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Nebraska Volleyball Notebook: Competitions Continue, Fabulous Freshmen, Calming Nerves

August 22, 2021

Nebraska welcomed its fans back to the Devaney Center on Saturday night for the Red-White Scrimmage, which ended in a 2-2 tie between the Red and White squads.

Competition Continues

Typically, the Red-White Scrimmage offers some answers to whatever lineup questions there might be as the Huskers approach the season opener. If a player starts for the Red team, there’s a good chance you’ll see her start the season-opener as well.

This isn’t a typical year, though. Coach John Cook said on Saturday night that he came away just as perplexed about what his lineup is going to look like as he was heading into the scrimmage.

Eleven players—including all five outside hitters and all three healthy middle blockers—suited up for the Red team at one point during the scrimmage, and they all had their moments. Any of them could be in the lineup come Friday’s season-opener.

Heading into the match, the one position I felt totally confident that I knew who would be starting was setter. Cook indicated on Wednesday that Nicklin Hames had a healthy lead in that competition. Anni Evans is a walk-on who does well in her role while Kennedi Orr is coming off an ACL tear that kept her sidelined up until the start of preseason practices.

Nebraska Cornhuskers setter Nicklin Hames #1 lays on the floor after being injured during their annual Red White scrimmage in the Devaney Center Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Lincoln, Neb. Photos by Eric Francis

Hames entered Friday as the one “known” on this team, and now her status is up in the air coming out of the scrimmage as she went down with an apparent ankle injury during he fourth and final set. Cook didn’t have an update on her after the match.

It appears as if my curiosity will continue to plague me throughout the next week—and perhaps beyond that as well. The starting six (plus the libero) we see against Tulsa on Friday is not guaranteed to be the same group we see later that day against Colgate.

“I haven’t been in the situation as a coach in a while,” Cook said. “It’s fun but it’s stressful. Last year, that was it; there was nobody else to put in. So this is interesting. I think it’s going to be fun and I think we’re gonna keep mixing up lineups here for a while.”

Fabulous Freshmen

None of the newcomers stole the show, necessarily, but each member of the highly-touted freshman class showed flashes of why Cook wanted them in Lincoln.

Batenhorst introduced herself to Husker nation quickly, notching eight kills in the first set while serving as the White team’s go-to offensive threat. Her first kill was particularly impressive, and she finished with 12 kills and 12 digs.

Lindsay Krause struggled a bit with errors on Saturday, but she still matched Batenhorst with 12 kills and Cook said she’s been dominating in practice, to the point where she took home the coveted EDMF belt after the first week.

“I think it was yesterday I was having dinner with her and I just told her ‘Do you know how big a deal that is?’ For a freshman to get that week one, that was decided by the coaches and the grad managers and Kelly [Hunter],” Cook said after practice on Wednesday. “That’s a really big honor, and she agreed. We make that belt pretty special. It’s a heavy belt. The first time they grab it they go ‘god, I didn’t now it was so heavy.’  But we want it to be heavy because it means a lot. And so to get that from that group is pretty impressive. Now she’ll present it again at the end of this week to who she feels has earned it, but I think that’s a big statement for her.”

Whitney Lauenstein showed off some serious power, recording 14 kills including one on set point in game three that knocked Madi Kubik off her feet. Cook said she’s been up and down in practice but that she played really well on Saturday.

It appears Krause and Lauenstein are competing for the starting opposite hitter spot as they both played exclusively on the right side during the scrimmage.

Kenzie Knuckles has started the last two years at libero, but Cook opted to have Lexi Rodriguez serve as the libero for the red team all night while Knuckles played alongside Keonilei Akana for the White team. She notched 16 digs, went 13-for-13 in serve receive and served up an ace herself.

Finally, Kennedi Orr operated in a 6-2 alongside Evans for the White team until Hames went down, at which point Orr went over to the Red team to close out the match. She finished with 25 assists and three blocks and notched the first setter kill with a well-timed and perfectly-placed dump in the third set.

“They continue to amaze me,” Lexi Sun said about the freshmen. “Every single day at practice they’re working so hard, they’re making changes, they’re being super coachable. I think that tonight they just impressed me even more. They’re all studs and they all have different roles and can bring a lot of amazing things to the team and so I’m just excited to see how they continue to grow throughout the season.”

Calming Nerves

At least one of those freshmen will be starting on opening day, and it might be more. That’s why the Red-White Scrimmage is so valuable: it allows newcomers to get a taste of what it’s like to play at the Devaney Center. Saturday was special for more than just the freshmen, however, considering how long its been since the Huskers played in front of a capacity crowd.

“They were a nervous wreck today,” Cook said. “Our practice before we played tonight was awful, and I didn’t say anything—if it happens next week I’m gonna be on them—I didn’t say anything but they were all so nervous. You just kind of have to let them work through it, and then they were really good tonight. We’ve been talking to him about breathing and calming your nerves down when they get pumped up, because I knew they would be super pumped up tonight. And I think they did a really good job of playing very calm and good volleyball. Just look at those freshmen, they did not look scared tonight or tentative.”

Batenhorst said Saturday was the biggest crowd she’s ever played in front of, and although the nerves got to her a bit early on, she was able to settle in as the match continued.

“It’s definitely helpful to make it a scrimmage in front of 8,000 people instead of going straight into the season,” Batenhorst said. “So I kind of got comfortable. It was just a crazy atmosphere and it was just unreal. It was just so much fun.”

Cook is hoping the team was able to work through all those nerves on Saturday night. Come Friday at 11 a.m., the matches start to count for real and the Huskers will have to be ready, no matter how many freshmen are in the lineup.

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