Expectations were sky-high from freshman setter Nicklin Hames, the top-ranked recruit at her position in the 2018 class, and through 12 matches she has more than lived up to them.
Hames has led the Huskers to an 11-1 record with a top-four offense in the Big Ten, but she’s more than just a floor general. Hames is contributing in every facet of the game.
“She’s a complete volleyball player,” Coach John Cook said. “She just plays the game, she knows the game, she understands the game, she makes adjustments, she’s got a great feel and those things are hard to coach. I compare her to Lauren, my daughter, in a lot of ways. They’re coaches kids, they’ve been in the gym. We’ve had Jen Saleaumua who was a player like that; she could have played any position way back. Kelly Hunter could have played any position. Those kinds of players are just growing up in a gym.”
Defensively, Hames is averaging a little under three kills per set and has reached double figures in seven of her 12 matches this season. She put up 19 digs in her first career match, a four-set loss to Florida. Hames is just another in a long line of setters under Cook who impact more than just the offense.
“Lauren was a great digger, Kelly Hunter was a great digger,” Cook said. “I’m always on those setters about playing defense because a lot of setters don’t like playing defense. So if they don’t dig a ball, they hear about it in practice. You want your setter to not just be a setter, to want to do everything well.”
Nebraska’s first rotation includes Hames at the service line to begin every match, and she leads the team in aces and total serves because of that. Cook said there isn’t anything particularly unique about Hames serve, but she’s solid enough to fill that role and allow the rest of Nebraska’s rotations to maximize the team’s talent.
“She’s a good server and we’re trying to get [opposite hitter] Jazz [Sweet] up there as much as we can,” Cook said. “In that rotation, Jazz is opposite her so it gets Jazz in rotation three to maybe six more times in a game than if we started Nicklin in the front row.”
From an intangibles standpoint, Hames is making a big impact as well with her leadership and her competitive personality.
“Probably the highlight this weekend was when the down official had to come out on the court and tell her to settle down because she was talking smack through the net,” Cook said. “We don’t encourage that, but it’s a good sign; I’d rather have that then not getting fired up. It’s a sign that she’s taking ownership of this team and she’s competing; that’s what you want to see out of a freshman, those two things: ownership and compete … I’ve seen several examples of her encouraging her teammates to get after it, and some of that I can’t repeat here. Remember, her dad is a coach so she’s been around it.”
Cook isn’t the least bit surprised, however. He’s seen that confidence and competitiveness in her ever since he started recruiting year years ago.
“She hates to lose,” Cook said. “I’ve seen it in club; that’s one of the reasons we wanted to recruit her. She took average talent and won and got those kids to play hard and she won five state championships. Here’s an example: last year in the state championship point, so basically a year ago, she sets her sister out of the back row and says ‘Hit it!’ on match point, stuff like that. She’s just one of those players where if you were picking doubles teams, you’d want her on your team because she does everything well and she’s going to talk and communicate and fire you up and make you believe.”
Nicklin Hames’ career as a Husker has only just begun, but she is already showing many of the traits that made the likes of Kelly Hunter and Lauren Cook-West all-time greats at Nebraska.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.