In July of 2019, Waverly standout Anni Evans took a risk.
The talented setter had committed to play at Colorado State in November of 2018, but then John Cook came calling. After reevaluating her options and goals, Evans decommitted from Colorado State and chose to walk-on at Nebraska.
Nicklin Hames already had two years as the starting setter under her belt when Evans arrived on campus, and Kennedi Orr, the No. 1 recruit in her class, was set to join the program in 2021. A path to playing time and a scholarship would not be easy for her, but she took on the challenge.
Evans found her way onto the court as a true freshman as a serving sub, delivering an ace during her first career serve, She played in nine matches and dished out three assists. As a sophomore, Evans saw even more playing time, appearing in 23 matches (and 61 total sets). With Hames missing the first weekend with an ankle injury, Evans got a chance to split the setting duties with Orr before settling back into the serving sub role the rest of the season. She finished with 24 assists and 10 aces.
Earlier this month, Cook rewarded her hard work and contributions to the program with some special news.
Evans said she was completely caught off guard.
“Coach kind of leads practice off like that a lot,” Evans said. “He always kind of has someone that he asks questions to kind of get the mind right for practice and to kind of set the tone. So I didn’t really think anything of it. It was just kind of a normal start to practice, but then when it kept going I really had no idea what was happening. Honestly, I was caught off guard pretty hard.”
Cook said he was grateful for the opportunity to present the scholarship to Evans.
“As you guys saw, the reaction from the team, it’s emotional,” Cook said. “For somebody like her from a small town, her brothers played football here — I think they might have been walk-ons — but to earn a scholarship at this program is… I don’t know how to put it into words. We worked hard to get that scholarship back and and I’m just glad that we were able to present it to her and even though we’re almost finished for the semester, it all just goes retroactive. Of anybody on our team, she certainly has worked hard to put herself in that position. That’s why we say ‘work hard and good things happen.’”
A lot of hard work happened between the decision to walk on at Nebraska to the practice when Evans learned she had earned a scholarship, but in the end the gamble paid off.
“Just taking a little bit of a risk, a little different route to get to this part of my life and just staying after it, putting extra reps in and just always knowing how to work a little bit harder to prove myself,” Evans said. “So that was what went into it.”
Evans said she was on cloud nine throughout that practice and the next couple of days were filled with emotion. The Husker volleyball account didn’t tweet the video until four or five days after the actual practice itself, and Evans said seeing the video brought all the emotions right back to the surface.
“It’s still such a surreal experience that happened, so I feel like I still really haven’t fully grasped the situation,” Evans said. “It’s still kind of sinking in.”
The scholarship wasn’t the first bit of good news this offseason for Evans. Cook’s decision to promote Kelly Hunter to a full-time assistant role following the departure of Tyler Hildebrand to Long Beach State particularly resonated with the team’s setters, including Evans.
“I was so excited,” Evans said. “I think she is such a great mentor, especially as a setter, and we just have so much, all the setters and I think everyone has so much to learn from her. I think she’s been a great role model and mentor of the program. So it’s just really exciting to have her step in.”
Evans said she’s seen a change in how Hunter has approached coaching this spring, and the players have only benefited from it.
“She has so much knowledge about the game that she’s just really been infectious and she’s been more authoritative with having film sessions and really feeling more confident, probably, in her role,” Evans said. “And so I think she’s just been more demanding of us and really just sharing her knowledge of the game.”
As she heads into her junior year, Evans said she is working on speaking up and taking on more of a leadership role. With Hunter sticking around and Hames back for an extra season of eligibility, she has a couple of excellent role models to learn from and consult as well as a talented underclassman in Orr to both compete with and mentor as she continues to put in the work and develop as a player in her own right.
Now, at least for this semester, she’s no longer a walk-on. She’s just a Husker.
“It means a lot and I think it just shows that plans work out and hard work takes you a long way,” Evans said.
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.