The Penn State women’s gymnastics team has had enough trouble beating Michigan, winners of 18 Big Ten titles to Penn State’s none.
Now, the Nittany Lions will have another roadblock with Nebraska set to begin Big Ten competition in 2011.
The Cornhusker women own one of the most competitive gymnastics programs in the country. They finished No. 7 last season, higher than any Big Ten school, which was merely good enough for second place in the four-team Big 12. The closest-ranked Big Ten school was Michigan at No. 10.
Nebraska’s addition gives the conference eight women’s gymnastics programs, and leaves the Big 12 with just three.
“To add that competition to the Big Ten will just make our [Big Ten Championships] that much more exciting,” Lions junior co-captain Whitney Bencsko said. “It will be great to have another team seriously vying for a Big Ten title every year. I think it’s going to be great. I look at it as a completely positive thing.”
Though the Nebraska women have never won a national championship, only four teams — Alabama, Georgia, UCLA and Utah — have. The Huskers have finished fourth three times, most recently in 2003.
Penn State and Nebraska have faced off in each of the last three regular seasons — twice at Rec Hall and once in Lincoln — with the Huskers winning all three.
In 2009, however, Penn State placed ahead of Nebraska in the NCAA Northeast Regional and prevented the Huskers from competing at nationals, which Nebraska hosted.
“I think we’re very similar in terms of competition level so I think when we compete against Nebraska, it could be anybody’s game,” said Bencsko, who has faced off against the newest addition to the conference three times.
The landscape of men’s gymnastics will also change. The Huskers men’s program has won eight national championships, including five consecutive from 1979 to 1983. The only two schools with more titles are Penn State (11) and Illinois (9).
Penn State men’s gymnastics coach Randy Jepson said he is excited about the change, as Nebraska gives the conference a seventh men’s team, and raises the bar for the conference, even though the Huskers haven’t won a title since 1994.
“Although they haven’t been at the forefront in the past few years they certainly are up and coming,” he said.
The Penn State and Nebraska men’s squads haven’t met since 2005.
Dan Kendig, head coach of the Nebraska women’s team, is also excited about the move. Kendig said the biggest change for his team will be the travel. “All things considered, I think it’s a great thing for our university,” Kendig said. “I’m excited. I wish it would start this year in a lot of ways. There are a lot of good teams, a lot of good coaches in the Big Ten. And I personally am very happy to be a part of that.”