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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

2021 Nebraska Volleyball Position Reviews: Middle Blocker

February 08, 2022

The 2021 season was one to remember for John Cook’s Huskers, and before we move on to beach volleyball and the offseason, we’re taking one last look back, position by position.

We’ve already broken down the setters, defensive specialists, outside hitters and opposite hitters. We’re wrapping things up with the middle blockers.

Senior Lauren Stivrins

After much consideration, Nebraska’s All-American middle blocker elected to return for one more season. A back injury that limited her at the end of the spring season led to surgery and an extended recovery period. She missed the first 11 matches of the season but returned for the second week of Big Ten play, putting down 11 kills on 15 errorless swings and three blocks against Iowa in her first match.

She wasn’t able to replicate her incredible effectiveness and efficiency from back in the spring, which is understandable coming off of back surgery, but she was still a big difference-maker for the Huskers. Stivrins averaged 2.31 kills per set on .339 hitting and 1.11 blocks per set, and she served up eight aces as well after Cook started using her at the line down the stretch of the season.

The conference coaches named her to the All-Big Ten first team, but she didn’t make the cut for the AVCA All-North region team and therefore wasn’t eligible for All-America honors.

Including her debut against Iowa, Stivrins reached double figures in kills eight times. She had a season-high 14 kills on .393 hitting plus five blocks in a four-set win over Purdue. She also recorded a season-high seven blocks in back-to-back three-set matches against Ohio State and Maryland. She served a season-high three aces against Illinois late in the season.

After six years in Lincoln, Stivrins leaves with 1,259 kills on .378 hitting and .563 blocks in her stellar career.

Senior Kayla Caffey

Kayla Caffey (3) spikes the ball against Wisconsin’s Devyn Robinson (10) in the third set during the NCAA volleyball finals. Photo by John S. Peterson.

With Stivrins still recovering to open the season, Caffey stepped into a larger role as the primary attacking middle. She averaged a career-high 2.41 kills per set on a team-high .363 hitting. She added 1.11 blocks per set and Cook called her the most improved player on the team.

Caffey didn’t make an All-Big Ten tam as the league’s coaches seemed to defer to Stivrins’ talent and career accomplishments, but the AVCA saw things differently as Caffey made the All-North Region team and was a second-team AVCA All-American. She picked up one Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award during he season.

Caffey recorded double-digit kills 10 times in her 31 matches with a high of 15, which came in the national championship match against Wisconsin. She hit .600 or better fie times including a season-high .650 with 13 kills at Purdue, .647 with 12 kills at Northwestern, .632 with 13 kills against Kansas State and .619 with a season-high 14 kills against Purdue. Caffey nearly recorded a double-double with 11 kills and a season-high nine blocks at Minnesota.

Senior Callie Schwarzenbach

Schwarzenbach played in 17 matches with 13 starts as the first middle off the bench for most of the season, though she actually served as the second middle in 14 matches — Nebraska’s first 11 and hen a three-match stretch late in the season.

Overall, she averaged 1.17 kills per set on .264 hitting and a team-high 1.21 blocks per set. She led the team in blocks per set all four seasons in Lincoln.

Schwarzenbach went to the bench early in one of her starts and came off the bench in three other matches. In the other 13 matches where she served as the second middle for most of the match, she averaged 1.19 kills per set on .274 hitting and 1.19 blocks per set.

Schwarzenbach had a season-high nine kills on .500 hitting against Stanford but finished with five kills or less in the rest of her matches. She opened the season with a season-high 10 blocks against Colgate.

After four season, Schwarzenbach is sixth on Nebraska’s career blocks list for the rally scoring era with 392 of them and she’s third on the rally scoring list in career blocks per set at 1.22 despite spending her last two seasons as a back-up and part-time starter. .

Sophomore Kalynn Meyer

Outside hitter Lindsay Krause (22) and Nebraska Cornhuskers middle blocker Kalynn Meyer (20) reach to block a shot from Iowa middle blocker Amiya Jones (9). Photo John S. Peterson.

The sophomore out of Superior played in eight sets spread across six matches this season playing behind the three seniors. She recorded eight kills and three errors on 22 swings (.227 hitting) and eight blocks (one solo).

She had three kills on six attempts and one block in the season opener against Colgate. She had one kill in each of Nebraska’s matches against Kansas State and Omaha and added four block assists against the Mavericks. Meyer had two kills on four swings and three blocks (one solo) against Louisville. She played in one Big Ten set, against Iowa, and converted her only swing into a kill. She also played in the NCAA Tournament first-round win over Campbell.

Meyer was a multi-sport standout in high school, excelling in basketball and track in addition to volleyball at Superior. She is currently competing with the Nebraska track team and performing well.

Freshman Rylee Gray

Gray, the Elkhorn South product, was part of the highly-touted 2021 recruiting class as the 70th-ranked player in the country. She helped guide the Storm to a Class A state title as a senior before joining the Huskers.

Unfortunately, a minor injury kept her off the floor for the Red-White Scrimmage and then Gray ran into more health issues throughout the season as she redshirted and provided depth in practice. She announced on Jan. 20 that she is medically retiring from volleyball but will remain at Nebraska to finish her degree.

Looking Ahead

After six years, Stivrins’ career in Lincoln has finally come to an end. Schwarzenbach entered the transfer portal and followed Tyler Hildebrand to Long Beach State. Gray’s retirement left the Huskers pretty light at the middle blocker position after it was arguably the deepest position on the team in 2021.

Caffey’s status is up in the air. She was a sixth-year senior this season but is requesting a seventh season from the NCAA as she redshirted her first season at Missouri then missed her third season with an injury.

Waverly middle blocker/outside hitter Bekka Allick (No. 15) competes against Omaha Skutt in the semifinals of the NSAA Volleyball Championships. Photo by John S. Peterson.

Nebraska also signed PrepVolleyball.com‘s top two middle blockers in the 2022 class in home-grown product and Waverly grad Bekka Allick (ranked second nationally) and Fremont (Ogden, Utah) dual-sport standout Maggie Mendelson (ranked fourth in 2022 after reclassifying from 2023). Mendelson will play both volleyball and basketball at Nebraska. They both won Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year for their respective states.

The 6-foot-4 Allick averaged 5.7 kills on .292 hitting, 4.4 digs, 0.6 blocks and 0.5 aces per set while paying outside hitter as a senior. As a junior, she averaged 2.25 kills and 1.4 blocks per set while hitting .406 at middle blocker alongside current Husker Whitney Lauenstein before a leg injury ended Allick’s season early.

This past season, the 6-foot-5 Mendelson averaged 4.8 kills per set on .294 hitting, 1.6 digs per set, 0.7 aces per set and 0.6 blocks per set. She played both middle and outside for Fremont. 

With Caffey’s status up in the air and very little experience returning beyond her, Cook looked to the transfer portal to add depth and experience and landed one of the best players in the country in former Penn State middle Kaitlyn Hord. 

The 6-foot-4 middle blocker from Lexington, Kentucky, was a three-time AVCA All-American at Penn State (second-team in 2021, third-team in 2020 and first-team in 2019) and also earned All-America honorable mention as a freshman in 2018. She is a four-time All-Big Ten performer (first-team in 2021, 2020 and 2019, second-team in 2018) and made the Big Ten All-Freshman team in 2018 as well. Hord averaged 2.92 kills per set on .394 hitting and 1.40 blocks per set as a senior, finishing third in the conference in both hitting percentage and blocking average.

Hord was a huge get for Cook and the Huskers and solidifies Nebraska’s lineup with a game-changer in the middle. She’ll fill one of those two spots. If Caffey is granted a waiver for another season, she’ll fill the other. If not,, it will likely be an open competition between Meyer and the incoming freshmen to play alongside Hord.

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