Husker sales students apply strengths in role-play competition

· 6 min read

Husker sales students apply strengths in role-play competition

Anderson, Vander Woude win first place, $2,500 in scholarships
Six men pose with an oversized check for $2,500.
Murengezi Atali Benimana | Business
Marcus Anderson (third from left) and Tyler Vander Woude (third from right) earned first place and $2,500 in scholarships in the Center for Sales Excellence Team Role-Play Competition, sponsored by NRC Health. They are pictured with Ravi Sohi (left), Robert D. Hays Distinguished Chair of Sales Excellence and executive director of the Center for Sales Excellence; Blake Runnalls (second from left), assistant professor of marketing; Chad Mardesen (second from right), associate professor of practice in marketing, and Robin Garewal (right), assistant professor of practice in marketing.

Twenty-two student teams in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Undergraduate Certificate in Sales Excellence program recently vied for $6,000 in scholarships in the Center for Sales Excellence Team Role-Play Competition, sponsored by NRC Health.

After three rounds of tournament-style pitching to industry professionals, Tyler Vander Woude, a junior marketing and management major from Lincoln, and Marcus Anderson, a junior finance major from Lincoln, captured first place and $2,500.

“NRC Health is the founding member of the sales center, and working together, we wanted to help our students with their strategy in the marketplace,” said Blake Runnalls, assistant professor of marketing. “I taught students about NRC Health’s reputation program and how to sell their products this spring, which became the scenario for this role-play competition. We greatly appreciate NRC Health’s sponsorship of the first-place award.”

Because sales organizations continue to adopt a team selling approach, Runnalls said the competition was designed as a team role-play. As the two-member teams shared insights, they also leaned into their talents.

“We had to mix our personalities and play to our strengths,” Vander Woude said. “Marcus is a great critical thinker, and I worked to make a connection with the industry leaders.”

Two young women hold an oversized check for $2,000.
Murengezi Atali Benimana | Business
McKenzie Wager (left) and Amanda Smolsky earned second place and $2,000 in scholarships in the competition.

Amanda Smolsky, a junior marketing major from Omaha, and McKenzie Wager, a senior marketing major from Centennial, Colorado, earned second place and $2,000. Bekki Franco, a junior pre-health student from Omaha, and Taylor McMurray, a junior finance major from Hickman, took third place and $1,000. The center provided both the second and third place scholarships.

“Seeing all the talent in this internal competition for the sales center reminded me how lucky I am to be part of this program and the center,” Wager said. “Our team had to work very well together as partners to win.”

Following is a complete list of students who competed, organized alphabetically by hometown, with their year in school in the spring semester and academic major(s).



  • Brandon Urkoski, sophomore, marketing


  • Benjamin Hastreiter, junior, marketing
  • Ella Hazen, sophomore, management


  • Briana Sulentic, junior, economics


  • Dane Westengaard, junior, marketing


  • Taylor McMurray, junior, finance


  • Marcus Anderson, junior, finance
  • Jon Canaday, junior, management
  • Nicolas Deaver, freshman, undeclared
  • Brayden McPhail, sophomore, accounting and finance
  • TJ Stanek, junior, marketing
  • Joe Sutko, sophomore, marketing
  • Tyler Vander Woude, junior, marketing and management


  • Devyn Carmichael, junior, marketing and finance
  • Gavin Consdorf, senior, management
  • Zach Cutler, senior, advertising and public relations, and sports media and communications
  • Bekki Franco, junior, pre-health
  • David Goldsmith, sophomore, finance
  • Simon Hanus, sophomore, business administration
  • Andrew Jiron, junior, business administration and music
  • Logan Nelson, junior, marketing
  • Amanda Smolsky, junior, marketing


  • Audrey Frohloff, junior, management


  • Karlie Erickson, sophomore, communication studies


  • Jonah Harrison, sophomore, accounting and finance

Elsewhere in the U.S.

Centennial, Colorado:

  • McKenzie Wager, senior, marketing

Bull Valley, Illinois:

  • Joseph Weinberger, freshman, business administration

Chicago, Illinois:

  • Ty Demand, sophomore, finance; Benjamin Penner, sophomore, finance

Earling, Illinois:

  • Savanna Musich, junior, communication studies

Grayslake, Illinois:

  • Owen Miller, freshman, marketing

Lake Zurich, Illinois:

  • Taggart Niepomnik, freshman, finance

Lisle, Illinois:

  • Kylie Russell, sophomore, advertising and public relations, and broadcasting

Naperville, Illinois:

  • Tyler Auer, sophomore, finance

Northbrook, Illinois:

  • Keaton Anderson, sophomore, marketing

Wheaton, Illinois:

  • Paige Leonard, sophomore, marketing

Brownsburg, Indiana:

  • Brynna Baker, junior, nutritional science and dietetics

Overland Park, Kansas:

  • Meghan Fries, sophomore, finance

St. Paul, Minnesota:

  • Allison Larsen, sophomore, business administration

Victoria, Minnesota:

  • Kaylee Wanless, junior, marketing

Waconia, Minnesota:

  • Nora Bailey, sophomore, international business
  • Hailey Bigaouette, sophomore, marketing and management

St. Louis, Missouri:

  • Ava Risch, junior, marketing

Sioux Falls, South Dakota:

  • Sabren Bortnem, junior, marketing

Two young women hold an oversized check for $1,500.
Murengezi Atali Benimana | Business
Taylor McMurray (left) and Bekki Franco earned third place and $1,000 in scholarships.

Runnalls said role plays are critical for early-stage sales students, because it allows them to build their sales approach.

“The students all share this framework they learn in class, and once they get comfortable with it, they can personalize it to their own style,” he said. “That may be through word choice or how they approach folks.”

During the semester, students learn about professional development and build their LinkedIn profiles. They then network with a diverse group of industry professionals in health care, insurance, retail, talent acquisition and recruiting, and other industries.

“We invite some of those professionals to class, so the students have the opportunity to further connect with them in person,” Runnalls said. “The professionals also return for the role-play competition, so over the course of the last two-and-a-half months, the students meet and develop relationships with them while the professionals get to see the students develop over time.”

In the competition, students earn points for building rapport, listening, enthusiasm, effective communication, professionalism and the ability to get a commitment to meet with the boss as the next step in the sales process. The sales center faculty help host the competition and assist students as needed.

“Professors in the sales program greatly value their students and guide us through the entire process in our sales courses,” Vander Woude said. “They teach us how to interact with customers and identify their needs while building rapport to keep the relationship going. All those lessons came into play during this competition.”

As part of the certificate program, students take 15 credit hours to build their sales skills and learn how to influence others. The program has been named a “Top University for Professional Sales Education” each year since its inception in 2014-15. For more information, click here.

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