FNBO Huskers Pay Loud & Proud ad 970 x 250

Coming soon!

We're taking a short break while we put the finishing touches on a fresh, new way of delivering Nebraska athletics content and stories. Visit HailVarsity.com soon to experience the next evolution of Huskers sports coverage.
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

2023 Nebraska Volleyball Position Previews: Setter

August 12, 2023

After four years of Nicklin Hames running the show at setter, John Cook had a plan for the 2022 season, even after Hames decided to return for a fifth season of eligibility.

Cook said he planned to “give the keys to the car to Kennedi [Orr] and see what happens,” though he was giving walk-on Anni Evans a chance to compete in practice as well. Hames was slated to play defensive back for her final season.

Then the season arrived and that plan lasted all of one weekend. Orr started two of Nebraska’s matches in the season-opening Ameritas Players Challenge while Evans started the third. Cook apparently didn’t like what he saw despite the 3-0 record as Hames was in the starting lineup for the week two matches and Nebraska switched to a two-setter offense.

The Huskers stuck with the 6-2 the rest of the season, though injury and performance led to Cook using pretty much every combination of setters available to him throughout the season.

Heading into 2023, Hames and Evans are both gone (well, Hames is still around, just as a graduate assistant) while highly-regarded freshman Bergen Reilly has joined the program to compete with Orr for the starting job.

Cook said the two setters graded out evenly throughout the spring and the team’s trip to Brazil, which means a lot is riding on these next few weeks.

“I think Nebraska always produces amazing setters and Bergen is one of those,” Orr said. “She’s an amazing setter and getting to play with her this spring has also been so fun. It’s going to be great competition. I’m super excited.”

Though the two setters knew they’d be competing for one spot, they’ve formed a strong relationship during the seven months Reilly has been on campus, and the freshman gave the veteran a lot of the credit.

“She’s an upperclassman and I was coming in as a freshman, but she really took me under her wing and we’ve just honestly been friends since the beginning,” Reilly said. “We knew we were going to have to train together a lot. Setters come in a half hour before practice every day and it’s just us two, and so we knew that that connection was going to build automatically and so we were like, ‘Why not just do it ourselves?’ It’s honestly so special, the relationship we have. We’re great friends on the court, we’re great friends off the court and it’s honestly helped us be able to push each other more because we have that trust. We’re pushing each other, we’re not just being mean to each other.”

Orr called Reilly one of her best friends on the team. 

Kennedi Orr (9) sets the ball against the Michigan State Spartans September 23, 2022, in Lincoln, Neb. Photo by John S. Peterson.

The 6-foot setter from Eagan, Minnesota, was the top-ranked player in her high school class but tore her ACL during her senior year. Her first spring at Nebraska was spent rehabbing and her first fall was spent on the bench, learning behind Hames. She played in just two matches, during the first weekend while Hames recovered from an ankle injury. She then suffered a set-back with her knee during the 2021 beach season.

Last year, Orr played in 18 matches with 11 starts, averaging 5.02 assists and 1.94 digs per set. She showed some flashes of her talent but also struggled at times with her mechanics, leading to numerous double-hit violations.

This year, Orr opted to skip the beach season and instead spend that time focusing on indoor training, giving her the opportunity to spend plenty of one-on-one time with Cook and assistant coach Kelly Hunter.

“I think it’s helped a lot in terms of just going back to the basics,” Orr said. “We really started with just easy setter things that you learned when you’re like 11 years old and then just building on that. So I think it was just like a good refresh of setter skills and the basics of it.”

With a healthy spring under her belt, Orr said she’s in a good place mentally heading into the fall.

“We kind of just like talked about, yesterday, how confidence is more of a fleeting feeling and it’s less about being confident and more about just feeling ready and feeling like you’ve prepared yourself well enough to go and get the job done, and I feel like I have,” Orr said.

Orr described her playing style and what she could bring to the court as a starter.

“I think I’m a pretty physical setter and I really like to use that to my strengths,” Orr said. “I would say I’m more on the side of being super driven and outspoken and always having crazy looks on my face.”

Speaking of looks, Cook offered the highest of praise for Reilly at Big Ten Media Days, comparing the freshman to Bud Crawford, the champion boxer and Omaha native who dominated Errol Spence Jr. in his most recent fight.

“She reminds me of Bud Crawford,” Cook said. “She’s got the look. She’s an assassin. She’s got that look. I don’t know if you guys watched that fight, but it was an unbelievable fight. I’ve never paid for pay-per-view in my life, and it was worth every penny. But I just looked at his face; he was locked in, and Bergen is really good at being locked in.”

Reilly said she first saw mention of the compliment from her coach on Twitter and was a little caught off guard.

“It’s a great compliment to come from Coach,” Reilly said. “It’s something that I’ve never been compared to before is a boxer, but I’ve heard that a lot, just kind of in big games and big moments, I get that look in my eye. I don’t know if I’ve ever really noticed it, but I have heard it from a lot of people and so I think it was cool that he’s kind of noticed that too.”

Between her experience with the USA Volleyball junior and senior national teams and everything she’s participated in since enrolling at Nebraska in January — beach, indoor training, the spring exhibition and the trip to Brazil plus the rectifies that preceded it — Reilly is far more prepared than a typical freshman to compete for immediate playing time.

Bergen Reilly (1) sets the ball against the Wichita State Shockers during the spring volleyball match Saturday, April 29, 2023, in Central City, Neb. Photo by John S. Peterson.

“Everything that we’ve done in the last six months has just been huge for all of us freshmen and Merritt [Beason] and just everybody as a whole,” Reilly said. “We’ve been working really hard to just get those connections down and just not be the young team that everyone thinks we’re going to be. Like Coach always says, the game doesn’t know age, and I think that we’ve really been embodying that. We’ve been playing our hearts out and just not acting like freshmen or acting like new people and I think that that’s all of our training and Brazil and all that has really helped us with that.”

Like Orr, she was the top-ranked setter in her class, though the 6-foot-1 Reilly played outside hitter as a senior for Sioux Falls (South Dakota) O’Gorman. She showed off her pin-point setting and ability to get all of her hitters involved during the exhibition against Wichita State and Nebraska’s matches in Brazil.

“I think I’m my best when I’m kind of just letting it flow,” Reilly said. “I like to kind of do what I want to do. Obviously I love taking coaching too, so I wouldn’t say that I’m against that, but I definitely like to kind of have my own schemes and especially this year I’m going to try to get creative with stuff. I don’t want to be predictable. That’s kind of my biggest thing as I try and do whatever I can to not be predictable and not let the block know where it’s going. And so I think that I’ve been working on that a lot, just kind of getting my range better so that we can win run an offense that will win us a lot of games and then ultimately a national championship.”

Cook said Reilly looks really comfortable now, just liked she looked comfortable in Brazil — outside of one brief moment of nervousness that betrayed her youth.

“I put her in what I thought was our toughest match in Brazil and played her the whole match because Kennedi has been in some big matches, so we had to throw her in there and she did great,” Cook said. “She got called on a double-hit on like the second ball because she was nervous … She just double-hit, probably quadruple-hit it, and I’m like ‘What happened?’ She goes, ‘I don’t know.’ But then she was great. It was nerves. We were playing against pros and Olympians, ex-Olympians. So it was a big match and we were in this little cracker-box gym and they brought in all the army guys, so they were cheering in Brazil. It was wild. And it was really good for her, but in game five she pulled it out and got it done.”

Orr and Reilly split reps evenly during the team’s first preseason practice on Tuesday, but Orr sat out the second half of the two-a-day, giving Reilly an opportunity for extra reps while Orr worked on the side with director of olympic sports performance Brian Kmitta.

With Nebraska returning to a 5-1 system this year, one of the two is going to win the starting job while the other will be a back-up and likely see minimal playing time barring injury, something both setters have prepared themselves for.

“We talk about that a lot,” Orr said. “And whether or not you’re starting, it’s just super important that you’re always a great teammate, you’re giving to the team. I know that Berg and I are both great teammates, and that’s what’s going to happen. We’re both going to fight for the spot and we’ll see what happens.”

  • Never miss the latest news from Hail Varsity!

    Join our free email list by signing up below.