The Big Ten coaches tabbed Lexi Sun as a preseason All-Big Ten performer on Wednesday. In order for the Huskers to make a leap from Elite Eight team to national championship contender, they’ll need her to live up to that projection and more.
This is a big year for the senior outside hitter who is heading into her third season at Nebraska. She made the postseason All-Big Ten first team and was a third-team All-American in 2019 after leading the Huskers with 3.57 kills per set. She also copped 2.45 digs per set and 25 aces. Most importantly, she improved her hitting percentage from .195 as a sophomore to .270 as a junior.
Sun took a big leap from 2018 to 2019, and now John Cook is hoping she can do the same heading into 2020-21.
“Her biggest challenge or the thing we’re asking from her is wanting to be a complete player, have as much pride in making a great pass as a great kill,” Cook said. “She can impact a match in so may ways — blocking, hitting, serving, defensively. And then the question is can you do that night after night after night and day after day. That’s been her challenge and she can be one of the strongest players in the Big Ten when she’s dialed in and getting after it. She’s worked hard. She improved the most in our performance index testing, which is really, really pleasing to see that.
“So she’s worked really hard to get stronger and now it’s mentally competing point after point at a high level. All the players that come through this program, that’s what they’re striving for is can you do it better and longer each year that you’re here.”
The physical improvements she’s made are even more impressive considering the nature of the extended offseason. Like everyone else on the team, Sun went home after the pandemic hit and the school year ended. Sun said she enjoyed the time off, but she also took advantage of it to get better.
“It was great to have time off,” Sun said. “I haven’t had that much time off in basically my entire life to be able to go home and spend time with family. My sister, last year they put a gym in their garage so with everything being so closed down in California it was really great to have that and be able to work out and stay in shape and all of that, and also taking advantage of the beach and being outside and running stairs and all of that. So out of all the girls on the team, I definitely had a really great situation in working out and staying in shape and preparing for the season even when everything was so shut down. That was really cool to have that time.”
Sun said she didn’t go more than a month during the break without spending some time hitting a volleyball to keep her skills sharp. Then once she returned to campus, she ramped up the skill work to take her offensive game to another level.
“The last few months we have been able to work with Tyler [Hildebrand] and the big thing that we’ve been working on as a team and for me personally is being creative,” Sun said. “So being creative on offense and just in general, every position is working on different things and making the most of unexpected situations. I think that’s been something we have been really focusing on and trying to implement in our game.”
Cook named Lauren Stivrins and Nicklin Hames co-captains for the second straight year, but as a senior and one of the team’s top players, Sun wants to provide leadership as well, much like she tried to do last season.
“It’s pretty much the same as it was last year considering we didn’t have any seniors last year,” Sun said. “All the juniors were basically the seniors. Something for me that I have tried to work on last year and will continue to work on is being an emotional leader for the team, just trying to remain steady throughout a game and being that person that people can lean on in tough matches and in stressful situations.”
Sun is heading into her fourth season of college volleyball, but like all other sports, this year won’t count towards eligibility. Nebraska could potentially bring all four of its seniors — Sun, Stivrins, Jazz Sweet and Hayley Densberger — back for the 2021 fall season. Sun said she’s heading into the season with an open mind.
“The seniors now have another year of eligibility, so that’s something that I’ll have to consider after this little spring season is over,” Sun said. “I’m excited to see how everything pans out and what kind of a season we do have, but I haven’t made any final decisions concerning that yet.”
Though the ability to give it one more go is out there, Sun said she’s treating this like she would a normal senior season.
“I don’t want to place any expectations on the girls or myself of coming back and ‘Oh, I’ll have another shot at this,’ but giving it my all this season,” Sun said. “I think that’s kind of our mindset even for the younger girls, just giving it our all this season and focusing on what’s in front of us and not thinking too far ahead.”
For now, Sun is focused solely on Indiana and being the best player she can be. The Huskers open their season at Indiana on Friday.