Ten matches in the books, ten more weeks to go in the regular season for the No. 3 Huskers (9-1).
That means freshman setter Nicklin Hames has 10 matches — and nine wins — at the collegiate level under her belt
“I think she’s getting confident,” Cook said. “She’s growing into it. But like I said, the ante’s going up this week.”
Hames has handled her transition well, which hasn’t surprised Cook at all. She’s been preparing for the opportunity since long before she arrived in Lincoln.
“Her mindset that she was going to come in here and be the starting setter; that was her strength,” Cook said. “She’s been thinking that for several years.”
A coach’s kid and five-year varsity starter in high school, Hames was groomed from an early age to do big things, and Cook noticed some familiar traits in the Knoxville, Tennessee, native.
“She reminded me a lot of some setters we’ve had here: Lauren [Cook], Rachel Holloway,” Cook said. “They’re just confident, they’re gym rats, they know the game because they’ve been in a gym their whole life. They’ve just got all those little special things you can’t coach.”
Cook also saw some similarities to a current setter in the Big Ten, Minnesota’s Samantha Seliger-Swenson. The senior for the Gophers is a four-year starter and three-time All-American in Minneapolis. She had the advantage of enrolling early and working with the Minnesota coaches in the spring, a luxury that Hames did not have.
Still, Hames has made up for lost time with steady progress throughout nonconference play.
“She’s probably improved the most right now, I think, with just learning how to set our hitters and what they need and understanding tempo and being consistent in that part,” Cook said. “We’ve worked really hard on it and we’ll continue to work really hard on it. In club volleyball, you can be less precise. In high school, you can be really less precise. At this level, you’ve got to be precise, and she’s learning how. It’s just like a quarterback: if I’m running and I want to be led here, but if I throw it here, it’s a drop, I get hit, I get blown up. That’s the difference, from here to here, and that’s what she’s learning.”
As a team, the Huskers are also learning how to play with their new-look lineup featuring Lexi Sun playing six rotations. That change-up has cut one substitution, leaving just one spot (when sophomore right side hitter Jazz Sweet gets to the back row) for a defensive specialist in the standard flow of the match.
“That’s one of the things we’re trying to figure out,” Cook said. “We’ve got to keep looking at that. We just take about it this morning; we’ve got a couple ways we’re going to look at it and see how practice goes.”
Previously, freshman Megan Miller had been subbing for the second outside hitter while sophomore Hayley Densberger had taken Sweet’s place. Cook said he still wants both players ready to make an impact moving forward.
“Megan and Hayley — I’m still trying to get Jazz back there, but those guys have some experience now playing in those roles,” Cook said. “We know back-to-back in the Big Ten, it’s a grind and you’ve got to have people that can come in and give them breaks. We will continue to develop those guys and have them be involved.”
Against New Mexico, Sun’s first match, Miller and Densberger each played in two sets. The next day against Missouri State, Densberger got all the defensive specialist reps and Miller logged a DNP for the first time this season.
“Whoever serves and passes the best [gets to play],” Cook said. “We want our six best servers out there and our four best passers.”
Much like the second outside hitter spot prior to Sun’s debut, it’s been a back-and-forth battle between Miller and Densberger throughout the nonconference.
“One week one’s great, and then it switches,” Cook said. “They’ll get to compete and that’s great for us because they have to come in and get after it every day.”
Cook said the team’s nonconference numbers were better than those of last year’s team that went on to win the national championship, but he wasn’t able to pinpoint any one area that he feels really good about at this stage as the team gets set to enter Big Ten play.
“We’ve got a lot of work to still do, but we’re showing glimpses,” Cook said.
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.