When Emily Wong arrived at Nebraska, she didn't compete in the all-around. She struggled on the vault.
But every day she came to practice determined to get better, coach Dan Kendig said.
“It's a work ethic,'' he said. “It's her attitude about everything, her mental makeup. I wish we could clone this.''
Now a senior, Wong has risen to a No. 2 national ranking in the all-around. Her average score of 39.508 is second only to LSU's Rheagan Courville (39.525).
She's won the title three times this season, and her hard work has given Wong a confidence that's been hard to beat.
“She has got herself to the point where she is really focused, very confident and just feels like she can go out and do it every time,'' Kendig said. “She's had three great meets so far.''
Wong said there's another reason for her standout performances.
She's been determined to put on a show every time not just for the team but to remember her father, John, who died of a stroke in October at the age of 57.
“This season is for him,'' Wong said.
John and Karen Wong were at every meet, along with her two older sisters and younger brother when they could.
After going home to Grand Forks, N.D., for two weeks for the funeral and her sister's wedding, Wong returned to Lincoln, where the support of her teammates has carried her through. The family of roommate Jamie Schleppenbach made bracelets for the team that say J. Wong Strong and Nebraska gymnastics.
Still, it was tough that first meet without him.
“He was like my biggest fan and got really excited about stuff. I definitely could pick out his voice,'' Wong said. “I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what feelings I was going to have or anything like that. I knew I was doing it for him. It went well.''
Last weekend, Wong carried No. 8 NU against Iowa by winning four titles, including the all-around with a season-tying high score of 39.550. She also had her best performances of the year on the vault (9.90), bars (9.90) and beam (9.875).
The unbeaten Huskers will get another taste of Big Ten competition when they host Minnesota on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Devaney Center. The No. 14 Gophers, who captured a share of the regular-season league title last year with Michigan, are off to a 7-0 and 1-0 start.
“They are definitely going to be good competition,'' Wong said. “It will be nice to have another Big Ten meet. It will be nice having our home crowd, that's for sure.''
Kendig says the bigger the crowd, the better he expects his team to do. And, of course, the Huskers will have to hit their routines.
“I think we're able to rise to the occasion,'' Kendig said. “I like our chances.''
No. 9 NU men face Nos. 7, 8 teams
The ninth-ranked Nebraska men's gymnastics team hits the road again, heading to Minneapolis to face No. 7 Minnesota and No. 8 Illinois at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Sports Pavillion.
The Huskers are looking to extend their success from last weekend, when they dominated against No. 11 Air Force in their home opener.
Junior Grant Perdue won individual titles with a score of 15.05 in the floor exercise and 15.20 on vault.
Junior Robbie Kocks continued to impress on still rings, matching his season-opening score of 15.40. He's ranked No. 5 in the nation on that event.