Annika Albrecht has been a key part of the Nebraska rotation since she arrived in Lincoln, but this season she has grown into one of Nebraska’s most important players.
The departure of Andie Malloy meant Nebraska needed another hitter to play the L2 position to supplement what Mikaela Foecke does at the L1 spot. Albrecht arrived at Nebraska as an outside hitter, but she soon proved to be more effective in the back row than as an attacking option.
Coach John Cook used her as a defensive specialist, even though that outside hitter position label never changed on her bio page on Huskers.com. Albrecht had hit just .114 through her first three seasons but she emerged as one of Nebraska’s better defensive players and servers.
Before the season, Cook named Albrecht a co-captain and empowered her to move into a more attacking role as a six-rotation player. However, through the first three weekends she was hitting .085, although most of that was either without All-American setter and fellow captain Kelly Hunter or with a 6-2 system that had two setters splitting time. She leads the team with 26 attack errors and has the lowest attack percentage among hitters and middles in the rotation.
Cook talked about Albrecht’s performance after Nebraska swept the Americas Players Challenge during the first weekend of September.
“Especially in a 6-2, she’s a true six-rotation outside,” Cook said. “We don’t need her to get 15 to 20 kills, we need her to manage the game. Serving, passing, defense, making smart shots and putting up a good block — they have to do it all.”
Albrecht did bounce back strong in Nebraska’s win against St. Mary’s to close out the weekend, converting three kills late to give her nine after she started out with six kills to six errors.
“I think she’s done a great job in everything but attack, but a lot of the attack is she only gets tough sets and she’s gotten a lot of tough sets,” Cook said. “She’s got to learn to manage those better, so she’s made some errors, but you saw at the end of the game there, we talked about streaking Anni there because we hadn’t really set her all night. Kelly gave her three great sets in system and she killed all three. She can make teams pay, but right now in that 6-2, she’s probably a third option. But we need her to manage the rest of the game really well. Those kids are hard to find that can do that.”
Nebraska did away with the 6-2 system for the most part last weekend as the Huskers took down a ranked UCLA squad on back-to-back nights at the Devaney Center and Albrecht had perhaps her best weekend as a Husker. She hit .400 or better in both matches, totaling 20 kills with just two errors on 42 swings. She posted a season-high 12 kills to go with 15 digs in the first game.
“Anni I think was pressing really hard trying to prove [herself] the first couple of weekends and I just saw her relax this weekend and be Anni and she had a lot of success,” Cook said. “I think that’s really good for her to now know what she needs to do. She doesn’t have to be Superwoman. She just has to be a great six-rotation player for us and get her kills when she can.”
Hunter has noticed Albrecht’s improvement and is happy to see her teammate finally playing the role she's always wanted ever since she arrived on campus.
“I think she’s just been kind of hungry to play in the front row because each year she’s gotten a little taste of it,” Kelly Hunter said. “She started out in the front row but then kind of settled into her back row DS role, but I think this last year she’s really taken on a lot of responsibility and a lot of leadership roles so it’s really cool to see that from her. She’s just a girl who is going to swing as hard as she can every time and give it her all every single swing so it’s really cool to see the way she’s done so well these last couple of weeks and the way she’s grown into that six-rotation player.”
Albrecht has been one of Nebraska’s best defensive players and servers for some time now. If she can keep her errors down and become a legitimate, consistent attacking option, and if Foecke can continue to improve in the back row, the Huskers will have one of the more complete left side hitter rotations in the game.
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.