The 2019 volleyball season has come to an end with the Stanford Cardinal reigning supreme for the third time in the past four years.
For the first time since 2014, the Huskers did not play into the final week of the season, falling just short in the regional final to eventual runner-up Wisconsin. The Huskers finished 28-5 overall including 17-3 in Big Ten play.
This week, Hail Varsity is looking back and looking ahead with a position-by-position breakdown of the 2019 Huskers and the reinforcements on the way. We’ve already broken down the outside hitters and setters. Next up is the middle blocker position.
Junior Lauren Stivrins
The redshirt junior from Scottsdale, Arizona, showed Coach John Cook enough as a sophomore last year for him to name her a co-captain alongside sophomore setter Nicklin Hames, a role Stivrins was hoping to earn and one she truly embraced.
Stivrins is arguably the best athlete in the program at 6-foot-4, and with Mikaela Foecke gone, she developed into more of a go-to option for Hames this season after earning All-America, All-Region and All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore.
Stivrins averaged 2.55 kills per set (up from 2.36 as a sophomore) and 1.07 blocks per set. After hitting a blistering .421 (third-best in program history) last year, she cooled off a bit to .374 this season. Much of that had to do with a late-season slump, however. In the first 25 matches of the season, Stivrins averaged 2.68 kills per set on .406 hitting. In the last eight, those numbers were down to 2.11 and .269. She had 3 kills and 3 errors on 12 swings in Nebraska’s season-ending loss to Wisconsin in the regional finals, one of just two zero-hitting matches she had all season.
She also recorded 13 double-digit kill matches with a high of 18 in five sets against Purdue. She also noticed five or more blocks eight times with a high if eight, set twice. She led the Huskers with 17 solo blocks as well. She hit .500 or better 12 times including a stretch of four straight at one point.
Even with the late slump and the overall increase in errors (20 more in 14 fewer sets), Stivrins was still a unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten Team. She also was named an AVCA All-North Region Team member and a second-team AVCA All-American.
The Stivrins slide is one of Nebraska’s biggest weapons and will continue to be so in 2020. If she can maintain her high level of play all season, the Huskers will be tough to stop.
Sophomore Callie Schwarzenbach
The 6-foot-5 native of Kearney, Missouri, earned a starting role next to Lauren Stivrins as a freshman last year and proved to be one of the best blockers in the conference, averaging 1.33 blocks per set overall including 1.36 in conference play, second in the league. Her defense was way ahead of her offense, however, as se only averaged 1.09 kills per set on .290 hitting.
This season, she saw a few more sets come her way (from 2.68 to 2.94 per set) and her kills average jumped to 1.24, but her hitting percentage dropped to .260 as she recorded 14 more errors in 18 fewer sets. Her blocking took a slight step back as well, down to 1.11 per set.
She struggled at times to terminate on balls she needed to put down, but there’s also a legitimate reason for some of her struggles: injuries. At one point, she rolled her ankle and missed a couple sets early in the season (though she was back for the next match), and then later, she broke her thumb on her right hand, playing with it wrapped up for the rest of the season.
Time to heal fully will serve Schwarzenbach well, but she also needs to take strides next season to become a more consistent threat offensively in order for Nebraska’s offense to reach its ceiling.
Freshman Fallon Stutheit
Stutheit, a 6-foot-2 walk-on from Johnson-Brock, redshirted this season and played on the B-side in practice.
Nebraska only signed one scholarship recruit in 2019: Superior middle blocker Kalynn Meyer. At 6-foot-3, Meyer is a powerful athlete that excels in basketball and track as well as volleyball and will provide more depth and competition at that middle spot next season. PrepVolleyball.com tabbed her as the No. 21 recruit in the country and she was named an Under Armour All-American this season.
"Kalynn is one of the best middles in the country and we are thrilled she chose to stay in Nebraska,” Cook said in a release after she signed. “A talented multi-sport athlete, she comes from a true Husker family. Kalynn is dominant at the net and has a chance to contribute on the court right away.”
As a senior, Meyer averaged 5.6 kills per set on .389 hitting while adding 77 blocks and 59 service aces, guiding the Wildcats to a 30-4 overall record and a fourth-place finish in the Class C2 state tournament. Superior made it to state and won its first-round game all four years Meyer was in the lineup, and the Wildcats captured the 2017 state championship as well.
Meyer’s mother, Peggy, played volleyball at Nebraska for Coach Terry Pettit and her older sisters were track and field athletes at Nebraska as well.
Abby Johnson, another member of the 2019 recruiting class, could also play some middle blocker as well as outside hitter and 6-foot-5 freshman Riley Zuhn split her time between the two spots in practice this season.
Nebraska has a star in Stivrins, a defensive force in Schwarzenbach, a promising newcomer in Meyer and plenty of depth behind them, making middle blocker a position of strength for the Huskers moving forward.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.