Following the end of the beach season last month, Coach John Cook gave his team some time off — one day, to be exact.
Fresh off their return from California on Saturday, March 19, the Huskers were right back on the practice floor on Monday to start the indoor portion of the spring season. Nebraska has five weeks leading up to its spring exhibition game against Kansas, and the Huskers are looking to make the most of that time.
Hail Varsity and the Lincoln Journal Star sat down with Cook on Friday to discuss a variety of offseason topics. We’ll have more throughout the spring, but here are some quick hits from the discussion.
>> First, Cook shared some news regarding the team 2022 nonconference schedule: the Huskers will be heading up to Omaha to face Creighton for the second straight year — for good reason. The Huskers are hoping they’ll make that same trip again in December.
“It’s a deal we made just because the Final Four is there, and so we thought it’d be important to go up there for them, for us, for the fans,” Cook said. “Just kind of, ‘Hey, the Final Four is here.’”
The Cornhuskers and Jays will face each other on a Wednesday night in September at CHI Health Center Omaha. The Jays will take visit Lincoln two years in a row to balance things out in the annual series.
Nebraska’s nonconference schedule is full of programs with ties to the Nebraska program. Ole Miss, led by former Husker Kayla Banwarth, will visit Lincoln. So too will Long Beach State, led for former Nebraska associate head coach Tyler Hildebrand in his first season with the program.
Pepperdine will also play the Huskers in Lincoln as part of a multi-team event. Nicklin Hames’ younger sister Kayleigh plays for the Waves. The Huskers will only play one multi-team tournament this season in an effort to limit weekends with multiple matches in one day. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Tulsa are the other two participants in the season-opening event.
The Huskers will also visit Kentucky and host Stanford as part of their multi-year agreement with the Cardinal, Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals. The Stanford and Creighton matches will be Nebraska’s only road nonconference matches.
>> Kayla Caffey’s status with the program moving forward is still up in the air. Cook said Caffey playing another season is on the table, but both he and Caffey are sorting through what playing one more season would entail. The final decision from Caffey and Cook will come prior to the team’s exhibition match on April 23.
In the meantime, Caffey did compete during the beach season and she is currently training with the team as well.
>> Upon viewing the film from the national championship loss to a Wisconsin team loaded with super seniors, Cook felt “pretty good”about the Huskers’ performance, though the second viewing had to wait a bit following the results of the traveling party’s post-tournament COVID-19 tests.
“Our chance to win it was game two,” Cook said. “When we lost game two, we still showed a lot of fight. It was great match, some people were saying it’s one of the greatest matches ever, and I think the difference was [Dana] Rettke made a couple plays that the National Player of the Year makes. That’s why she’s National Player of the Year, she made a couple plays that were the difference-makers, and we didn’t seize our opportunity in game two. That’s what it came down to. Otherwise, statistically, you look at it it — we’ve got stats in here comparing everything — it came down to one or two points. Statistically it was very even. We won some areas, they won some areas, but a super, super competitive match. If I had to do over again, I wouldn’t have started where we started, but we had a reason to do that.
“Thirty people tested positive on Monday when we got back, with COVID, so we had a lot of sick kids, and Wisconsin also had a bunch of people test positive. So it was a gutsy performance by our team.”
>> Sophomore setter Kennedi Orr participated in the first two weeks of beach matches, but the team shut her down after she experienced some swelling in her knee. She remained in Lincoln for treatment while the team made its annual trip to Hawaii but has since gotten back on the practice floor. Orr suffered a torn ACL as a senior in high school but retuned to health in time to play during the first weekend of the 2021 fall season.
Orr is competing for the starting setter job with Hames returning for an extra season of eligibility in a new role, but Cook said he’s spreading around reps this spring.
“She’s worked her way back into it, because she was basically out for two weeks,” Cook said. “So she’s working. They’re all — we don’t have a first group right now; we’re rotating everybody. Kenzie Knuckles is playing outside hitter.”
>> The Huskers are short on middle blockers with Lauren Stivrins embarking on her professional career, Kalynn Meyer and Rylee Gray leaving the program and Penn State transfer Kaitlyn Hord not yet on campus. So Callie Schwarzenbach, who will be transferring to pay for Hildebrand at Long Beach State for her extra season of eligibility, is training with the team as she completes the semester.
“She’s going to school here and she’s had nothing else to do,” Cook said. “She knows what we do and it just gives us more people, more bodies, so we can go six on six.”
>> The Huskers brought back four of their five outside hitters with early enrollee Hayden Kubik replacing senior Lexi Sun on the left side. Even so, Cook is using the spring to let the pins battle it out and see what combination will give the team the best chance to win next season. This past season, Kubik and Batenhorst played on the left along with Sun while Krause and Lauenstein primarily played on the right.
“We’re training Madi [Kubik], Lindsay [Krause] and Whitney [Lauenstein] on the right and Ally [Batenhorst] has had some time over there too,” Cook said. “All four of those guys are playing on the right. We have them play on the right, they all get to play back row. They’re all hitting out of the back row. Now, is that going to happen in the fall? Probably not. They’ve got to prove it. This is their chance to prove it. So I’ll let them show what they can do and then, ‘Hey, you need to be a better passer, you need to be better on defense if you’re going to play six rotations’ for the outside hitters. So we give them opportunity and then they kind of sort it out for us.”
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.