Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

2020-21 Nebraska Volleyball Position Reviews: Middle Blocker

May 09, 2021

The offseason has arrived for Nebraska volleyball — four months later than normal. Before we turn the page and start thinking about the true 2021 season, it’s time to look back at the 2020-21 Huskers.

We’re going position-by-position to break things down. We’ve already taken a look at the setters, defensive specialists, opposite hitters and outside hitters, which leaves us with the middle blockers to wrap things up.

Senior Lauren Stivrins

Though it was abbreviated, Lauren Stivrins just completed one of the better seasons by a middle blocker in program history, and that’s really saying something at a school like Nebraska.

The 6-foot-4 co-captain earned first-team AVCA All-America honors for the second time after averaging 3.18 kills per set on .468 hitting and 1.03 blocks per set. She led the Big Ten in hitting percentage and was third in the country as she fell just shy of breaking the program’s single-season record for hitting percentage (Tracy Stalls’ .471). She now owns the second- and third-most efficient attacking season in Nebraska history as she also hit .421 as a sophomore in 2018. The Stivrins Slide has become one of the most devastating plays in NCAA volleyball.

She recorded 10 or more kills in 10 of her 18 matches and hit over .500 seven times. Her beats performance of the season came early on against Maryland when she recored 18 kills on 20 swings (.850 hitting), and she matched that performance with 18 kills on .424 hitting and added six blocks in a five-set match against Ohio State. Stivrins recorded a double-double with 15 kills on .583 hitting and 11 blocks in a four-set win over Rutgers.

Stivrins is a three-time All-American (second team in 2019, first-team in 2020 and 2018), a three-time AVCA All-North Region team selection and a three-time All-Big Ten selection.

Stivrins made steady offensive improvement throughout her career, but the leap she made from junior to senior seasons was significant and something Nebraska really needed.

In addition to her talent, Stivrins’ durability has been impressive throughout her career, which made the way her senior season ended incredibly unfortunate. After redshirting in 2016, Stivrins started overmatch and played in every set of her career up until the 2021 NCAA Tournament. An undisclosed injury limited her to one set against Texas State in Nebraska’s opening match and she didn’t play at all against Baylor in the regional semifinal (the first match she had missed in her career). She did what she could in the regional final against Texas but didn’t quite look like herself.

Now Stivrins has a decision to make. Does she return for a sixth year of college and make another run at her second national championship, or does she move on to the next stage of her life?

Junior Kayla Caffey

Kayla Caffey arrived in Lincoln after playing just 43 matches four years at Missouri as she redshirted in 2016 and 2018. She averaged 1.54 kills per set on .323 hitting and 0.99 blocks per set as a redshirt freshman, then after missing 2018 with an injury, she put up 1.66 kills per set on .404 hitting and 0.81 blocks per set in 2019.

Stivrins had her spot locked down, but the second middle blocker spot was wide open heading into preseason camp despite Calle Schwarzenbach returning as a two-year starter. Caffey beat out both Schwarzenbach and freshman Kalynn Meyer and started 16 of Nebraska’s 19 matches.

Caffey is undersized for a middle blocker at 6-foot, but her athleticism and powerful swing still made her a force for the Huskers as she averaged 2.04 kills per set on .380 hitting and 1.09 blocks per set.

She put up season-bests of 10 kills and .714 hitting in a three-set win at Michigan and she posted a season-high seven blocks with seven kills on .455 hitting in a sweep over Minnesota early in the season.

Cook made sure not to push Caffey too much, giving her a few matches off throughout the season to maintain her health, and she finished the season strong with 24 kills on .462 hitting and 13 blocks in Nebraska’s three NCAA Tournament matches.

Caffey was essentially the fifth option in Nebraska’s offense in terms of sets sent her way, but she made the most of her opportunities and recorded at least five kills in 16 of her 17 appearances.

Junior Callie Schwarzenbach

Callie Schwarzenbach stepped into the shoes left by the departed Briana Holman and started alongside Lauren Stivrins as a freshman and sophomore.

The 6-foot-5 Kearney, Missouri, native was one of the best blockers in the Big Ten from day one, finishing third in the conference with 1.33 blocks per set (up to second and 1.36 per set in Big Ten play).

Her blocking numbers took a step back in 2019 (1.11 blocks per set) and although she became more involved offensively she didn’t really show any progress as a hitter. She averaged 1.09 kills per set on .291 hitting as a freshman and 1.24 kills per set on .263 hitting as a sophomore.

Cook spoke highly of Schwarzenbach’s offseason improvement, but the newcomer Caffey beat her out for the starting middle blocker position next to Stivrins. Schwarzenbach only played in 10 matches this season, starting four of them. She averaged 0.90 kills per set on .262 hitting and a team-best 1.14 blocks per set despite her limited playing time.

She put up four kills on .375 hitting and four blocks in a four-set win over Rutgers early in the season. She had her best match against Iowa, recording four kills on five swings and five blocks in a sweep.

Freshman Kalynn Meyer

PrepVolleyball.com ranked Kalynn Meyer the No. 21 overall recruit in the country and the fifth-ranked middle blocker coming out of Superior High School, and Cook spoke highly of the Husker legacy during the preseason.

However, with the depth ahead of her at middle blocker, Meyer played in just five sets during the 2020-21 season and did not record a stat.

Looking Ahead

Stivrins’ pending decision is a major wildcard for this program. She was the best player on the team this year and her return would be a major boost for the 2021 Huskers.

However, if there’s one position the team has plenty of depth at it’s middle blocker. Caffey has up to two years of eligibility remaining, as does Schwarzenbach. Meyer has four more years to play. Cook said the competition between the that trio was fierce this past season, and now they’ll get another offseason of training to ramp it up even further.

Cook also has another blue chip middle blocker prospect on the way in the form of Elkhorn South’s Rylee Gray. The 6-foot-4 middle blocker is No. 70 in PrepVolleyball.com‘s rankings and also made the cut for VolleyballMag.com‘s Fab 50 list. She averaged 4.8 kills per set on .442 hitting and 1.2 blocks per set as a senior, guiding the Storm to the school’s first state title.

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