No. 2 Nebraska’s nonconference slate filled with familiar faces continues on Saturday as the Huskers welcome Long Beach State to the Devaney Center for a Saturday afternoon match-up.
Former Nebraska assistant Tyler Hildebrand will lead the Beach into Lincoln in his first season as head coach, and he’ll bring former Husker middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach with him.
Hildebrand spent two different stints on Coach John Cook’s staff in Lincoln, though the second was much shorter than he or Cook anticipated because of the opportunity that became available at Long Beach State.
“When he came back, he was planning on being here for a while, but this Long Beach, that’s like a dream job,” Cook said. “It’s like me coming from Wisconsin to here — I built Wisconsin up, we were two points away from going the Final Four and then Nebraska opens up. I had a connection here and always wanted to come back here and I think he’s got a really strong connection to Long Beach. So I think it was a great opportunity for him and I think they really wanted him and did a great job with being competitive, even though that conference isn’t a Power Five conference.”
Cook wasn’t at all surprised to see Long Beach State target Hildebrand to fill its opening last December because of everything that led to Cook prioritizing bringing him back when Kayla Banwarth left for Ole Miss. However, being the head coach at a new program is a completely different experience than serving as an assistant at a high-major program.
“He’s proven at a high level,” Cook said. “He’s been a high-level player. He coached for beach in the Olympics. He’s gone to the Olympics, I think, with the USA men in the past. And he’s an exceptional coach; I’ve said that many, many times. He made me a better coach. Now he’s getting to run his own program, which is great, and he’s doing a heck of a job.
“I love the phone calls from him because it’s ‘God, I never have time to do anything. I see why you’re so stressed out all the time.’ And he’s out handing out tickets as well; he doesn’t have built in sold-out arenas, he’s trying to promote. So he’s really working on rebuilding a program that had a lot of tradition, connecting with alumni, trying to get people in the stands. I don’t know what their attendance was this weekend. And he’s trying to coach his team, which I think has got several transfers as well. So it’s it’s a daunting challenge. I love it because every assistant coach, when they go be a head coach, they always call back or when you see them it’s like ‘I had no idea how much goes into all this.’ But that’s how you learn.”
Saturday will be an emotional day for the players as well as they welcome Hildebrand back. Senior Nicklin Hames said that Hildebrand changed her career when he came back to the program in 2020.
“I owe a lot to Tyler, one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever had and someone I really look up to and respect tremendously,” Hames said. “I went through a huge setting change his first year here and he was a huge part of that, and I don’t think I could have made the changes that I did without him. I’m just super excited to see his team. I’ve watched them and you can see Tyler’s coaching style all over his team. So that’s pretty cool to see. But I’m excited to have him back in Lincoln for a game.”
Hames said she stays in contact with Hildebrand, texting back and forth frequently about setting, his team and other topics.
Senior captain Kenzie Knuckles shared Hames’ excitement to see her former coach and teammate.
“I haven’t seen Callie since like May and we haven’t seen Tyler since March, I want to say, so I’m super excited,” Knuckles said. “Tyler built a lot of what we had last year with just his presence and who he is as a human. Just that emotional connection that he has with all the players is super strong, so we’re really excited to see him.”
Despite Hildebrand’s time spent with the program, Cook said he isn’t worried about his former assistant’s familiarity with what the Huskers do and how they operate.
“They’ll be well prepared just like we will be. He knows how to prepare teams for their opponents and I think we do a pretty good job of that as well. So that’s just a given in every match we play.”
However, as a setter who worked closely with Hildebrand for two years, Hames has a different perspective on the matter.
“He trained all of us setters so he knows what we like to do very well and he trained the offense while he was here,” Hames said. “So it’ll be interesting to see what they do defensively against us.”
Long Beach State is off to a 5-1 start this season with its lone loss coming in five sets to an Oregon team that is currently ranked 18th in the AVCA Coaches Poll. The Beach has wins over Oregon State (3-2), Portland State (3-1), Boise State (3-1) and Notre Dame (3-0).
Long Beach is hitting .210 this season while holding opponents to .162. Florida State transfer pin hitter Morgan Chacon is leading the team with 4.29 kills per set on .254 hitting. Senior libero Dylan Deal Cruz is leading the defense with 4.52 digs per set. Schwarzenbach has played in every set and is leading the team with 21 blocks, averaging 1.0 per set while chipping in 1.48 kills per set on .406 hitting.
First serve at the Devaney Center on Saturday is set for 3 p.m. The match will be available to stream on Big Ten Network Plus or on the Husker Radio Network.
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.