Seems Like Old Times For Husker Softball

Big Ten Tournament Champs Head to Old Haunt for NCAAs

By Steve Beideck

The Nebraska softball team celebrates its win over Michigan in the Big Ten tournament title game.
The Nebraska softball team celebrates its win over Michigan in the Big Ten tournament title game.

The chant of “Go Big Red” that emanated from Memorial Stadium may have come as a surprise to random passers-by the morning of May 14.

But there was good reason, and the stadium just happened to be filled with attendees and honorees at the 2022 Nebraska Spring Commencement.

So Nebraska Chancellor Ronnie Green urged them on: “Go Big Red!” and say it loud enough to be heard all the way to Secchia Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan.

That’s where the Huskers were playing Michigan, 727 miles away, for the Big Ten softball tournament championship.

The sizable crowd at Memorial Stadium happily obliged, and the Huskers did indeed go on to beat Michigan, 3-1, and earn their first Big Ten tournament championship and first softball conference title since winning the Big 12 crown in 2004.

It was a huge victory for the program that has battled through some rough times. The 2017 season began with 10 consecutive losses and ended with a 24-29 record. Identical 31-23 records were posted the following two years, but neither felt like much of a success.

The 2018 campaign ended with losses in nine of the final 10 games, and in 2019 the Huskers once again lost their first Big Ten tournament game. The 2020 season was called off because of the global pandemic after a 9-14 start, and 2021 produced a middling 22-22 record in a season of conference-only opponents.

Securing their first NCAA tournament berth since 2016 roughly 28 hours before the brackets were revealed on ESPN2 allowed this young team to take a breath, appreciate the moment and maybe realize it’s begun to put a perennial power back in the softball spotlight.

Being one of the four teams selected for the Stillwater, Oklahoma, regional, hosted by No. 7 national seed Oklahoma State, is providing a trip down memory lane for coaches and others within the program.

Recollections of so many Big Eight and Big 12 conference showdowns – prior to the Big Ten era that began with the 2012 season – brought on a few cases of deja vu.

The nostalgia hit home as soon as the team bus arrived at the hotel in Stillwater. Coach Rhonda Revelle said radio play-by-play man, Nate Rohr, was the first to bring it up.

“Nate and I talked about that when we got to town,” Revelle said. “Nate said, ‘This feels oddly familiar.’ He was right. When we get to the field and practice on it, it will feel even more familiar.”

Nebraska is 48-47 all-time against OSU, but the two teams haven’t played since 2014.

When the Huskers’ destination was announced, a delay in the video feed made it appear the Huskers weren’t pleased with where they were heading. Revelle said that wasn’t the case.

“We weren’t mad at all,” Revelle said. “Number one, we’re getting on a bus. We didn’t have to get on a plane, and that was great news. Second, we’re still in the Central time zone, so that was another plus.”

To get a shot at Oklahoma State in the winner’s bracket (the Cowgirls open against Fordham), the 40-14 Huskers first must defeat North Texas in their May 20 first-round matchup.

Riding a five-game winning streak after posting an 18-game win streak that included a 13-0 start to the conference portion of the schedule, then losing four of their next five, has taught the Huskers how to handle ups and downs.

“The win streak helped us learn how to embrace the excitement around our program but also be able to shut it out when the focus needs to be on getting better,” Revelle said. “We love that people are noticing Nebraska softball, but we need to keep them excited.”

Once all the regional fields were announced, a quick review of the brackets shows the selection committee placed Nebraska as the fifth-best team in the Big Ten. Northwestern was given the No. 9 national seed and is hosting a regional that features Oakland, McNeese and Notre Dame.

Michigan was nearly awarded a home regional but instead goes to No. 16 Central Florida and will play South Dakota State in the first round. Illinois and Ohio State also were placed as No. 2 seeds against national seeds lower than Oklahoma State. The Fighting Illini are paired with No. 15 Missouri and the Buckeyes travel to No. 11 Tennessee.

A second-place finish in the regular season standings and the tournament championship didn’t appear to be enough for the committee even though Nebraska was 3-0 against Michigan and 2-2 against Ohio State. The Huskers won the last two games against the Buckeyes, including a 2-1 victory in the tournament semifinals.

Coach Rhonda Revelle received an ice water shower after Nebraska’s win.
Coach Rhonda Revelle received an ice water shower after Nebraska’s win.

Nebraska also had four players on the all-tournament team – pitchers Olivia Farrell and Courtney Wallace, second baseman Cam Ybarra and first baseman Mya Felder. Ybarra was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

Revelle said where Nebraska landed in the brackets has never been a discussion point in any meetings. The Huskers focus on what they can control – themselves.

“If you look at he all-tournament team, three of the pitchers on there we had victories over,” Revelle said. “We were facing good pitching. You get to this time of year you don’t expect high-scoring games. In these tournaments they all have hitting and pitching and can do some things.”

When he shouts “Go Big Red” the next time, the players likely will hear the chancellor because Ronnie Green will be in Stillwater. They heard him on May 15 when the team gathered for the selection show, and Green represented the championship trophy – the only one Nebraska has won in any sport this season – at Bowlin Stadium.

He also acknowledged the three seniors who missed the commencement exercises – Ybarra, Wallace and Anni Raley – because they were taking care of business in East Lansing.

Just as they have in the classroom, every player is continually learning on the field.

“They’ve learned not only how to exist in a close game, but how to come out on top,” Revelle said. “They’ve been learning as they’ve gone along; they’ve been learning to win and learning different ways to win.”

Softball Is Latest Husker Program To Gain Big Ten Foothold

By Jeff Bundy

The women have been carrying the flag for Husker athletics this year.

Most recently the softball team brought home its first Big Ten tournament title. Rhonda Revelle’s squad went extra innings to defeat Michigan 3-1 and secure an NCAA slot.

Earlier, the volleyball team made the final four, and Amy Williams’ basketball squad ended with a 24-9 season and made the NCAA tournament.
By contrast, football, men’s basketball and baseball all, shall we say, left something to be desired.

Athletic Director Trev Alberts fielded a question on a call-in show about the women’s successes and the men’s struggles.

“It’s a great question,” Alberts said. “If we knew what the answer was, we would have cracked that a long time ago.”

All kidding aside, winning at the top levels of college sports is hard. And it’s cyclical. Lots of things have to come together. And when you are winning it almost seems easy to those on the outside. And in one way, it is easier: Winning tends to attract top players. For example, the volleyball team produced Lexi Rodriguez, who was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. The basketball team’s Alexis Markowski was Big Ten Freshman of the Year. And in softball, catcher Ava Bredwell was Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

It appears this upward cycle for the NU women could be a long one. Coach John Cook’s loaded volleyball squad has defied down cycles for years, of course, and is poised to make a run at a national title yet again with the final four in Omaha this upcoming season. Williams’ basketball team returns its starting five and gets transfer Maddie Krull, who starred at Millard South High School and at the University of South Dakota for two years. With Krull’s help, USD made the Sweet 16 last season. Our Shawn Ekwall caught up with Krull and you can read more about her story in this edition.

Also in this edition, Lincoln Arneal explores the importance of the volleyball team playing its spring matches outside the Devaney Center and in different locations across the state. Arneal’s look at the team’s unique connection to its fans is our featured story this month. Lastly, Steve Beideck recaps Revelle’s softball team’s run to the Big Ten tournament title.

The success of women’s sports creates awareness and buzz for young women. Recently a friend of mine along with his wife and 9-year-old daughter, Grace, were vacationing in Honolulu. They were walking along the beach when Grace said, “Dad, there’s Nicklin.” The family was unaware Husker setter Nicklin Hames and the Husker sand volleyball team were in Hawaii, but Grace recognized Hames immediately and even got her photo taken with her. The family was impressed that Hames would take the time to visit with their daughter and make their vacation even more special.

Elsewhere in this edition, we have a classic story on how a former Nebraskan, somewhat quietly, made it to the NBA – not as a player, but as administrator. Writer Mike Kelly caught up with Garth Glissman, the Waverly, Nebraska, native who at one time lettered as a Husker quarterback. As Glissman’s professional career flourished, he went from being a partner at the Kutak Rock law firm to being recruited by the NBA to be a vice president. Kelly’s story takes you through all the interesting twists and turns of Glissman’s life that has the 40-year-old with a big-time job in the world of professional sports.

Hopefully you, the readers, are noticing the changes we are making with headline and subhead fonts. We are working to make the magazine look better and easier to read. I have even changed the picture that runs with my column after one subscriber chided me for not wearing red and looking too serious.
As always, this is your magazine. If you ever have any story ideas, comments or suggestions, please reach out. I enjoy the feedback.

Hot Streak Has Huskers Back From the Shadows

Softball Team Finds Its Chemistry and Eyes an NCAA Regional

Opinion • By Steve Beideck

A most unexpected renaissance has become the bright spot of an otherwise bleak Nebraska athletics spring season.

With each victory, the Nebraska softball team further fades the memory of an internal university investigation following the 2019 season into player concerns about a virulent culture they said had engulfed the program.

Courtney Wallace winds up for a pitch against Iowa.
Courtney Wallace winds up for a pitch against Iowa.

Only a handful of players in the program that season are still on the Husker roster.

But whatever changes came from that tumultuous summer, the underclassmen are helping lead the charge that has placed Nebraska back in the national conversation. The guidance they’re receiving from Omaha-area veterans like Olivia Ferrell, Courtney Wallace and Peyton Glatter also are taking hold.

In the first full season of softball since 2019 – the global pandemic cut short the 2020 season and only conference foes were on the schedule in 2021 – Rhonda Revelle’s 33-9 Huskers are on a heater the likes of that hasn’t been seen in Lincoln since 2004.

Entering a weekend series at Wisconsin, Nebraska had won 18 consecutive games since beginning the 2022 season 15-9. That nonconference slate includes losses to Northern Iowa, Southeastern Louisiana, two setbacks to San Diego and a 1-2 record against South Dakota State.

This schedule wasn’t as loaded with upper-echelon opponents as it has been in recent seasons. Chances to play two traditional powers were lost to poor weather conditions – two against No. 10 Arkansas in Fayetteville and a home game against Stanford, which currently is No. 35 in the RPI.

Nebraska’s “best loss” was a March 13 setback to Central Florida, which is No. 14 in the most recent RPI standings.

As of this writing, the Huskers are 13-0 in Big Ten play, one game ahead of Nos. 7- and 10-ranked Northwestern (30-6, 11-1), with two series remaining in the regular season at Ohio State and home against Indiana before the May 11-14 Big Ten tournament in East Lansing, Michigan.

Nebraska's Mya Felder gets a hit against Rutgers.
Nebraska’s Mya Felder gets a hit against Rutgers.

Things have been going so well that Nebraska has worked its way back into the Top 25. They debuted at No. 21 in the D1softball.com ratings following the Easter weekend sweep of Minnesota. The Huskers also are No. 25 in the USA Today/NFCA ratings and No. 24 in the ESPN/USA Softball poll.

With Ferrell and Wallace having the best seasons of their careers, and a batting order that features eight players hitting better than .300, the Huskers seem destined to return to an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2016.

How the Huskers have returned to their winning ways while receiving a modicum of national attention has caught the attention of NU Athletic Director Trev Alberts.

It “might just be one of the great stories we have had around here in a long time,” Alberts said on the “Sports Nightly” radio show. “I do not know how to explain it, other than this is a team that believes in itself.

“This is a team that was down 8-1 against Minnesota and had every reason to say, ‘We have won the series, Minnesota is a great team. They will probably win one.’ Well, they didn’t accept that and found a way to fight back and win that game.”

After dispatching the Gophers, including that school record-tying comeback from a 7-run deficit to win 11-8 on April 18, the Huskers moved to No. 27 in the NCAA RPI standings through games played April 19.

Despite being undefeated in conference games, three Big Ten rivals are ahead of Nebraska in the RPI standings – Northwestern (6), Ohio State (22) and Michigan (23), a team the Huskers defeated twice in Ann Arbor to open conference play. Wisconsin (31), Illinois (32) and Minnesota (39) aren’t far behind and give the Big Ten seven schools in the top 40.

The overall strength of the conference is helping Nebraska improve its profile for potential seeding in one of the 16 NCAA Regionals that begin May 20.

Doubters outside the program point to the 15-9 nonconference record and the teams NU isn’t playing in conference.

Nebraska doesn’t play any of the three teams – Northwestern, Illinois and Maryland – immediately behind them in the conference standings. Penn State and Purdue also aren’t on NU’s conference slate this season.

But remember, it’s beyond Nebraska’s control who they play in conference. This is the first time since 2014 that Nebraska hasn’t played the Wildcats. Also, Maryland’s fourth-place position in the league standings is a bit deceptive because its spot in the RPI standings is No. 86, two better than Southeastern Louisiana.

Yes, Nebraska has played the three teams at the bottom of the Big Ten – Rutgers, Iowa and Michigan State – and all have 1-13 conference records. Minnesota is in 10th place at 5-7 but is 19-18-1 overall with that RPI in the top 40.

Try this view instead: The Huskers are defeating the teams they should be beating. That hasn’t been the case with NU since at least 2015 and even in that NCAA Regional season the Huskers weren’t completing series sweeps and were losing games to teams behind them in the standings.

Sweeps have become common this season because of elevated play in the three primary aspects of the game: pitching, hitting and defense.

Ferrell has evolved into one of the Big Ten’s top two or three pitchers, and Wallace isn’t far behind with another season on the horizon because of the pandemic.

Nebraska’s batting order, top to bottom, hasn’t been this good since 2015. That’s the season when eight Huskers finished the season with batting averages higher than .300, though two of those players played in just 36 of the 58 games.

Husker hitters this season are on pace to top those 2015 numbers with eight players currently hitting .312 or better.

Mya Felder leads the way with a .411 average, followed by Cam Ybarra (.372), Ava Bredwell (.366), Abbie Squier (.361), Billie Andrews (.353), Sydney Gray (.336), Caitlynn Neal (.315) and Wallace (.312). Glatter is ninth at .290, and Ferrell has hit .262 in limited plate appearances as she is focusing more on her pitching responsibilities.

Ferrell, when called upon, still has game-changing power at the plate. She hit .730 with three hits, two home runs and three RBIs in the Michigan State series.

Ava Bredwell gives coach Rhonda Revelle a high-five.
Ava Bredwell gives coach Rhonda Revelle a high-five.

Andrews has been the scariest hitter for opponents to face all season. In NU’s three-game series with Rutgers, the sophomore from Gretna was 0-for-1 but scored three runs in the first game and had an RBI in the third game.

That’s an odd stat line until you know that Scarlet Knights pitchers walked Andrews, who bats leadoff, 10 times – four times in each of the first two games and twice in the third game.

One of her walks came with the bases loaded in Game 2, forcing home Bredwell with the first run of the game in a 2-1 victory. Andrews leads the Huskers in eight offensive categories: on-base plus slugging (1.278), on-base percentage (.473), runs scored (45), hits (47), home runs (18), RBIs (45), total bases (107) and walks (31).

Pitching around Andrews didn’t work for Rutgers, and it likely wouldn’t work for long with so many other players hitting so well. Four other Huskers – Felder, Ybarra, Squier and Gray – have an OPS of 1.026 or better.

There are still plenty of games to play before the postseason begins. The Huskers have so far deftly handled the responsibility of being the team others are chasing. If Nebraska gets to 40 wins before the conference tournament – three more sweeps would put them at 42-9 – NU will be one of those hot teams opponents will want to avoid.

Squier Finds Comfort Zone By Staying Home

Top Recruit Has Started Every Game for Huskers in Second Year

By Steve Beideck • Photos by NU Sports Information

Staying in familiar surroundings has helped Abbie Squier become a mainstay in the Nebraska softball starting lineup.

The sophomore from Lincoln Southwest had an enticing scholarship offer from Minnesota to consider. The Gophers had established themselves as one of the Big Ten’s best softball programs, never finishing lower than third place since 2013.

Entering conference play, Abbie Squier was second on the team in runs scored, fourth in total bases and fifth in RBIs.
Entering conference play, Abbie Squier was second on the team in runs scored, fourth in total bases and fifth in RBIs.

Minnesota also had made six consecutive NCAA regional tournaments since 2013, including a Super Regional appearance in 2014. When the Gophers were pursing Squier, they finished 56-5 and won the Big Ten in 2017 before going 41-17 the following season and finishing second in conference play.

But before Minnesota made its first-ever appearance in the Women’s College World Series in 2019, Squier had already committed to play for the Huskers. Those are the kinds of options you have when you’re the No. 95-ranked player nationally in your signing class.

Though the program was in turmoil and the Huskers hadn’t – and still haven’t – been to an NCAA Regional since 2016, for Squier there was no place like home.

What Squier said in a 2019 interview about choosing the Huskers over Minnesota and South Dakota State was remarkably similar to her comments before the start of Big Ten play less than three days before the start of the 2022 conference season.

“For me it was more just Nebraska’s home for me,” Squier said before her senior season at Southwest. “I knew the coaching staff so well, and the vibe down there, I’m so used to it. Everyone is cheering for Nebraska.”

Squier’s recent reflections on the recruiting process reinforced her initial thoughts about becoming a Husker and being able to play home games in front of family and friends.

“At the time, my recruiting process was really hard,” Squier said. “Some kids love it and found it to be a lot of fun. I remember it being a super stressful period of time. I just had a gut feeling about Nebraska. I loved the people from the top down.

“On my unofficial visit, I got to meet with the current team, and that reminded me of what set Nebraska apart was the people. It also was huge for me to be able to have my family close. Whenever I get time I can go home and see them.”

Squier’s patience during her freshman season paid off this season with a starting role. At first it looked like Squier would be patrolling center field at Bowlin Stadium and the road venues in six other states.

That changed right before the start of the season when Squier was moved to left field. Nebraska coaches tweaked the lineup to put Sydney Gray back at third base after she’d fully recovered from the knee injury she suffered early in the 2021 season.

Brooke Andrews has started all but six games in center field after taking over for Gray at third base following her injury.

Not only is Squier firmly ensconced in left field, she’s one of only three Huskers who has started every game this season in the same position. Squier played in 28 games with 10 starts as a freshman, including seven in left field, two in right field and one as the designated player.

With Billie Andrews, the nation’s leading home run hitter at shortstop, and Gray at third, the left side of the NU defense is one of the Big Ten’s best. The trio has committed just nine errors through the first 28 games.

Squier said there weren’t many last-minute adjustments needed to make the position switch.

“In center field I was always able to play the hitters straight up,” Squier said. “In left I sometimes have to go way up and way toward the line on certain batters. With others I need to move over and fill the gap between center and left.”

Those three also rank among Nebraska’s top five hitters. Andrews leads the way with a .415 average, with Gray in third at .369 and Squier fifth at .329. All three also have been named a Big Ten Player of the Week during the non-conference portion of the season.

In her first weekend as a full-time starter, Squier was named the Co-Big Ten Player of the Week. At the UNI-Dome Classic in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Squier hit .500 in five games with one double, two home runs and five RBIs.

After battling through a slump in early March, Squier bounced back with another big weekend as the Huskers went 4-0 at the Rock Chalk Challenge in Lawrence, Kansas. Squier had two home runs and drove in three runs to lead Nebraska to a 9-3 win over South Dakota.

Entering conference play with a three-game series at Michigan, Squier is second on the team in runs scored (22), fourth in total bases (53) and fifth in RBIs (12) to go with her four doubles and four home runs.

The 35 at-bats she got as a freshman helped Squier realize what she needed to work on during the off-season to be better prepared for 2022.
“I just built confidence throughout the off-season working on things and spending the summer in the weight room on conditioning,” Squier said. “I’ve continued working on pitch selection early in the count and being aggressive, knowing my scouting chart so I know where I’ll be pitched.”

That higher level of self-awareness in the batter’s box is helping Squier become the better all-around player the Huskers need to regain their winning ways.

“Knowing where I’m getting out and how to adjust my approach to counter that has been a big area of improvement for me,” Squier said. “I was either taking too many strikes off early in the count or fouling pitches out.

“At this level with two strikes its tough, people can nip at the zone, get you to swing at a bad pitch. Now I’m driving those pitches I was fouling off. It’s awesome.”

Nebraska outfielder Abbie Squier #8 Nebraska Softball 2022

Ted’s Takes

Ted Kirk is a Lincoln-based photographer who has been a photojournalist since 1970. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native covered Nebraska Athletics from 1973 through 2018. During that span he covered thousands of Husker Athletic competitions around the United States. His work is being donated to the University of Nebraska Library Photo Archive.
Ted Kirk is a Lincoln-based photographer who has been a photojournalist since 1970. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native covered Nebraska Athletics from 1973 through 2018. During that span he covered thousands of Husker Athletic competitions around the United States. His work is being donated to the University of Nebraska Library Photo Archive.
Jim Hartung peforms on the rings during a meet at the Devaney Center during the 1981 season.
2020 03 31 001
Nebraska’s Carl McPipe shoots over Kansas center Paul Mokeski at the Devaney Center during a 62-58 win over the Jayhawks in 1978.

Revelle Looking Forward to a Full Season

Story by Shawn Ekwall • Photos by NU Sports Information

Rhonda Revelle has seen a lot in her 29 years as head softball coach at Nebraska. But the past two spring seasons may have topped it all.

With the pandemic putting an abrupt end to the 2020 season just 23 games in, and the Big Ten playing a conference-only schedule in 2021, Revelle, entering her 30th season, is, to put it mildly, ready for the return to a full schedule in 2022.

“We have our fingers crossed we get to do that,” Revelle said. “It’s on the docket and on the agenda, and we’re definitely excited to play a schedule this year beyond our conference schedule.”

Though grateful to be playing last spring, Revelle said the conference-only format allotted by the Big Ten wasn’t helpful for strengthening the team’s RPI.

Olivia Ferrell had her first career shutout against Penn State last season.
Olivia Ferrell had her first career shutout against Penn State last season.

“Only playing each other was challenging in the RPI,” Revelle said. “This year we’re looking forward to go out and represent Nebraska and the Big Ten in the nonconference.”

The Huskers will open play Feb. 11 against Omaha in the UNI Dome Tournament in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Nebraska will rely on a pair of veterans to anchor the pitching circle.

Senior Olivia Ferrell returns for her final season. The Elkhorn South grad started 21 games a year ago, while allowing opponents to hit just .258, while recording a team-leading 100 strikeouts.

Ferrell will share duties with fellow senior Courtney Wallace. The Papillion-La Vista product led the team in wins (11) and innings pitched (132) while recording a team-leading ERA of 2.86.

Revelle also mentioned the emergence of sophomore Kaylin Kinney (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), who tossed 36.2 innings a year ago, as another weapon available in the circle.

“We really have a veteran staff,” Revelle said. “They’ve really done some intentional work this offseason and are motivated to get us back to the NCAAs. They each know their role in the circle is a big key to that happening.”

Revelle also welcomes back a stable of returners in the infield.

Billie Andrews and Cam Ybarra provide stability and leadership up the middle.

Andrews, a sophomore from Gretna and one of only two freshmen to make the All-Big Ten First Team, and Ybarra, a senior from Mission Viejo, California, started all 44 games at shortstop and second base, respectively. A year of communication and working together will pay dividends this year, according to Revelle.

Courtney Wallace made 29 appearances with 18 starts in her junior season for the Huskers.
Courtney Wallace made 29 appearances with 18 starts in her junior season for the Huskers.

“I’m excited about our defense,” Revelle said. “Between Billie and Cam working together for a year … that really anchors our defense. And Brooke (Andrews, of Gretna) and Syd (Gray) will be a good race at third. Those two both were hitting well and when you do that you make a case to be in the lineup.”

Gray, a sophomore from Tucson, Arizona, suffered a season-ending injury in the series finale against Penn State a year ago. That allowed Andrews to move in at third base, getting the start in NU’s final 28 games.

Revelle is also high on Oregon transfer Mya Felder (Fresno, California). The junior will look to provide some added pop to the Huskers’ lineup, bringing a .326 average from her previous two seasons in the PAC-12.

Getting off to a quick start is something the team is focused on.

“We want to set the tone and start strong,” Revelle said. “And we want to do that in practice as well.”

While ultimately the goal is to return to the NCAA tournament, a feat NU hasn’t accomplished since 2016, Revelle said the focus will be on the daily process.

“I do believe that we have (an NCAA tourney) team,” Revelle said. “But we’ll spend our time on how to get better every day. We’ll keep our energy anchored to manageable items. They know for a long time the NCAA tournament was the standard, and they have a lot of pride as Huskers to do their part getting us back.”