NCAA Gymnastics, 4/1/17

Nebraska gymnasts cheer on Ashley Lambert as she competes on floor exercise during last year's NCAA Lincoln Regional at the Devaney Sports Center.

Journal Star file photo

Dan Kendig reached for his clipboard.

The topic of conversation was whether last year's experiences and end-of-season peak for the Nebraska women's gymnastics team gives this year's squad a little more experience than its straight class years might suggest.

Actually, Kendig explained, he considers this group younger from an experience standpoint.

While only two seniors graduated from a team that narrowly, and historically, missed a Super Six berth, there are seven freshmen and a few upperclassmen who aren't completely recovered from summer competition.

So preseason No. 9 Nebraska will have some youth and inexperience when it opens the season at 3 p.m. Saturday in a Big Ten Conference dual at No. 17 Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania.

But the Huskers' head coach, entering his 25th season, believes the potential is there to be a really good team as the season goes on, and that prompted him to grab his clipboard to recite a quote he planned to share the night before the Huskers took the floor.

"Everything doesn't have to be perfect to get started. Get that pressure off of you. You don't have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great."

And that has Kendig and the Huskers ready to get the season started.

"We've got work to do to make this start off, at the beginning, like it's going to be really, really good," Kendig said, before reciting the quote. "So that's where we're going to be this weekend. We've got to get started to get that greatness started, but we are far from perfect right now. But, you know, each day they get better."

That was the story last year, as Nebraska peaked at the end of the season. The Huskers rallied to clinch a spot in the NCAA Championships on the final routine of the final event in their home gym at the Lincoln Regional.

What followed was the best performance of the season in the national semifinals. Nebraska tallied a 197.2125, but missed the Super Six by less than four-tenths of one point.

In the Super Six era (since 1993), no team has posted a higher semifinal total than Nebraska last season and failed to qualify for the finals. And only twice has a team broken 197 and failed to advance (Nebraska and UCLA in 2014).

Nebraska senior Grace Williams said the semifinal performance was unquestionably the team's best of the season. But to miss the finals with the highest semifinal score ever was disappointing.

"I mean, yeah, it put a fire under our butts," Williams said. "It made us come in in the summer and work harder and really remind those freshmen, we got to that point and we just clinched greatness. We just clinched, you know? And we just missed it, by what two-tenths? That's two landings. That's so little.

"We have an amazing group of girls, not just in the gym, also outside of the gym, and I think they have a lot to live up to. But I think that the returners are going a good job of reminding them why it's important."

Williams said that's been a big focus of the upperclassmen and returners early in the season. It's about teaching the ropes to the newcomers and letting them buy in on their own time to what the team is about. Last year, Williams said, there were some things outside of the gym that hindered their success at the beginning of the season.

So the effort is to create a better team culture sooner.

"A lot more trust, a lot more team chemistry, building things," Williams said. "Just so that when we get to the competition floor there's no question of whether or not we're going to have success."

Kendig thinks last year's success can serve as a springboard into what they're trying to accomplish this year in some ways.

"We are not completely there yet, but we weren't there until late in the season last year," Kendig said. "But when we got there, things took off. I believe once we get a couple of these first meets under our belt, some of the other people that haven't been in this situation will go, 'Huh.' They'll have those 'ah-ha' moments.

"I told them, that light switch will flip on at some point. I don't know when for everybody, everybody learns at a different rate, but it will eventually come on and they'll get what we've been trying to say."

Because you have to start somewhere.

Briefly

* Among the key returners who might not compete Saturday is sophomore Taylor Houchin, last year's Big Ten freshman of the year. Kendig said Houchin is dealing with a knee issue and the team is hoping for medical release for one event so she could possibly compete on the uneven bars.

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Reach the writer at crobus@journalstar.com or 402-473-2646. On Twitter @ClintRobus.

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Digital sports editor

Clint Robus is the digital and assistant sports editor at the Journal Star.

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