In 2013, Nebraska and Oregon State taught us the valuable lesson that winning a conference championship is the worst. Teams, you really shouldn't bother. Nebraska scored a 250 million at Big Tens (or, as you're supposed to write, B10s, but then you'd have to spontaneously melt out of shame), yet when it came to Regionals, they imploded on three of four events to get edged by Illinois in the most exciting rotation of the season. Illinois finished on beam needing a 49.050 to make Nationals after Nebraska killed vault, and they kept getting 9.750, 9.800, 9.800. Ack, it was so close. It's the wonder of NCAA gymnastics, and the main thing I emphasize when talking up this sport. On amazing days like Regionals, you may never have seen one iota of Illinois gymnastics before, but you'll suddenly end up caring more about their beam rotation than you do about the Olympics. I promise. (Now we just need to find a way to inject that feeling into the regular season.)
For the Huskers in 2014, it's a season of redemption. They were way too talented to miss Nationals last year, and they need to prove it this year by erasing that result. They certainly should be capable of doing so. While Nebraska is once again a small team, it's hopefully a healthier team, which should boost some of the rotations. With both Ariel Martin and Jordyn Beck returning as redshirt freshmen to join this year's new class, it's a bit like Nebraska is getting two classes full of freshmen, which should help infuse these lineups with new potential to back up the stars, Emily Wong and Jessie DeZiel.
But because the team basically has two new classes, only six of the twelve current members have ever competed routines before, which is a little unnerving because there are few proven options. Nothing says you need proven options, but we've seen so little from the unproven ones that there's nothing to go on as of yet, especially because Nebraska is one of the teams we often know the least about given the dearth of preseason videos and broadcast meets. But we must manage somehow.
In case you haven't heard, Nebraska can vault a little bit. This team gets tremendous blocks and distance on their vaults, and once they pick up steam with those landings at the end of the season, can vault with any team in the country. This is a huge asset because, even if the other events are a little rough, vault can salvage an adequate score (as it almost did at Regionals—they could have overcome two weak events, but not three).
Both DeZiel and Wong are excellent on this event and should return to the back of the lineup for 9.9+ (this will be a bit of a trend, so watch out). That's the kind of one-two punch that would normally require only 9.850-9.875s from the rest of the team to get a strong score, but there's a bit more potential on Nebraska's team than that. I have no idea what kind of position Jamie Schleppenbach is in after missing most of last season with injury, but vault is one of the obvious places she can be used if she's fully back. At her healthiest, her scoring potential was right there with Wong and DeZiel in the 9.9s.
Both of the other holdovers from last year's lineup, Hollie Blanske and Desire' Stephens, can return, and both can be relied on for something on the stronger side of the 9.8s. But I'm also looking at Ariel Martin, who excels on vault and floor and has super power on her yfull, and Ashley Lambert, whose best event as a junior elite was vault by a wide margin. She beat McKayla Maroney on vault at 2009 Classics (except, so did several other people because Maroney only did a full), but still—claim to fame!
As usual, there may not be too many options, but I would be quite happy with a lineup of any of those I mentioned. Getting 49.5+ by the end of the year doesn't seem out of the question again.
The uneven bars is an area where I see a bit more potential for regression from 2013. For the last several years, bars has been a very strong event, but a good chunk of that success has now left. While the 5th and 6th routines from last year are returning on vault, they are not returning on bars, and Janelle Giblin and her fantastic Gienger was often the strongest bars routine on the team. The Huskers will miss her here. However, look for Wong and DeZiel to bring in the big scores regardless. Neither are bars slouches by any means.
Beyond those two, we're going to have to wait and see who emerges. There are several options: Blanske had a rough journey at the beginning of last season but got it together for 9.8s later on, Schleppenbach has been a 9.800 contributor in the past, and Jennifer Lauer made a couple cameos on bars last year as well, though they were mostly 9.7y toward the end. I also think Jennie Laeng has some potential here (traditional long lines argument, etc.), and this is probably the event where she's most likely to come in. There are a number of other people on the roster who do bars, but haven't done bars, so there are unknowns. All of them have areas where they need form assistance if they are to compete for acceptable scores, so it could be tougher to get a strong six on this event than it has been in recent years.
It's a bit of a broken record with Nebraska, but beam always does seem to be the biggest concern, with Regionals last season another entry on the list. Rare is the team that can recover from 5 scores under 9.8 in a Regionals beam rotation. Once again, expect Emily Wong to anchor for 9.9s and the hearts of millions and Jessie DeZiel to support for her with high 9.8s (though DeZiel is a bit more susceptible to those nasty little 9.7s). This duo can (and probably will need to) dig the team out of trouble.
Jennifer Lauer also emerged as a vital, mostly sturdy member of the lineup last season by minimizing her wobble deductions. Those three should easily come back to the lineup, but after them there are few proven options again. I'm encouraged by the potential Jordyn Beck brings on this event. She could have really helped out the team last year had she been healthy, so let's hope that happens this year instead. In general, I expect it to be a casting call for 9.8s. Nearly all of the team can do 10.0 SV beam routines, so why not throw some options out there and see what (literally) sticks? It's not as much about having enough numbers this year as about having enough consistency so that Wong and DeZiel can get the rotation into the 49.2s and don't have to recover from an early 9.675. But, I wouldn't be too surprised by those early 9.675s.
Nebraska hasn't lost as many options on floor as on bars and beam, so there should be more possibilities for the final six this season, especially because some big power is joining the team to provide a refreshing plethora of E passes. Last season, most floor competitors upgraded their opening passes by the end of the year, but I remember watching the team in January and it was just a parade of double pike mounts, which was a little dispiriting.
Ditto Wong and DeZiel from the previous events, but especially be sure to watch Emily Wong's triple full mount on floor because it's a national treasure. Both can go 9.9+ and should be getting high 9.8s at minimum on a regular basis. I'd expect Hollie Blanske to return as well, and as on vault, Martin and Lambert will be bringing the power potential, both with DLO mounts. If those two can come into the lineup, this is a prime area for scoring improvement over last season, and 49.3+ should be a comfortable accomplishment. Add in Jennifer Lauer, Stephens, and Schleppenbach as contributors, and the options exist here.
Nebraska lost quite a few routines from last season, especially on bars and beam, but I'm still mostly optimistic about this team's chances to return to Nationals. Vault and floor should be strong enough to recover from the usual beam concerns and the loss of a big score on bars, and the mid-high 196s should be a very realistic score, with the 197s coming periodically when beam is on form.
Of course, we'll know more once we actually see the likes of Martin, Beck, Lambert, and Laeng compete (or train) NCAA routines, because everything about them is based on potential at the moment, but I expect this to be another season of Nebraska getting a lot out of a relatively small number of contributors. The #10 ranking seems about right for now.