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Photo Credit: Eric Francis

2022 Nebraska Volleyball Position Previews: Middle Blocker

August 22, 2022

With the first full-length offseason since before the COVID-19 pandemic in the books, game week has finally arrived for the No. 1 Nebraska Cornhuskers.

The Huskers will begin their season on Friday as they host the annual Ameritas Players Challenge, and Hail Varsity is getting you ready with a position-by-position look at the roster heading into the 2022 season.

We begin with the middle blockers, a small but talented group that has seen intense competition throughout preseason practice as Coach John Cook looks to replace both of his starters.

Departures: Lauren Stivrins, Kayla Caffey, Callie Schwarzenbach, Kalynn Meyer, Rylee Gray

Returners: None

Newcomers: Kaitlyn Hord (senior Penn State transfer), Bekka Allick, Maggie Mendelson

The Huskers lost all five middles from last year’s roster for a variety of reasons, but despite losing two All-Americans, Cook appears to be confident in the pieces he landed to replace them.

That includes another all-American in Hord, who earned first-team, second-team, third-team and honorable mention All-America recognition during her four years at Penn State. She is coming off a career-year, averaging 2.92 kills per set on .394 hitting and 1.40 blocks per set.

The other two players at the position are both true freshmen, which makes Hord’s experience all the more valuable.

“She’s just been keeping it simple, because Jaylen [Reyes] is throwing a lot of information my way as well as Coach, and for her she’s already just a confident player,” Allick said. “She’s established herself as an All-American, she established herself against us whenever she played at Penn State. Having someone that was so dominant on the other side of the net I get to play with now, I just want to pick her brain. And we’ve also been clicking really well off the court.” 

She’s playing a bit of catch-up as she didn’t arrive on campus until the summer and every program, even ones as perennially successful as Nebraska and Penn State, do things differently. Cook said he challenged the 6-foot-4 Hord to start asserting herself a little more prior to the Red-White Scrimmage on Saturday.

“I think she’s just kind of feeling things out … I think she’s kind of been figuring out the things that we are training,” Cook said. “She’s very methodical with how she does things, and tonight, I said it’s time to start unleashing. She’s a force and she’s just an awesome, awesome player to coach and she’s just so coachable and she’s so smart and she just has great insight. She’s one of those people that when she talks, everybody listens because she’s going to say something really interesting and profound and really meaningful. Sometimes when she talks I’m just blown away.”

Hord played with the Red team all night on Saturday and put up nine blocks to go with her four kills. She will feature heavily into Nebraska’s plans in her lone season in Lincoln, but Cook’s other options are complete unknowns at this point. 

Middle blocker Bekka Allick awaits the serve during Nebraska’s annual Red-White Scrimmage at the Devaney Center. Photo by Eric Francis.

Allick, PrepVolleyball.com‘s sixth-ranked player in the 2022 class, averaged 5.7 kills per set on .292 hitting as a senior a Waverly while playing primarily outside hitter. She enrolled in January and went through the spring beach and indoor training seasons. The 6-foot-4 middle started in the team’s exhibition match against Kansas in Grand Island back in the spring. 

“I feel like I have a lot to prove with Kayla leaving and also Stivrins being here last season,” Allick said. “Fulfilling the middle role right now is a necessity, and I can feel that pressure. As a freshman, I really want to prove myself here as a Nebraska Husker volleyball player alone, and now that’s on top of it. So I definitely have a challenge in front of me, but I’m excited.”

Allick was the second-ranked middle blocker in the 2022 class, behind only her teammate in Mendelson, who was ranked fourth. The 6-foot-5 dual-sport athlete averaged 4.8 kills per set on .292 hitting as a junior at Fremont High School in Plain City, Utah, before graduating early and enrolling at Nebraska. She started working with the basketball team when she first got to Lincoln before departing to play with the USA Volleyball U19 team in the Pan American Cup. She served as team captain as the Americans went 5-0 and captured the gold medal, then returned to Lincoln to begin preparing for the season.

“She’s doing great,” Allick said of her classmate. “She’s hustling really hard. I think the transition from basketball to volleyball honestly gave her an advantage just because she’s got a mixture of rested legs but also legs that are ready to move. With how tall she is, it’s going to be challenging a lot as well in the middle because usually you see that height on the outside, and she’s also able to jump. So it’s been challenging us a lot in the gym right now.”

In the Red-White Scrimmage on Saturday, Allick played for the Red team for the first two sets before the two freshman switched sides, giving Mendelson a chance to play with the A side as well. Allick had six kills, five digs and two blocks while Mendelson finished with seven kills, three digs and one block. 

Cook has said multiple times that they haven’t looked like typical freshmen, a thought Hord echoed after the scrimmage.

“They don’t play like they’re freshmen,” Hord said. “They’re very athletic, and they showed that today. Even when they have an error, they’re screaming ’Set me the next ball.’ So they have this confidence that just kind of exudes and this energy. They’re great people to play with, so I’m very proud of them, very happy for them. They did amazing tonight.”

Cook said both freshmen are “really fast,” and praised their maturity in another way as well.

“They get up and they call for the ball,” Cook said. “Typical freshmen, you never hear them for a year. They’ve been doing that every day. They’ve been as consistent as anybody in our gym and they get after it.”

The three middles have been competing for two starting spots throughout preseason practice, but at least early on, Cook is planning to get all three of them on the court once the season begins. Nebraska opens with two matches on the first day of the season as part of the Ameritas Players Challenge at the Devaney Center on Friday.

“All three of them are going to play,” Cook said. “We’re going to rotate them. I’ve been telling them that I’ve got confidence in all three of them. So like this week, Friday we play two matches, so we’ll rotate them.”

Whether that rotation continues throughout the season or two starters emerge and lock down the starting spots, Cook appears to be high on his middle blocker group despite the complete lack of experience in the scarlet and cream.

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