We’re about a month removed from the end of the 2021 college volleyball season and about a month out from the start of the 2022 beach season, which makes now a good time to reflect back on the season that was, then look ahead to what 2022 might hold for John Cook’s program.
The Huskers finished 26-8 and made it to the national championship as a No. 10 seed before falling in five to Wisconsin in the championship match at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. We’ve seen some changes to the roster and coaching staff since the season ended, but Nebraska is set to return a lot from the national runner-up.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to break the roster up and go position by position, starting with the setters.
Senior Nicklin Hames
Before you read my words on the four-year starter and three-year captain, go read about her journey in her own words for Huskers.com.
Hames added another slew of honors to her résumé this season: Second-Team All-Big Ten, two Big Ten Setter of the Week awards, AVCA All-North Region First Team and honorable mention AVCA All-America. She elevated her play in the postseason as well, earning a spot on the NCAA Austin Regional All-Tournament and NCAA Championship All-Tournament teams as well as the Austin Regional Most Outstanding Player award.
Hames averaged 10.73 assists, 3.40 digs, 0.49 kills (on .191 hitting), 0.46 blocks and 0.28 aces per set in 32 matches and 114 sets. She averaged a career-high in digs and blocks per set and played a big role in the Huskers’ defensive success this season. She was one of the team’s best servers and had her best season from the service line since her freshman year. However, she took a step back from the previous two years in the assists and attacking departments. As a team, Nebraska hit just .222, the program’s lowest percentage in at least the last 39 years.
Hames is an elite defensive setter who recorded double-doubles in 24 of her 32 matches. She posted a season-high 56 assists in the season-ending five-set loss tot he Badgers. She recorded a season-high 24 digs in a five-set loss at Minnesota. Hames served a season-high five aces against Michigan.
Part of Nebraska’s low hitting percentage was the inconsistencies of the outside hitters and Lauren Stivrins missing time then working her way back to full strength once she returned. However, Hames wasn’t able to make a leap this season in terms of being a consistent threat herself at the net and things just never seemed to truly click between Hames and her pin hitters outside of short spurts.
Hames ended her season atop the school’s rally scoring career assists chart and has guided the Huskers to two national runner-up finishes and two regional final appearances in her four seasons as the starting setter. She’s had an incredible career, and it’s not quite over just yet.
Sophomore Anni Evans
Hames rolled her ankle during the team’s Red-White Scrimmage prior to the season and didn’t recover in time for the first weekend. The Huskers had to rely on their back-up setters for the first two matches, and they filled in as well as Cook could have hoped for, all things considered.
Evans, the sophomore walk-on from Waverly, started the season-opener against Colgate, dishing out six assists and notching four digs in two sets. She came off the bench the next day and recorded 12 assists in the fourth set against Kansas State after the Huskers dropped game three.
Hames was back the following weekend and played the rest of the season, so Evans settled into the serving specialist and double-substitution setter role she filled in the spring as a freshman.
She played in 23 matches and 61 sets, finishing with 24 assists, 37 digs and 10 aces. She was an NCAA Elite 90 Award recipient, recognizing her athletic and academic achievements.
Freshman Kennedi Orr
The other back-up setter was Orr, the Eagan, Minnesota, native who PreVolleyball.com ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the 2021 class. Orr tore her ACL during her senior season of high school then enrolled early for the spring semester, experiencing the Huskers’ 2021 spring season from the bench and practice court.
Orr made her debut in the season-opener against Colgate, playing three sets off the bench while splitting time with Evans. Orr put up 17 assists, 10 digs, two blocks, one kill and one service error. She started the second match against Kansas State, putting up 34 assists, 10 digs, one block and three service errors before Cook went to Evans to close out the match.
Orr showed a glimpse of her immense potential in her first time playing since September of 2020, recording two double-doubles while splitting time with another setter. However, with Hames making it through the rest of the season without any further injury, Orr did not play again after that first weekend.
Just like Lauren Stivrins, Lexi Sun, Jazz Sweet and Hayley Densberger before her, Hames had a choice to make regarding the extra season of eligibility the NCAA granted to all athletes who competed during the 2020-21 season. Recently, Hames shared her choice: she’s taking advantage of that extra year at Nebraska, but she’s not returning as the team’s starting setter.
That job will now go to Orr, who has a full calendar year in the program under her belt and will be nearly two years post-surgery by the time she runs out onto the court at the Devaney Center for the 2022 season opener. At 6-foot, Orr is a different style of setter than the 5-foot-10 Hames or 5-foot-9 Evans. She was the Minnesota Volleyball Gatorade Player of the Year in both 2018 and 2019, she led her high school team to two state titles and three runner-up finishes (she played six seasons of varsity volleyball) and she has extensive international experience with the USA Volleyball Youth National Team.
Orr will now get the chance to leave her own mark on the program, but Hames will still be around, and although she’s not sure yet what role she’ll play in 2022, she’s one heck of an insurance policy if Orr were to miss time at any point. Add Evans to the mix as well as incoming freshman Maisie Boesiger, who was one of the best setters in the state at Norris the past few season but will play defensive specialist at Nebraska, and the Huskers should have plenty of depth at the setter position in 2022.
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.