The University of Nebraska at Omaha forensics team, ranked sixth nationally, is pulling recruits from across the country – from Minnesota to Kansas City to Los Angeles, California.
When Abbie Syrek, the director of forensics, started her career at UNO in 2006, the entire team was composed of students from Omaha and Bellevue. It wasn’t until 2010 to 2011 that the team started to get national attention.
“That’s when we won four national championships,” Syrek said. “Our team is very small compared to other programs. The fact that we were winning these national championships was absurd. No one could understand how we were doing it.”
Now, the UNO team has been ranked within the top 10, eight years in a row.
About six or seven years ago, the forensics department started hiring graduate student coaches from out of state, Syrek said. The UNO forensics team started getting regional transfers four years ago from across Nebraska all the way to Kansas City.
Last year, the team got its first transfer student from California. This year, there are several students from Los Angeles. Thirteen out of the 17 members are out-of-state students.
“These are kids that don’t even know where Nebraska is on a map,” Syrek said. “Yet, they’re choosing to come to UNO, even though other top programs could offer them a full ride. The fact that they are choosing Omaha is meaningful.”
Though UNO doesn’t have the money to give forensics students full rides, Minnesota native Seth Nelson said the small budget didn’t scare him.
“I love that everyone on the team is here because they love the activity,” he said. “No one is here because of scholarships or because of any external motivation. It’s all internally motivated.”
Students choose Omaha because every team member gets one-on-one time with advisors and is able to compete, Syrek said.
“Some schools have superstars. One of the things we try to do is make every student a superstar,” Syrek said. “All of our students are talented in different ways. We like it that way. We don’t want to just focus on one student. We want to build a team of all home run hitters.”
The underdog climate at UNO is what drew in Gordon Ip, who is originally from L.A.
“We take a lot of pride in being small but mighty. One of the professors at my community college back in L.A. told me UNO had one of the most creative and groundbreaking performances that you see throughout the entire speech and debate circuit,” he said. “That’s how I first heard about UNO. Even though we don’t get first, you will remember the speeches that you see from us.”
Though the national ranking is enough to gain incoming students’ attention, it is the UNO community that wins them over.
“There’s just something about UNO,” said L.A. native Chloe Romero, “I feel warmth from the whole campus, not just my teammates. There’s a sense of community that everyone agrees Nebraska has.”