior of Rosenblatt Stadium
Approaching Rosenblatt Stadium on 13th Street

 

The series and the stadium: CWS and Rosenblatt are home to the Boys of Summer

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/25/the-series-and-t…e-boys-of-summer

Hoops legend Abdul-Jabbar talks history

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/09/hoops-legend-abd…ar-talks-history

The man behind the voice of Husker football at Memorial Stadium

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/20/the-man-behind-t…memorial-stadium

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum exhibits on display for the College World Series; 

In bringing the shows to Omaha the Great Plains Black History Museum announces it’s back

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/05/17/negro-leagues-ba…nounces-its-back

Steve Rosenblatt: A legacy of community service, political ambition and baseball adoration

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/27/steve-rosenblatt…seball-adoration/

Houston Alexander, “The Assassin”

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/22/houston-alexander-the-assassin

 

 

The Pit Boxing Club is Old-School Throwback to Boxing Gyms of Yesteryear

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/04/the-pit-boxing-c…ms-of-yesteryear

The Last Hurrah for Hoops Wizard Darcy Stracke  

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/17/the-last-hurrah-…rd-darcy-stracke/

Going to Extremes: Professional Cyclist Todd Herriott

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/11/25/going-to-extreme…st-todd-herriott/

Danny Woodhead, The Mighty Mite from North Platte Makes Good in the NFL

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/05/danny-woodhead-t…-good-in-the-nfl/

Kenton Keith’s long and winding journey to football redemption

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/04/kenton-keiths-lo…tball-redemption/

One Peach of a Pitcher: Peaches James Leaves Enduring Legacy in the Circle as a Nebraska Softball Legend

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/10/one-peach-of-a-p…-softball-legend

 

 

 

Green Bay Packers All-Pro Running Back Ahman Green Channels Comic Book Hero Batman and Gridiron Icons Walter Payton and Bo Jackson on the Field

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/05/green-bay-packer…son-on-the-field

Ron Stander: One-time Great White Hope still making rounds for friends in need

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/ron-stander-stil…-friends-in-need

Buck O’Neil and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City Offer a Living History Lesson about the National Pastime from a Black Perspective

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/27/buck-o’neil-and-…lack-perspective

Memories of Baseball Legend Buck O’Neil and the Negro Leagues Live On

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/11/memories-of-buck…-leagues-live-on

My Midwest Baseball Odyssey Diary

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/11/my-midwest-baseball-odyssey-diary

Lifetime Friends, Native Sons, Entrepreneurs Michael Green and Dick Davis  Lead Efforts to Revive North Omaha and to Empower its Black Citizenry

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/20/lifetime-friends…-black-citizenry

A Good Deal: George Pfeifer and Tom Krehbiel are the Ties that Bind Boys Town Hoops

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/a-good-deal-geor…-boys-town-hoops/

Tom Lovgren, A Good Man to Have in Your Corner

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/03/tom-lovgren-a-go…e-in-your-corner/

Omaha’s Fight Doctor, Jack Lewis, and His Boxing Cronies Weigh-in On Omaha Hosting the National Golden Gloves

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/20/omahas-fight-doc…al-golden-gloves/

The Fighting Hernandez Brothers

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/06/the-fighting-hernandez-brothers/

Redemption, A Boys Town Grad Tyrice Ellebb Finds His Way

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/06/redemption

Wright On, Adam Wright Has it All Figured Out Both On and Off the Football Field

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/06/wright-on

A Rosenblatt Tribute

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/19/a-rosenblatt-tribute

The Little People’s Ambassador at the College World Series

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/26/the-little-peopl…ege-world-series/

The Two Jacks of the College World Series

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/26/the-two-jacks-of…ege-world-series

 

Image result for don benning omaha uno

 

 

UNO wrestling dynasty built on tide of social change

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/03/17/uno-wrestling-dy…-social-change-2

Requiem for a Dynasty: UNO Wrestling

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/28/requiem-for-a-dy…ville-university/

UNO Wrestling Retrospective – Way of the Warrior, House of Pain, Day of Reckoning

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/21/a-three-part-uno…day-of-reckoning/

Omaha native Steve Marantz looks back at city’s ’68 racial divide through prism of hoops in new book, “The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central”

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/04/01/omaha-native-ste…of-omaha-central/

 


 

 

It’s a Hoops Culture at The SAL, Omaha’s Best Rec Basketball League

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/06/its-a-hoops-cult…asketball-league/

Born again ex-gangbanger and pugilist, now minister, Servando Perales makes Victory Boxing Club his mission church for saving youth from the streets

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/19/born-again-ex-ga…from-the-streets/

Fight Girl Autumn Anderson

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/fight-girl/

Brotherhood of the Ring, Omaha’s CW Boxing Club

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/19/brotherhood-of-the-ring/

Harley Cooper, The Best Boxer You’ve Never Heard Of

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/05/harley-cooper-th…e-never-heard-of/

Requiem for a Heavyweight, the Ron Stander Story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/requiem-for-a-heavyweight/

When We Were Kings, A Vintage Pro Wrestling Story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/04/when-we-were-kin…-wrestling-story/

Heart and Soul, A Mutt and Jeff Boxing Story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/04/heart-and-soul/

The Downtown Boxing Club’s House of Discipline

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/04/the-downtown-box…se-of-discipline

 


 

 

Making the case for a Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/27/making-the-case-…rts-hall-of-fame/

OUT TO WIN – THE ROOTS OF GREATNESS: OMAHA’S BLACK SPORTS LEGENDS

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/12/20/out-to-win-the-r…k-sports-legends/

Opening Installment from my series Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness

An exploration of Omaha’s Black Sports Legends

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/10/from-my-series-o…k-sports-legends

Closing Installment from my series Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness

An appreciation of Omaha’s Black Sports Legends

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/10/closing-installm…k-sports-legends/

Bob Gibson, A Stranger No More (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/16/bob-gibson-a-stranger-no-more

 

 

Bob Gibson, the Master of the Mound remains his own man years removed from the diamond (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/18/bob-gibson-the-m…from-the-diamond/

My Brother’s Keeper, The competitive drive MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson’s older brother, Josh, instilled in him (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/30/my-brothers-keep…instilled-in-him/

Johnny Rodgers, Forever Young, Fast, and Running Free (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/18/johnny-rodgers-f…ots-of-greatness/

Ron Boone, still an Iron Man after all these years (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/18/ron-boone-still-…ots-of-greatness

The Brothers Sayers: Big legend Gale Sayers and little legend Roger Sayers (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/15/the-brothers-say…end-roger-sayers/

 

 

Bob Boozer, Basketball Immortal (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/14/bob-boozer-basketball-immortal

Prodigal Son: Marlin Briscoe takes long road home (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/13/prodigal-son-mar…e-long-road-home/

Don Benning: Man of Steel (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/17/don-benning-man-…ots-of-greatness

Dana College Legend Marion Hudson, the greatest athlete you’ve never heard of before (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/14/marion-hudson-th…ots-of-greatness/

Soul on Ice – Man on Fire: The Charles Bryant Story (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/09/soul-on-ice-man-…ots-of-greatness/

The Boxers – Sweet Scientists from The Hood (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win Series: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/11/from-my-series-o…ts-from-the-hood/ 

The Wrestlers – Masters in the Way of the Mat (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win Series: The Roots of Greatness) 

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/11/from-my-series-o…e-way-of-the-mat

A Brief History of Omaha’s Black, Urban, Inner-City Hoops Scene (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/25/from-my-series-o…city-hoops-scene/

Neal Mosser, A Straight-Shooting Son-of-a-Gun (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/16/from-my-series-o…ing-son-of-a-gun

Alexander the Great’s Wrestling Dynasty – Champion Wrestler and Coach Curlee Alexander on Winning (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/17/from-my-series-o…ander-on-winning

Black Women Make Their Mark in Athletics (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/10/from-the-series-…ark-in-athletics

 

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Perez finds home away from home in York


Perez finds home away from home in York

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appeared in March 2018 issue of El Perico (el-perico.com)

 

It seems like destiny now to Brianna Perez, the ex-York (Neb.) College softball standout and recent Nebraska Greats Foundation recipient. She dreamed of playing on a national stage. Instead, she eded up 1,500 miles from home at tiny, private York in southeast Neb., where she overcame injury to become a diamond legend. Then, when more hard times hit, she discovered an entire community, even some strangers, had her back.

Perez was a star high school competitor in her native Madera, California. She suffered an ACL tear as a junior when, covering second base, her cleats got stuck in the dirt and her left knee torqued. She came back strong her senior year. But missing time didn’t net the exposure she needed to land a major college athletic scholarship.

York entered the picture because her aunt Roni (Arellano) Miller played there – graduating in 2001. She’d been a Madera softball star herself. She, too, dreamed of Division I glory before finding her destiny at York. She took Perez on her campus visit and was happy when her niece enrolled on scholarship there. But the homesick Perez lasted only one semester.

“I was closed-minded and not open to the culture of York College. It was different from what I was used to,” Perez said.

She returned home to be near family and friends. She attended Reedley Junior College, where she played ball two years. But leaving York the way she did never felt right. She pined to get back. An unexpected opportunity to do that arose when Miller took the York head coaching job and called to recruit her niece. who had two years eligibility left, to come play for her.

“I was given the opportunity continue my education and softball career, so, I took a leap of faith and decided to go back,” Perez said. “That was the best decision I ever made in my life. I got more involved and made friends I will cherish the rest of my life.

I’m really happy with the way things worked out. I definitely think  everything happens for a reason. The relationships you build at a small school like York College are things you can’t really replace or get anywhere else. I think everything happened the way it was supposed to.”

Having her aunt as her coach helped.

“What I learned from her was not only how to be a better player but how to be a better person. I really appreciate that because I use it now in my everyday life.”

Miller’s husband, Kenny Miller, assists coaching the team and Brianna helps out, too.

“Roni and Kenny are two of the biggest influences in my life. I live with them and help coach with them. They’ve been huge mentors. They’ve helped me grow as a person. If I have questions about life and need advice, I know i can always go to them.”

Perez needed support when, as a York junior, she had the same ACL injury she endured in high school. This time, she made a shoestring catch and as she came up to throw the runner out at home, she stepped in a hole and the same ligament twisted and tore.

“Having already been through it once, I knew what to expect. I learned it was just a set-back to reaching my goals and that I had to work twice as hard. I also learned to be mentally tough because there were many days when the pain was too much and I didn’t think I could do it. But with the help of family, friends, teammates and coaches, I was able to push through.

“I think it has made me more mentally tough for difficult situations in life.”

Just as before, she came back strong. For her 2016 senior campaign she played outfield and batted .433 with an .803 slugging percentage. Her 68 hits included 22 doubles and 12 home runs. She drove in 55 runs. She became the Panthers’ first softball All-American.

Then she got tested again when she fell behind paying medical bills from the knee surgery she underwent. A collection agency threatened legal action.

“It was scary and embarrassing. I didn’t really know what to do.”

She depleted her few resources traveling home to be with her mother, who was fighting pancreatic cancer. “I worked three jobs just so I could afford to go home.”

Then her car broke down. “It was a pretty tough year.”

That’s when she learned about the nonprofit Nebraska Greats Foundation that helps ex-athletes in need.

“It’s been such a blessing in my life,” Perez said of the foundation, which paid off her debts.

Her mother has made a full recovery.

Perez views everything that’s happened as a gift.

“It was completely worth it. It’s made me into the person I am today.”

She left after graduating only to return for her master’s in Organizational and Global Leadership. She compiled a 4.0 GPA. She hopes for a human services career.

“I’m passionate about helping the less fortunate and homeless. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work with that.”

She works in admissions at York, where one day her younger sisters, also softball phenoms, may follow her.

“I tell them all the time, ‘Don’t let anything hold you back.’ I showed them that it can be done. They’re capable of doing that and so much more. They might have offers to play softball at bigger schools but,” Perez said, it’s possible” they could continue the family legacy there. “They’ve come out to visit and they like it a lot. I’ll support them in whatever they want to do.”

Perez is enjoying coaching.

“It’s really cool to see players accomplish something they didn’t think they were capable of. When that happens, you see their confidence go up and carry over into everything else they do. That’s satisfying.”

Though she may not stay in York, she said, “It will always be a little home away from home for me. I’ve been given so many opportunities through York College.”

Lea más del trabajo de Leo Adam Biga en leoadambiga.com.

An Omaha Hockey Legend in the Making: Jake Guentzel Reflects on Historic Rookie Season


I am almost a year late in posting this Omaha Magazine profile I wrote about Omaha’s own Jake Guentzel and the amazing post-season tear he went on as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ha became a much bigger factor than anyone imagined in helping the team contend for the Stanley Cup. Guentzel and his Pittsburgh mates went on to win it of course, thus capping one of the most storybook rookie campaigns in NHL history and barely a season removed from starring for the UNO Maverick hockey program.

 

An Omaha Hockey Legend in the Making

Jake Guentzel Reflects on Historic Rookie Season

Story by Leo Adam Biga

Illustration by Derek Joy

Originally published in Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/articles/an-omaha-hockey-legend-in-the-making/)

 

Former UNO hockey star Jake Guentzel left school in 2016, after junior year, to pursue his dream of playing professionally. No one expected what happened next.

The boyish newcomer with the impish smile went from nondescript rookie wing prospect to elite scorer during two seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League. Upon joining the parent Pittsburgh Penguins in November, he made an immediate splash. In his NHL debut, he scored a goal with his first shift. He followed with a goal on his third shift. Two shots—two goals.

By January, Guentzel secured a permanent seat in the NHL team’s locker room. The club showed faith, placing him on its top-scoring line alongside captain Sidney Crosby. The Crosby-Guentzel pairing proved pivotal in Pittsburgh’s second straight Stanley Cup win. Their team defeated Nashville four games to two in the finals.

Guentzel would make NHL playoffs history before hoisting the Stanley Cup overhead: His 13 postseason goals made him the first rookie to lead the NHL playoffs (five of those goals were game-winners); his 21 points tied the league rookie record for a postseason; and he became the second-ever rookie to score a hat trick in the playoffs.

UNO has produced several NHL players but Omaha hockey historian Gary Anderson says, “I don’t remember any who have had the same impact.”

Indeed, the Maverick who signed with Pittsburgh as a third-round, 2013 draft pick (77th overall) became the talk of the hockey world. He paired with future Hall of Famer Crosby to form a lethal scoring tandem on the NHL’s best team. He was in the running for playoffs MVP (Conn Smythe award) won by his superstar teammate.

His former coach at UNO, the recently retired Dean Blais, marvels at Guentzel’s exploits.

“It’s hard to explain,” Blais says. “I don’t think anyone would have forecast that. He played well in the American League, but he was up and down, and when that happens you don’t expect great things.”

Not from someone who would have been playing his senior year at UNO.

“Then he goes into Pittsburgh, has a pretty good season, and in the playoffs he’s a couple goals or points away from maybe winning the Conn Smythe. For Jake to step in and do that is pretty special,” Blais says.

Sharing it all was former UNO and current Penguins teammate Josh Archibald. They became the first Mavs to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup.

Guentzel’s performance recalled what local icon Bob Gibson did as a St. Louis Cardinals pitcher in World Series competition half a century ago. Like Gibson, Guentzel is now an Omaha sports legend. The city has a legitimate claim on him, too. He was born in Omaha when his father coached the Omaha Lancers. His two older brothers, Ryan and Gabe, also played collegiately.

He’s the second Omaha native to reach the NHL (Jed Ortmeyer in 2003 was the first).

The local connection extends to Guentzel’s father assisting one season at UNO under Blais (in 2010-2011), while the younger Guentzel also helped lead UNO to its only Frozen Four in 2015.

Mere weeks removed from gaining hockey immortality with his improbable heroics, he unwinds from the spotlight with family in his other hometown of Woodbury, Minnesota.

“It’s hard to put into words what happened,” he says. “It was hard to soak it all in at some points. With each win, the media got more and more crazy. It was definitely a crazy journey.”

photo by Richard Gagnon, Omaha Athletics

Preparation meets success

Guentzel’s skill and mindset proved well-suited for hockey’s biggest stage.

Mike Kemp, UNO associate athletic director and former Mavericks coach, praises his “high hockey IQ.”

“What makes him a special player at the highest level is his ability to think his way around the ice,” Blais says. “His biggest asset is his playmaking ability and his ability to get to the net.”

Former UNO teammate Justin Parizek says Guentzel has long-mastered the mental aspects of the game: “He thinks the game really well. He’s always a couple steps ahead of the play.”

UNO hockey broadcaster Terry Leahy admires Guentzel’s pedigree: “He just knows the game, and that comes right from his father and his brothers. He was just built from the ground up. His dad had a huge influence on that. His two brothers were really good college hockey players.”

Parizek envies the extra push Guentzel got at home: “His whole childhood he was pushed trying to keep up with his older brothers. Keeping up with bigger, stronger guys gave him that competitive edge. His dad’s a really good coach, and having that 24-7 extra coach in his ear has given him insights into how he can do things better.”

Archibald says it’s no wonder Guentzel was ready to shine: “He’s been preparing his entire life for that moment. Everybody along the way has put their piece in with him, and he’s taken it all in.”

“He was definitely groomed well,” says another former UNO linemate, Austin Ortega.

Even Guentzel’s father, University of Minnesota associate head coach Mike Guentzel, says the moment is “never too big” for his son.

The rising star credits his family for giving him what he needed to excel. “They instilled ‘you gotta work every day.’ It definitely implanted in my brain,” Guentzel says.

He’s grateful they shared in his shining moments—from that memorable first NHL game to hoisting the Stanley Cup.

“It’s definitely a family thing. I realize all the sacrifice they put in for me over the years in everything they did. They’re always there for me,” he says.

Guentzel’s dad and siblings never got this far in hockey, but they’ve been with him each step of the journey.

“Whenever I need something, I can look up to them and realize they’ve been through similar situations over their hockey careers,” he says. “They’ve definitely been huge for me, and it’s definitely cool to share this with my family.”

When dreams come true

Growing up, Guentzel dreamed of winning the Stanley Cup, just like thousands of other kids.

“But to have it come true my first year in the NHL is definitely crazy. I mean, I never would have expected that. It’s pretty special,” he says.

Securing the championship against Nashville, he says, was “a night I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Archibald says the occasion of two Omaha hockey products being part of a title team didn’t escape them.

“For both of us to play together at UNO and then to take that next step together in Pittsburgh was a great experience,” Archibald says, adding that as the Stanley Cup got passed around, “there was a moment on the ice when we were standing next to each other, and Jake looked at me and said, ‘I can’t believe we’re here. To do this together is the best thing in the world.’”

photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Penguins

Mind over matter

As the playoffs wore on, more hype came Guentzel’s way. Except for texts referencing his newfound celebrity, he says, “I tried to stay away from that stuff. You don’t want to get caught up in what people are saying. I just try to focus on what’s at hand.” As for media, he “gives them what they want” and moves on.

The well-grounded athlete applies a pragmatic approach to the game.

“Each level you go up, the competition gets harder,” Guentzel says. “You have to do whatever it takes to get there—if it’s staying late after practice, doing extra work. That’s what I’ve always tried to do. Growing up, you go through bantams, high school, juniors, and college. I’ve just stayed with it. I’ve tried not to think ahead of what’s happening in the moment. It’s the way you have to think. If you don’t think that way, you don’t really want to play, and you don’t really love the game.”

Others attest to his dedication.

“Everything he’s accomplished is due to the hard work he put in himself,” Ortega says, “and he got rewarded.”

Archibald knows well the sacrifice: “It doesn’t come easy. You have a lot of pressure on your back. But he pushed through everything. I think one of the things that helps him is being one of the hardest workers in the room.”

Guentzel feels his approach is consistent. “It hasn’t changed much,” he says. “People are going to be coming after you, so you’ve got to make sure you’re ready every day for everyone’s best.”

What some term “pressure to perform in the clutch,” he considers “a chance to do something special. I think as a player you like those moments. They’re fun to be a part of,” he says.

Of his Penguins debut, Guentzel says, “There were nerves for sure, but you just gotta stick with what got you there. There was a lot of emotion running through me that night. I was just trying to make the most of the opportunity, and remembering that all the hard work I’ve put in has finally led to my dream coming true.”

He felt at home in his new digs. His space in the Pittsburgh locker room was just beside Crosby, who took the rookie under his wing.

“It’s cool that they all kind of take you in and make you feel comfortable right away,” Guentzel says of his veteran teammates. “I think that’s why they have so much success.”

His own even-keeled attitude helped with the season grind, too.

“You want to be a good player in the league, so you’ve got to do the little things and keep working on them every day,” Guentzel says. “You’ve just got to stay with it, stay positive, because you’re going to go through tough patches.”

Coming up big

In the playoffs, he kept making big assists and goals.

“I watched all the games at home with my family,” Parizek says, “and sometimes we were like, ‘Are you kidding me, he did it again?’ It was a surreal run for him, and I couldn’t be more happy and proud.”

Guentzel’s scoring binge was out of character for someone reluctant to shoot in college.

“When I was at UNO, coach got upset with me that I was passing too much,” he says. “I was kind of a playmaker, and I always looked for the next play. As my career went on, I started to shoot more. I think I finally realized if I shoot more maybe I can score some more goals.”

“He’s a pass-first guy,” Blais confirms. “For three years we tried to get him to be a little bit more selfish, and when the opportunity’s there, shoot it.”

Making that transition in the NHL is unusual.

“That’s a credit to Sidney Crosby,” Guentzel says. “You’re just trying to find areas on the ice where he can get you the puck because he can pretty much get it to you wherever you’re at. I was very fortunate.”

Blais agrees Guentzel found the right mentor.

“I think when it really clicked is when he started playing with Sidney Crosby,”  Blais says. “It’s one thing playing for Pittsburgh, but it’s another thing for Sidney Crosby to want this 22-year old kid to play with him. That’s pretty special when the best player in the world wants Jake Guentzel as his linemate because he knows Jake plays the same way.


And I’m sure Sidney Crosby said, ‘Hey, Jake, when I get a pass from you, I’m going to shoot, and when you get it from me, you shoot.’ I mean, that’s the way it works. I think when Jake learned how to move and shoot the puck at the highest level is when he took off. Credit to Jake and his coaching staff but probably the most influential was Sidney Crosby.”

photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Penguins

Finding a coach and expanding his game

Despite not being the scorer his coach wanted, Guentzel treasured playing for Blais: “He was huge for me. I can’t thank him enough for all he did for me. He rounded out my game. He made me realize that to play every day you have to be at your top. That’s a big thing he impacted me with. I wouldn’t be the player I am today if I didn’t play in Omaha for him.”

Leaving after his junior year did not come lightly. “It was tough leaving Omaha for sure,” he says. “I just thought I was ready for the next challenge. It all worked out.”

Blais says being the close hockey family the Guentzels are, they made the decision jointly and he fully supported it. “Jake’s always been that player that has reached the highest level. He did it in college and now he’s doing it in the NHL. He’s one of the top players I’ve coached in all my years of coaching.”

UNO broadcaster Terry Leahy recalls Guentzel “began his college career the way he began his NHL career. “He had an assist right off the bat his first game as a Maverick—and he was on his way. The biggest memory I have of him is that his anticipation and passing skills were unbelievable.”

“He started out like gangbusters,” Blais remembers. “He broke Greg Zanon’s assist record his first year. Even though other teams were keying on him with their best players, Jake still managed to get his points. Even in the NHL, playing against the other team’s top line, Jake still managed to make plays and to get his goals.”

“He’s a complete package mentally and physically,” Leahy says. “He can fly, shoot, pass. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him wearing a [captain’s] letter for the Penguins in the not-too-distant future. He’s very mature…and he’s a pot-stirrer. He can chirp [trash talk] with the best. He was a little restrained his first year in the NHL, but there were moments in the finals you could see him starting to get under some Nashville skins. That’s definitely a part of his game. He’s got that baby face, but he can spring those horns pretty quickly after a whistle.”

photo by Mark Kuhlmann, Omaha Athletics

His UNO hockey family

Guentzel is happy his playing, not talking, is raising UNO’s national profile. “I only think it’s going to make the school become even more of a hockey place and have people realize Omaha’s on the rise,” he says.

“It’s a huge step for UNO hockey,” Archibald agrees. “It kind of puts it on the map in an unprecedented way.”

Leahy says with Guentzel and Archibald in the finals “UNO was on display through the whole run.” The fact that they are Stanley Cup winners “will be huge for recruiting.” UNO’s Mike Kemp and new hockey head coach Mike Gabinet have echoed such sentiments.

Austin Ortega takes inspiration from Guentzel’s example. “Seeing him do so well has definitely given me a little extra motivation and expectation to reach that goal and do what he’s done,” Ortega says.

Guentzel has not forgotten his UNO hockey family. “I keep in touch with them almost every day. They’re close friends. They’re definitely special to me,” he says.

“He has a lot of support back in Omaha and wherever his old teammates are,” Ortega says. “Myself and two other guys saw him for games three and four in Nashville. He was just the same old kid that we knew.”

“He’s not going to change, he’s not going to be cocky or arrogant about it,” Justin Parizek says. “He’s still going to go about his business and be the great guy he is and treat everyone the same.”

photo by Joe Sargent, Pittsburgh Penguins

Making his mark

Dean Blais can still hardly believe what transpired.

“To get his name on the Stanley Cup, to get a championship ring, to go from making $80,000 to $800,000, plus the Cup bonus. Not bad for a kid right out of college,” Blais says. “Everything looks bright for his future.”

Guentzel doesn’t think he’s arrived yet.

“I’ve still got to establish my spot,” he says, speaking with Omaha Magazine in June. “I’m still a young guy. I’ve got to go and try to make the team out of camp. You never know what’s going to happen, so you’ve just gotta try and make a name for yourself and do what it takes to stay at that level. You can’t take it for granted because there’s someone right behind who’s going to try to take your spot.”

Archibald senses Guentzel is hungry to “go back out there and prove to everybody he can do it again—I have all the faith in the world he’s going to be able to do it.”

“You gotta enjoy it, because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Guentzel says.

Visit nhl.com/penguins for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

A series commemorating Black History Month – North Omaha stories Part IV

February 22, 2018 Leave a comment

Commemorating Black History Month
Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 through 2018.
Articles on social justice, civil rights, race, history, faith, family, community, business, politics. education, art, music, theater, film, culture, et cetera
 
A weekly four-part series
Final week: Part IV –  Soul food and soul sports
 
 
https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/10/onepeachof-a-pitcherpeaches…
 
 

Boxing coach Jose Campos molds young men

February 1, 2018 Leave a comment

Boxing coach Jose Campos molds young men

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appeared in December 2017 issue of El Perico (el-perico.com)

 

Jose Campos grew up a fight fan and competed as an amateur. For years now, he’s applied his ring savvy teaching the Sweet Science at Jackson’s Boxing Club, 2562 Leavenworth Street, where he’s head coach.

He’s worked with kids-adults, amateurs-pros, journeymen-champions. When he looks at Ralston High School senior Juan Vazquez, he sees world-class potential.

“I’ve only had four or five kids that I said, ‘For sure, he’s going to be something,’ and Juan is one of them. If he sticks with it, he’s going to be a world champion for sure.”

Vazquez, 17, won the National Junior Olympics title at 152 pounds earlier this year in West Virginia. He made it to the semifinals of a regional qualifier in Tennessee in October, Campos sees similarities

between four-time world pro world titilist Terence Crawford of Omaha and Vazquez at the same age.

“I coached with Terence’s coach, Esau Dieguez, for four years. I see a lot of things Juan does the same way Terence used to do it. It’s exciting to see that in somebody I’m coaching now.”

The first week in December, Vazquez lost in the semis at USA Boxing’s National Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah. Despite finishing in third place. he’s still been invited to train with the U.S. Olympic team in Colorado Springs next May. He’s next man up for international competitions should either of the two fighters ahead of him not be able to travel.

Campos has another promising fighter in his own son, 142-pounder Marco Campos, who, like Vazquez, is nationally ranked. Marco competed in Salt Lake and will join Vazquez in training with the Olympic team.

“Being part of the USA team is everything,” Jose Campos said. “Promoters are paying attention to them. Once they turn 18, there are contracts waiting for them.”

Win or lose, fighting for one’s club or country or for money, the coach wants his boxers prepared for life.

“I tell all my kids they have to go to school, they have to get a degree. Boxing, one day you’re on top, the next day something happens to you. They need to have something to fall back on.”

Besides being a student of the ring, where he’s progressed from slacker to prospect, Vazquez also applies himself at school. Campos said his prodigy is mature for his age.

“A lot of people think he’s older than what he really is.”

Campos describes the dramatic transformation his star pupil made.

“Usually, kids come because they want to do it and they want to be part of this. Usually, parents are like, ‘If my kid doesn’t want to do this, I’m not going to make him.’ Well, with Juan, his mom brought him to me because he was so overweight and he didn’t do anything after school. He just sat down at home playing video games. His mom wanted him to do something. It didn’t come from him.”

All it took to get Vazquez motivated was his coach challenging him.

“If you’re going to come train with us, you’re going to train,” Campos said. “We don’t do things half way. I don’t let the kids compete unless they’re prepared. It’s a way of life, it’s hard, it’s not for everyone.”

Even when pushed to his limits, “Juan kept coming back” and improving, Campos said. “Some guys advance faster than others and Juan picked things up quickly.”

After shedding pounds and learning the ropes, Vazquez decisively won his first few fights. He was hooked.

“He started to work really hard,” said Campos, who also coaches at Premier Combat Center.

Vazquez’s early bouts were in upper weight divisions. As he moved up in competition, he didn’t have the strength to dominate anymore. He still finished as runner-up at 165 pounds in a national tourney. “He was outsmarting them in there,” Campos said, “but at the end of the day they were too big for him. We decided to go down to 152 and that’s where we’re going to stay. That’s where his body feels more comfortable and he’s at his strongest.”

Should Vazquez eventually turn pro, he’ll fight lighter yet, perhaps at 135-pounds.

So far, Vazquez’s work ethic has not wavered. If it does, Campos will call him on it.

“If you don’t train hard, you’re going to get hurt. One fight can change the rest of your life.”

Campos knows Vaquez dreams of going pro but he also realizes “that could change,” adding, “It’s hard to predict. Things happen in life. You never know what’s going to happen with these kids. I’ve had other Juans in my gym before with his talent. Unfortunately, for whatever reasons, they didn’t continue in boxing.”

Like his gym-mates, Vazquez usually depends on donations and scholarships to travel to tournaments. “He doesn’t have the money to do these things,” Campos said. “His mom’s a single mom.” USA Boxing will pay for Vazquez’s and Marco’s Olympic training.

For Campos, it’s not about the titles won but the growth young people make at Jackson’s Boxing Club.

“It inspires me watching these kids develop. It makes me happy. They validate me in what we’re doing. It’s not just me. Coach Christian Trinidad works with the kids, too. Christian used to box for me. He was an outstanding fighter. For medical reasons, he had to stop.”

Trinidad, he said, is “the other half of the coaching we do with Juan – we have brought Juan up together.”

Similarly, Campos said his son and Vazquez “have come up together and make each other better.”

Those two are the most high-profile competitors, but they’re not the only ones making noise at Jackson’s.

“We have a really good crop of fighters who are fighting at a very high level. Five are nationally ranked. I’m not sure if there’s another local gym that can say that.”

Visit jacksonsboxingclub.com.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

Huskers’ Winning Tradition: Surprise Return to the Top for Nebraska Volleyball

January 21, 2018 Leave a comment

 

Huskers’ Winning TraditionSurprise Return to the Top for Nebraska Volleyball

©by Leo Adam Biga

©Photography by Scott Bruhn

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln volleyball team entered 2017 with tempered expectations after losing three All-Americans and two assistant coaches from the previous season. But what began as a rebuilding year became a 32-4 national championship campaign for the overachieving Huskers, who capped an unexpected return to the pinnacle of their sport by defeating Florida in four sets in the NCAA title match on Dec. 16.

Thousands of Big Red fans made the trip to Kansas City for the Final Four, where a record crowd of 18,000-plus viewed the deciding contest.

While tradition-rich Husker football has been in the doldrums for two decades, the equally tradition-rich volleyball program has carried the school’s elite athletic banner. NU volleyball and its gridiron brothers have now won five NCAA titles apiece. This was NU’s second volleyball crown in three years and the fourth under head coach John Cook since succeeding program architect Terry Pettit in 2000.

Cook was an assistant under Pettit, whose stellar work at Nebraska—including one NCAA title (along with his overall contributions to the sport)—landed him in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame back in 2009. The current Huskers volleyball coach joined his predecessor as an inductee in the fall of 2017. Cook’s formal induction came only hours before facing the No. 1 seed Penn State in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.

Cook has said the 2017 Huskers, led by Papillion native and setter extraordinaire Kelly Hunter, were a joy to coach because they actually lived out their season slogan: “with each other, for each other.” That mantra got tested early when the young, inexperienced squad opened the season without an injured Hunter on the court and promptly suffered two losses—one against future NCAA finals opponent Florida. But the Huskers stayed the course and with Hunter back at setter the rest of the way, they rallied to finish the non-conference schedule with a 7-3 mark. The team really found its groove in tough Big Ten play, going 19-1 to share the league championship with arch-rival Penn State, and finished the regular season 26-4.

Hunter and fellow seniors Briana Holman (middle blocker) and Annika Albrecht (outside hitter) led the way with junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke and junior libero Kenzie Maloney. Two dynamic freshmen—middle blocker Lauren Stivrins and outside hitter Jazz Sweet—rounded out the balanced team volleyball approach that became NU’s trademark. No superstars. Just solid players executing their roles and having each other’s backs, whether at the net or in the back-row.

Hunter, Albrecht, and Foecke did earn All-America honors.

Months before seeing Penn State in the semifinals, on Sept. 22, NU dealt the No. 1-ranked and star-studded Nittany Lions their only regular-season loss by sweeping them at Happy Valley. The Huskers earned the right to host a first-round NCAA Tournament playoff in Lincoln, where fans jammed the Devaney Center. Fifth-seeded NU swept both its foes to advance to regionals in Lexington, Kentucky, where NU downed Colorado and host Kentucky, dropping only one set in the process.

For their national semifinal match in K.C., the Huskers drew Big Ten nemesis and No. 1 overall seed Penn State. In an epic classic, the Big Red prevailed in five sets. Then, in the ensuing final against Florida, NU avenged that early season loss to the Gators in capturing collegiate volleyball’s top prize. Hunter and Foecke were named co-outstanding players of the tournament.

In 2018, NU loses Hunter, Holman, and Albrecht—look for at least one to be the latest Husker to make the U.S. national team—but the team otherwise returns with the core stable of their 2017 championship team. NU will add four top recruits to the mix, too. As defending champs, no one will underestimate the Huskers this time. A key to the season will be finding a setter to replace Hunter, the team’s on-court quarterback. Incoming freshman Nicklin Hames may just be the heir apparent in that key role.

But you can bet that Cook & Co. will stress the benefits of playing team volleyball in search of another title.

To learn more about how volleyball has become the top sport in Nebraska (and how Omaha plays an important role in the talent pipeline) be sure to pick up the January/February edition of Omaha Magazine featuring my cover story. Or link to the story here: https://leoadambiga.com/2018/01/21/the-state-of-vol…rican-volleyball/

The State of Volleyball: How Nebraska Became the Epicenter of American Volleyball

January 21, 2018 1 comment

The State of VolleyballHow Nebraska Became the Epicenter of American Volleyball

©by Leo Adam Biga

©Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in Jan-Feb 2018 issue of Omaha Magazine


For generations, football gave Nebraska a statewide identity. But with Husker gridiron fortunes flagging, volleyball is the new signature sport with booming participation and success.

Here and nationally, more girls now play volleyball than basketball (according to the National Federation of State High School Associations).

“It’s the main or premier sport for women right now,” Doane University coach Gwen Egbert says.

Omaha has become a volleyball showcase. The city hosted NCAA Division I Finals in 2006, 2008, and 2015, with the Cornhuskers competing on all three occasions (winning the national title in 2006 and 2015).

Packed crowds at the CenturyLink Center will once again welcome the nation’s top teams when Omaha hosts the championships in 2020. Meanwhile, Creighton University is emerging as another major volleyball powerhouse, and the University of Nebraska-Omaha has made strides in the Mavericks’ first two years of full Division I eligibility since joining the Summit Conference.

In the 2017 NCAA tournament, Creighton advanced to the second round (but fell to Michigan State). As this edition of Omaha Magazine went to press, the Cornhuskers headed to regionals in hopeful pursuit of a fifth national championship.

“The fact Nebraska has done and drawn so well, and that kids are seeing the sport at a high level at a young age, gets people excited to play,” says Husker legend Karen Dahlgren Schonewise, who coaches for Nebraska Elite club volleyball and Duchesne Academy in Omaha.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln first reached a national title game with Schonewise in 1986. The dominant defensive player set Nebraska’s career record for solo blocks (132)—a record that still stands—before going on to play professionally. (The Cornhuskers didn’t win the national championship until 1995.)

“I think the amount of kids that play in Nebraska is No. 1, per capita, in the country. I think the level of play is far higher than many states in the country,” says Omaha Skutt Catholic coach Renee Saunders, whose star freshman, 6-foot-3 Lindsay Krause, is a UNL verbal commit.

Volleyball’s attraction starts with plentiful scholarships, top-flight coaching, TV coverage, and professional playing opportunities.

Few states match the fan support found here.

“We have probably the most educated fans in the nation,” Saunders says. “They’re a great fan base. They know how to support their teams, and they’re very embracing of volleyball in general.”

The lack of physical contact appeals to some girls. The frequent team huddles after rallies draw others.

Omaha Northwest High School coach Shannon Walker says “the camaraderie” is huge. You really have to work together as a unit, communicate, and be six people moving within a tiny space.”

Volleyball’s hold is rural and urban in a state that has produced All-Americans, national champions, and Olympians.

The Husker program has been elite since the 1980s. Its architect, former UNL coach Terry Pettit, planted the seeds that grew this second-to-none volleyball culture.

“He really spearheaded a grassroots effort to build the sport,” says Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth. “Besides winning, he also worked diligently to train our high school coaches.”

“It’s important to realize this goes back many years,” former Husker (2009-2012) Gina Mancuso says, “and I think a lot of credit goes to Terry Pettit. He created such an awesome program with high standards and expectations.”

Pettit products like Gwen Egbert have carried those winning ways to coaching successful club and high school programs and working area camps. Egbert built a dynasty at Papillion-LaVista South before going to Doane. Several Papio South players have excelled as Huskers (the Rolzen twins, Kelly Hunter, etc.).

 

Their paths inspired future Husker Lindsay Krause.

“Seeing the success is a big motivation to want to play,” Krause says. “Just watching all the success everyone has in this state makes you feel like it’s all the more possible for you to be able to do that.”

Many top former players go on to coach here, and most remain even after they achieve great success.

Walker says quality coaches don’t leave because “it’s the hotbed of volleyball—they’re staying here and growing home talent now.”

“It’s us colleges that reap the benefits,” Bernthal Booth says.

Pettit says it’s a matter of “success breeds success.”

Schonewise agrees, saying, “Once you see success, others want to try it and do it and more programs become successful.”

“The standard is high and people want to be at that high level. They don’t want to be mediocre,” UNO coach Rose Shires says.

Wayne State, Kearney, Hastings, and Bellevue all boast top small college programs. In 2017, Doane was the first Nebraska National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics program to record 1,000 wins.

“We’ve got great Division I, Division II, NAIA, and junior college volleyball programs,” says Bernthal Booth, who took the Creighton job in part due to the area’s rich talent base. She feels CU’s breakout success coincided with the 2008 opening of D.J. Sokol Arena, which she considers among the nation’s best volleyball facilities.

“All these colleges in Nebraska are in the top 25 in their respective divisions,” Saunders says. “It’s crazy how high the level of play has gone, and I think it’s going to keep going that way.”

“It’s really built a great fan base of support,” Mancuso says, “and I think the reason the state produces a lot of great volleyball players is the fact we have great high school coaches, great college programs, and great club programs.”

Club programs are talent pipelines. There are far more today than even a decade ago. Their explosion has meant youth getting involved at younger ages and training/playing year-round. Nebraska Elite is building a new facility to accommodate all the action.

“The athleticism found in the state has always been pretty high, but the level of play has definitely improved. The kids playing today are more skilled. The game is faster,” Egbert says. “When I started out, you’d maybe have one or two really good players, and now you could have a whole team of really good players.”

“You have your pick of dozens of clubs, and a lot of those clubs compete at the USA national qualifiers and get their players that exposure,” says Shannon Walker, the Northwest High School coach who is also the director of the Omaha Starlings volleyball club.

“Volleyball is such a joy to be a part of in this state,” Mancuso says.

“It’s cool to be a part of everything going on in Nebraska and watching it grow and develop,” Skutt freshman phenom Krause says.

“My goal is to make Lindsay ready to play top-level Division I volleyball by the time she graduates here,” Saunders says. “She already has the physicality, the competitive edge, the smarts. Now it’s just getting her to play to her full potential, which she hasn’t had to yet because she’s always been bigger than everybody. She’s definitely not shy of challenges. I feel like every time I give her a challenge, she steps up and delivers.”

Krause values that Saunders “gives great feedback on things I have to fix.”

Native Nebraskans dot the rosters of in-state and out-of-state programs. Along with Krause, Elkhorn South freshman Rylee Gray—who holds scholarship offers from Nebraska and Creighton—may emerge as another next big name from the Omaha metro. But they are both still a few years from the collegiate level.

UNO’s Shires says “impassioned” coaches like Saunders are why volleyball is rooted and embraced here. Shires came to Omaha from Texas to join the dominant program Janice Kruger built for the Mavericks at the Division II level. Kruger, now head coach at the University of Maryland, was previously captain of the Cornhuskers’ team (1977).

Further enhancing the volleyball culture, Shires says, is having former Olympian Jordan Larson and current pro Gina Mancuso come back and work with local players. Mancuso’s pro career has taken her around the world. She wants the players she works with at UNO, where she’s an assistant, to “see where it can take them.”

As volleyball has taken off, it’s grown more diverse. Most clubs are suburban-based and priced beyond the means of many inner-city families. The Omaha Starlings provide an alternative option. “Our fees are significantly lower than everybody else’s,” says Walker, the club’s director and Northwestern’s coach. “Anybody that can’t afford to pay, we scholarship.”

Broadening volleyball’s reach, she says, “is so necessary. As a result, we do have a pretty diverse group of kids. I’ve had so many really talented athletes and great kids who would have never been able to afford other clubs. We’re trying to even the scale and offer that same experience to kids who have the interest and the ability but just can’t afford it.”

“It’s very exciting to see diversity in the sport—it’s been a long time coming,” Schonewise says.

Forty-five Starlings have earned scholarships, some to historically black colleges and universities. Star grad Samara West (Omaha North) ended up at Iowa State.

Starlings have figured prominently in Omaha Northwest’s rise from also-ran to contender. Eight of nine varsity players in 2017 played for the club.

Walker knew volleyball had big potential, yet it’s exceeded her expectations. She says while competition is fierce among Nebraska coaches and players, they share a love that finds them, when not competing against each other, cheering on their fellows in this ever-growing volleyball family/community.

“It’s awesome,” Walker says. “But I don’t think we’ve come anywhere close to reaching our peak yet.”

 

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