Nebraska volleyball announced three team captains for the 2021 season on Tuesday: seniors Lauren Stivrins and Nicklin Hames and junior Kenzie Knuckles.
Following a longer-than-usual offseason process despite the team returning both of its captains from a year ago, Stivrins and Hames will be captains for the third straight season while Knuckles has been named captain for the first time.
“This has been an interesting year because Lauren Stivrins, we weren’t sure was going to come back and play, she wasn’t sure, so we decided not to name captains in the summer which we normally do,” Coach John Cook said during the Husker Volleyball Show on Tuesday’s edition of Sports Nightly. “We have so many new players, so we just thought, ‘Well, let’s let it go.’ And then we got to the end of the summer like ‘OK, what do we do? We’ve got some pretty special kids who’ve done a great job leading all summer.’ So we kind of went through an exercise and then we went through two-a-days. Then before the Red-White we kind of did a little survey thing and they listed who they thought should be captains and why.”
Hames, who will miss this weekend’s matches following the ankle injury she suffered during the Red-White Scrimmage, is heading into her fourth season as Nebraska’s starting setter, and Cook pushed her into a leadership role early in her career. She led the Big Ten with 10.9 assists per set last season.
“I actually named Nicklin her sophomore year because your best teams, your setter is one of your captains,” Cook said. “She started as a freshman here, so we were like ‘OK, we’re going to do this.’ She’s maintained that respect and she’s a great leader.”
Stivrins has been serving as captain alongside Hames for the last two seasons, something Cook said he never thought would happen during her freshman year — “she was a disaster her freshman year.” She led the Big Ten in hitting percentage at .468 while averaging 3.79 kills per set last season.
Stivrins told Cook well before her decision to return that she wanted to take a step back and let someone else lead even if she decided to use her extra season of eligibility, but her teammates had other plans.
“They elected Lauren who was uncomfortable with it because she wasn’t sure if she was going to play, she doesn’t know when she’s going to play, and so she doesn’t want to try to lead when she’s not out there yet,” Cook said. “I totally get it, and that’s a selfless leader, but everybody wants her to be a captain.”
Knuckles is heading into her junior season after serving as the team’s starting libero the last two seasons. She averaged a team-best 3.52 digs per set and took a big step forward in serving efficiency with 17 aces and just nine errors. Cook gave Knuckles and senior Lexi Sun a lot of the credit for how close this year’s team is as the two veterans two made sure to make the six freshmen feel welcome.
“It’s a great story because Kenzie has switched positions and she’s done it like a champ, which gains a lot of respect,” Cook said. “She’s done a great job of integrating our younger players. I think she spent a lot of time with them over the summer and has really built those relationships. Our team has a lot of respect for her for that now, along with the coaching staff and our performance team — Brian Kmitta and Brett Haskell who work with them over the summer and our trainer Jolene [Emricson]. They’re around them all summer.”
Knuckles wasn’t in the familiar libero jersey during the Red-White Scrimmage on Saturday. Freshman Lexi Rodriguez filled that role while sophomore Keonilei Akana played libero for the White alongside Knuckles who played middle back. Cook said on Monday that he thought that position fit her skill set better than the libero role she’s filled the last two years.
“It’s a really big deal for us just like for football it’s a really big deal, and we make it a big deal,” Cook said. “They get these really cool captain’s things in their locker. But I also want to develop leaders and I want them to leave here knowing they were captains of Nebraska volleyball. It’s a big deal and the list is really impressive of the former captains.”
“Three just awesome people and great leaders,” Cook continued. “I call them warriors. They’re fighters, they compete, they go hard and they want to win.”
The Huskers will open the season at the Devaney Center on Friday against Tulsa in the Husker Invitational. First serve is set for 11 a.m. CT.
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.