Tyler Hildebrand had it all planned out.
After accepting the associate head coaching position on John Cook’s staff at Nebraska back in December (Nebraska announced it in January), he was supposed to close out the 2020 Summer Olympics cycle with the USA Volleyball Beach National Team.
The closing ceremonies were scheduled for Aug. 9, and Hildebrand had a ticket booked for a flight from Tokyo to Lincoln set to arrive at 2:30 on Aug. 10, the first day of fall volleyball practice. He was planning to head straight from the airport to the Devaney Center to help prepare the Huskers to make a run to the Final Four and beyond.
His plans changed back in March however, along with those of the entire world. Hildebrand was in Los Angeles when the NBA suspended its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, sending ripples throughout the sports world.
“We lived in Redondo Beach, California,” Hildebrand told Hail Varsity. “We were quarantining because I think California was one of the first to kind of go under a shut-down. When that happened, we knew with the NBA canceling its season, that was kind of the day California followed pretty quickly after that quarantining. We knew some things were going to go on, but I’m sure like everyone, it was like, ‘Well, there’s no way we won’t figure this out by July for the Olympics.’”
Six months later, we still haven’t figured it out. What first seemed like an overreaction—to postpone the Tokyo Olympics to 2021—became the obvious move in hindsight.
“I was actually on a call with the USOC, and it was a coaches’ call with 35, 40 coaches from different sports—archery and track and field and whatever,” Hildebrand said. “We were all on this big head coaches call when the announcement actually came. That was kind of an ironic time to get that announcement. It was a Zoom, so a couple people were like, ‘Hey,’ and they put their phone up to the screen—‘Olympics canceled.’ It was totally ironic.”
Suddenly, after two years building up to this summer, his Olympic dreams were dead — and the hope of winning a national championship at Nebraska this fall was dashed as well when the Big Ten postponed the volleyball season alongside the other fall sports. Still, Hildebrand said whenever misfortune strikes, his first reaction is to think about all the other problems in the world and how his struggles and disappointments pale in comparison.
“There are a lot worse problems than not being able to do all that in the whole world, but that was going to be a pretty exciting year,” Hildebrand said. “So here we are, we’re just adapting and adjusting and I’m real hopeful we’re going to have the spring and it’s going to be great. Coach has been really cool—obviously I’m not going to miss anything of importance relevant with Nebraska, but I’m still hopefully going to go to the Olympics next summer, finish that out in kind of a remote way and then go to the Olympics.”
However, despite his hope for the future—his excitement for a potential spring season at Nebraska and for the 2021 Summer Olympics—the recent past and present have still been difficult. Throughout the pandemic, teams have been separated, access to gyms has been limited and the typical offseason timeline has been completely destroyed. Right now, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.
“It is a total change in our world,” Hildebrand said. “As athletes, even before coaching I was an athlete, and you always have a season. You’re always in your offseason or at the beginning of your season or recruiting or building up your strength as an athlete. You always have this idea of what’s going on. That’s never been taken away from me in my career, or my teams, in my world, so that was a weird thing psychologically to just not know.
“Because if you don’t know what your timeline is or what your season is, it does a weird thing psychologically for you on your effort or your mindfulness to what you’re doing. You’re kind of like, ‘Well, what are we doing this for?’ You’re not thinking about that because you go, ‘Well, we’re going to get there eventually,’ and all that. But your subconscious, your psyche is kind of like playing these tricks on you, like, ‘It doesn’t really matter if we do this or not right now because in a week we’re going to be in the same situation we are right now.’ That’s a weird thing to not have what you hope would be semi-linear growth. That’s been a challenge.”
With the trip to Tokyo canceled, Hildebrand arrived in Lincoln during the last week of July and quickly immersed himself in getting ready for the season. He spent the first week of August working with the other coaches, then the Huskers got four days of semi-normalcy with the beginning of preseason practice. The Big Ten’s decision to postpone the season officially sent them back into the uncertainty, and now the program is looking ahead to the spring.
The 2020 calendar year certainly hasn’t gone according to plan for Tyler Hildebrand, but he’s making the most of it and is happy to be back in Lincoln. Stay tuned to Hail Varsity in the coming days for more on his return.
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.