The big news for Nebraska volleyball this week is that senior setter and co-captain Nicklin Hames was back on the court practicing after missing the Husker invitational with an ankle injury.
Cook said she’s “pretty fired up” for this weekend as the Huskers get set to host the Ameritas Players Challenge at the Devaney Center on Friday and Saturday. After having one of their matches canceled because of COVID-19 issues within the Tulsa program, the Huskers are set to play all three matches this weekend against Omaha, Georgia and Arizona State.
“Last weekend when Tulsa had to cancel, it was super sad,” sophomore setter Anni Evans said. “So we’re just really excited that there’s no cancellation so we get to play every game and we’re excited to play another Nebraska team, that’s always fun. We’re excited for the weekend.”
Though Hames should be back in the lineup, Cook will keep a close eye on her to make sure they don’t put too much on her too soon.
“I’ve got to watch if she fatigues out because that’s where you can get in trouble a little bit and we do have three matches,” Cook said. “So we’ve got to just kind of watch that and see how she’s doing. It depends on how long the matches go.”
Cook said he’ll likely mix things up between the one-setter 5-1 and the two-setter 6-2 systems again which would give freshman Kennedi Orr and/or Evans a chance to see the court again this week. The 6-2 also would allow Cook to rotate outside hitters more easily, while sticking with the 5-1 creates more opportunities for defensive specialists Kenzie Knuckles and Keonilei Akana.
“We play three matches, so that way we can do that without playing somebody all three matches,” Cook said. “Pretty much everybody can just be fresh by Saturday night. It just allows us to play more players if we can play two different systems.”
Hames wasn’t the only captain who was back on the court on Thursday as senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins did a “little bit” of hitting for the first time since her back surgery. That doesn’t mean Stivrins will be in the lineup any time soon, but it was an important step.
“Today was a baby step,” Cook said. “See how she feels tomorrow and then baby step again and see how fast we can progress. Each day I think we can build a little bit more, as long as she’s handling the load. She looked really good today.”
The Huskers will open the Ameritas Players Challenge against Omaha (1-1) on Friday morning at 11. The Maverick roster features 11 players from Nebraska including starters Rylee Marshall (outside hitter, Fort Calhoun), Mariah Buss (outside hitter, Lincoln Lutheran) and Sami Clarkson (setter, Omaha Concordia).
The Huskers and Mavericks also have a trio of high school teammates. Nebraska junior outside hitter Madi Kubik played with Omaha sophomore setter Olivia Curry at West Des Moines Valley. Nebraska freshman outside hitter Lindsay Krause played alongside Omaha freshman outside hitter Shayla McCormick at Omaha Skutt. Finally, Nebraska freshman middle blocker and Omaha freshman defensive specialists won a state title as Elkhorn South’s only seniors last year. McCormick is the only one of the three who played last weekend, recording four aces and 14 digs in six sets off the Omaha bench.
“They’re probably going to play really hard and be fired up, so this will be a big match for them and a big crowd. They’ve got all their little rival high school rivalry things going and club rivalries, so should be fun.”
The Huskers will return to the Devaney Center for their second match at 6 p.m. on Friday against Georgia (2-1). The Bulldogs showed plenty of offensive balance last week with five different players averaging better than 2.0 kills per set. That includes junior outside hitter Amber Stivrins, Lauren’s sister who began her career at Louisville before transferring to Georgia last year.
The Huskers will wrap the tournament up on Saturday at 6 p.m. against Arizona State (2-1). The Sun Devils also feature a Skutt alumna in freshman setter Allie Gray who played alongside Krause for four years. Gray did not player for Arizona State last week.
Krause said she’s been in touch with her former teammates and is looking forward to reuniting with them at the Devaney Center.
“I’m super excited,” Krause said. “It was really fun to get to play high school with them for all four years. To be able to have them come back this early in the season is going to be super cool … especially because we’ve played here before for state.”
This weekend’s matches represent a step up in competition for the Huskers. The Bulldogs’ loss came in five sets against a top-25 Pepperdine team while the Sun Devils’ loss also came in five sets to a top-15 team in Louisville.
“We’re playing Stanford in a couple of weeks, we’re playing in Utah, we’re playing Creighton, Louisville,” Cook said. “So our schedule is continuing to ramp up. This is going to be a really good tournament too, these teams are all good. I don’t know how it sets up but it all depends how we play. I like how our schedule builds toward the Big Ten. I don’t know if we did it on purpose. It was mainly, a lot of these tournaments early were teams that were committed last year and we were trying to make everybody happy and do what they want to do.”
With Hames back on the court, Cook will continue to evaluate lineups this weekend as the Huskers gear up for road matches at Creighton and Stanford and home matches against Utah and Louisville in the next couple of weeks.
“I’m curious who’s going to continue to step up,” Cook said. “That’s gonna be my thing, who’s going to act like they want to be out there. So we’re going to try to play a lot of people.”
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.