By Jess Schwager
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Nebraska freshman Kassandra Nathe knows exactly what it takes to be a team player. Like many gymnasts, Nathe started flipping and twisting at only four-years-old.
The Sartell, Minn., native competed at Twin City Twisters under Coach Mike Hunger, where she became a four-time Junior Olympic qualifier from 2005-08. In her freshman year of high school she placed 13th on vault at the Junior Olympic National Championships. She claimed the 2006 and 2007 Region IV beam titles, and the 2007 Region IV all-around title. At the 2008 Championships, Nathe tied for 15th in the all-around and 13th on floor, while claiming 19th on beam.
Though Nathe had an impressive individual career, it was on the national level where she began focusing on gymnastics as a team sport.
“At Nationals there are a lot of girls competing, so it’s really high pressure even though it’s fun,” Nathe said. “I think Nationals gave me more experience at a higher level. Everyone tries to hit their routines so the team gets a higher score. That’s what college is all about. It’s about consistency and making routines.”
In addition to gymnastics, she was also involved in other team sports lettering in both track and cross country. Her success spanned across the board, as she helped the Sartell High track team win two consecutive state championships in 2005 and 2006.
“Track was definitely a team sport,” Nathe said. “I learned how to pick my team up and saw how much my team relied on each other. Being on the track team helped me with the team aspect of gymnastics too.”
After graduating from Sartell High in 2008, Nathe joined the Nebraska women’s gymnastics team, where she immediately felt at home.
“All of the girls were really welcoming," Nathe said. "I felt like I fit right in here.”
As soon as Nathe started training with the Huskers, she embarked on a way to contribute to the team's success - as an all-around competitor.
“If you had told us early in the recruiting process that Kassandra was going to be one of our all-arounders this season, I don’t think any one of us would have guessed it,” Nebraska gymnastics coach Dan Kendig said. “That’s why you don’t prejudge. I think she’s earned an all-around position by working hard. She works smart in a lot of ways. She has a great attitude.
"I think the thing that Kassandra brought to Nebraska from day one was a work ethic. She made plenty of mistakes early, but they didn’t bother her or get her down. She just got better and better.”
Nathe, joined by senior Kyle Stone, are the only two Huskers to make appearances in the all-around competition so far this season. Despite a nail-biting 194.125-194.350 loss to Denver in NU’s first meet, Nathe gave a strong first performance, placing second in the all-around (38.875) behind Stone (38.975). Nathe also earned a fourth-place finish on beam with a score of 9.80.
“I was really nervous going in,” Nathe said. “But I think I’m always going have nerves because I care about the team. Whenever you care about something so much, you’re going to be nervous because you want to do well for the team, but I’m learning to control my nerves by talking to myself and calming myself down before the meet.”
Nathe seemed to shake her nerves in the second meet against Iowa State, where she took second in the all-around (39.00) en route to Nebraska’s first Big 12 victory (195.55-194.775).
The Huskers captured another win in Big 12 action against Missouri as Nathe placed fifth in the all-around (38.20) and fifth on beam (9.80).
With a four-meet home stand spanning over the next several weeks, including competitions against No. 2 Utah and No. 7 Oklahoma, Nathe will have more chances to make an impact. Her consistency and team-oriented mindset will also be beneficial as the Huskers push to make the 2008 NCAA National Championships held in Lincoln, Neb., beginning on April 16.
“Kassandra has been a joy to work with each and every day,” Kendig said. “Nothing gets her down and she keeps going until she gets it right. That kind of attitude each and every day will bring about great results for Kassandra and the team.”