Maybe there will be a little extra motivation for Nebraska volleyball as it prepares for the postseason. The Huskers were shut out of the Big Ten’s individual awards––in, admittedly, the deepest volleyball conference in the country––but three individuals earned all-conference honors. Senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins and senior outside hitter Lexi Sun were unanimous first-team selections while junior setter Nicklin Hames also earned first-team honors.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) April 8, 2021
Hames was a first-team all-conference selection in 2019 and an AVCA All-America honorable mention her first two seasons. She also was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team in 2018. Hames led the league at 10.93 assists per game, a rate that ranked 17th nationally entering next week’s NCAA Tournament.
“I think Nicklin’s worked hard to refine her setter position and we’ve spent a lot of time with her,” Coach John Cook said Thursday. “Tyler [Hildebrand]’s worked with her to refine and polish her game and I think it’s made her a more confident setter. I think she has expanded her range of what she can set and what she can do and it’s made us a little bit more unpredictable. The biggest way you guys can measure it is look at what our middles are hitting.”
Let’s do that.
Kayla Caffey, a Missouri transfer in her first season with the Huskers, hit .362 in the regular season per the NCAA’s official stats. That ranked ninth in the Big Ten, which led all conferences with six tournament teams in the 48-team field, and 53rd nationally.
Stivrins led the conference in hitting at .462, which ranked fourth nationally and is the second-best mark among players in the tournament behind High Point’s Kayley Rammelsberg. Thursday’s first-team nod was the third of her career. The senior is also a two-time AVCA All-American, earning first-team honors in 2018 and second-team honors in 2019.
“It’s insane how she just gets better and better every year,” Hames said of Stivrins. “Even though she had a great year last year, she’s doing even better this year. She just works so hard and I think Tyler has a lot to do with that. He’s brought a lot of different aspects to the game and I think he’s helped her a lot. She’s one of those players that she always wants the ball and you can kind of just put it up anywhere and she can do something with it, which I think is really special about her. I know when I set her that she’s going to get a kill, and I trust her in those big moments and she loves to be in those big moments.”
Sun, who led Nebraska with 547 total attacks this year, was also a repeat honoree. The senior was a first-team selection in the Big Ten in 2019 and also earned All-Big 12 first-team honors while a freshman at Texas in 2017. Sun ranked fourth in the Big Ten at 4.53 points per set and fifth at 3.82 kills per set.
“This year she’s hitting so many different shots, and that goes to Tyler, too,” Hames said. “He’s been great. We’re able to manage, we’re being super creative, and I think that’s helped her a lot. My freshman year Mikaela [Foecke] was the go-to and Lexi was the other outside and I think she learned a lot from Mikaela—I know we all did—of just being that go-to person.”
Minnesota’s Stephanie Samedy was named Big Ten Player of the Year, Purdue’s Jena Otec Defensive Player of the Year, Wisconsin’s Sydney Hilley Setter of the Year and Ohio State’s Emily Londot Freshman of the Year. The Buckeyes’ Jen Flynn Oldenburg took home conference Coach of the Year honors after guiding Ohio State to a 15-3 record and the ninth overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Nebraska’s next game is a second-round NCAA Tournament matchup on April 15 at 2:30 p.m. against the winner of Texas State and Utah Valley. The match will be streamed via ESPN3.