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Nebraska Volleyball Notebook: 2022 Red-White Scrimmage

August 21, 2022

Saturday marked the beginning of the 2022 volleyball season at the Devaney Center as the Red team swept the White in the annual Red-White Scrimmage.

Jacob Padilla was in the building for all the action and has additional notes on the scrimmage and the Fan Day event that preceded it.

Mission Accomplished

John Cook said on Monday he was changing his approach to Red-White prep. Instead of cracking jokes about how nervous the freshmen were going to be, he wanted to try to ease those nerves and allow the freshmen and sophomores to play more freely.

According to Cook, the tactic proved successful despite a packed house of 7,946.

“The players commented that this is the calmest they’ve ever felt while playing in a Red-White,” Cook said. “It’s usually very nerve-wracking and they’re amped up and they’re edgy, so we worked really hard today on making sure that they were staying calm. I thought our freshmen handled themselves great.”

It wasn’t a last-second decision, though. Cook said he’s put more emphasis on mental preparation throughout the offseason. 

“Brett Haskell, our sports psychologist, we’ve been working with them all summer on ways to calm yourself down,” Cook said. “It’s breathing and it’s playing — we call it ‘With each other, for each other.’ ‘WEOFEO,’ that you’re worried about the person next to you and not yourself. So of course we’ve been working hard on it when it happens in practice, trying to get them to work through that. And so it’s just something we’re training just like we’re training serving and passing.”

Fifth-year senior Kaitlyn Hord said playing in front of big crowds has become routine. It was a different story for sophomore Kennedi Orr, who was setting the Red team for the first time after starting as the White team setter last year.

“I probably got comfortable like halfway through the first set,” Orr said. “I would say I had a lot of jitters. I was really nervous. But I was really excited too. My teammates helped me out a bunch and they were like, ‘You’ve got this,’ and I was like, ‘All right, I’ve got it.’

Despite four freshmen and five sophomores in the lineup, Hord — a transfer from Penn State — said everyone looked like they’re ready for the big stage.

“I would just say that I’m really proud of everyone,” Hord said. “I think everybody came out there, whether they were young or old with the same mentality of we’re going to trust our training, we’re going to work on the things we’ve been working on, and it really showed. It was a very back-and-forth match and I honestly couldn’t tell who was what age out there. We all played with a good confidence and I’m just really proud of those girls. We’ve been working hard and it kind of showed today.”

Orr-chestrating the Offense

Speaking of Orr, she set the Red team to a .311 hitting percentage, including .343 in the first set and .279 in the second. Orr said her connection with the middle blockers is still a work in process and a point of emphasis, but each of the three pin-hitters had their moments of brilliance.

“If you look at Kennedi, we hit over .300, which is rare for a Red-White game,” Cook said. “Her distribution was really good. If you look at the numbers that the outsides have, that’s something that’s really hard to coach. Setters have a feel for keeping a balanced attack.” 

Madi Kubik had 13 kill on 26 swings (.385 hitting). Lindsay Krause had 12 kills on 27 attempts (.407 hitting). Whitney Lauenstein was a bit more error-prone but still chipped in nine kills on 21 swings (.238 hitting).

Even Orr got into the mix attacking-wise, notching three kills (one dump and two spikes) on six attempts. Orr’s biggest kill came on a play where she made first contact in the front row then Lexi Rodriguez bumped it right back to her for the swing.

“Honestly, we were just working at it in practice,” Orr said. “And if I dig a ball front row, I’m just like, ‘Lexi, set me.’ I think at first it was more just kind of like a whim play that we don’t always do or we really don’t talk about, but she set me and I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to go up and hit it.’”

Orr did a bit of everything with 35 assists, nine digs and four blocks in addition tot he three kills, a strong overall showing for the second-year setter who has seen action in just two matches during her Husker career — the first two of the 2021 season. The preseason hasn’t been smooth sailing throughout, but she showed what she’s capable of on Saturday.

“There’s been a couple of days she’s been at this level, but I had no idea how she would do tonight,” Cook said. “That was a big worry for me, how confident she would be and how she would do. She hasn’t played in a long time, so this will be a good match for her to build on.”

In addition to the opportunity to continue building chemistry with her teammates in a competitive setting, the scrimmage also provided Orr with an opportunity to learn a bit about herself and where she is heading into her second season of college volleyball.

“I think I learned that I have a lot of composure,” Orr said. “I think it can be really easy to step in the gym and get all riled up with the lights and everyone in there, but with my teammates right next to me, everything was fine and I eventually settled down and got into the game. I’m just really proud of myself for that because sometimes it can go the opposite way.”

Orr set the entire match for the Red team while Nicklin Hames, the four-year starting setter and now super senior, came off the bench in a defensive specialist role.

“Nicklin looked pretty happy tonight,” Cook said. “She was having fun. I’m telling you guys, she can be a great libero, and and if we can get two liberos on the court, that would be pretty cool.”

Reyes-ing the Bar

With Ally Batenhorst in street clothes due to a minor abdominal injury, the Huskers were one player short of being able to field two full teams. In the past, a graduate manager or two would fill in if need be during the Red-White Scrimmage. Tat wasn’t the case on Saturday, however.

Instead, Cook asked his lead assistant and recruiting coordinator, Jaylen Reyes, to fill the void.

“Jaylen is pretty good,” Cook said. “He did a nice job for what we needed. I gave him the Bill Russell player-coach [role]. He was Bill Russell tonight. He played in college and now he gets to be player-coach. And so I thought that would be, and I’m kind of fired up that I thought of it, but I just thought he could impact those players on that side and keep them engaged and feeling good. You saw Hayden [Kubik] and Maisie [Boesiger] and Maggie [Mendelson] played great over there for freshmen. And I just think having him play out there with them would really help them and bring energy and keep them in the game. I thought that was really cool, as opposed to having a practice player out there.”

Reyes led the White team with nine kills, though he hit just .154 thanks to five attack errors, most of which were blocks by the Red team. Hord offered her assessment of playing against her coach.

“Definitely not a girl, that’s for sure,” Hord said. “He’s got a really good swing. Lacking on defense a little bit, but yeah, great guy.”

A Day to Remember

Nebraska tried something new on Saturday with its own version of the football program’s Fan Day. The Huskers sat in the Devaney Center for more than two hours on Saturday morning signing autographs and interacting with fans.

“I wanted to play four games, but did you guys see the line? Have you seen pictures of it?” Cook said. “We were here for two-and-a-half hours; we waited until the last person came through, and it was exhausting. For two-and-a-half hours you’re engaged in next person, next person, next person, and it’s not just you sign and go, there were interactions. So the fans loved it. Some of them waited an hour-and-a-half in line to get through. 

“Every so often, I would ask them like, ‘How long did you wait? And they’d say, ‘I’ve been here for an hour-and-15 minutes,’ and I said, ‘Is it worth it?’ And they’d go ‘Oh yeah, this is great.’ So the fans loved it. Our players did a great job. Nick Burkhardt produced a great poster that everybody loves and Bud’s on there.”

Bud is one of Cook’s horses (see Erin Sorensen’s Q&A with Cook in the most recent edition of Hail Varsity Magazine for more on Cook and his horses).

Orr said she enjoyed the experience of getting to interact with the fans, especially the younger ones who look up to her.

“That was really cool, I really enjoyed that,” Orr said. “The fact that we got to see all these fans right before we play, I think it put me in a really good mindset, especially for the game and just getting excited for Husker nation to see us play after the long summer we just had. I’d say a good memory I had was just a lot of little kids coming up and how shy they are, and then once you kind of smile at them, they smile right back and their faces light up. So that was really cool.”

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