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Nebraska Volleyball Notebook: Stivrins’ Journey, Husker Olympians and Noth’s Thoughts

October 03, 2021

Stivrins’ Journey Back to the Court

The biggest news from the weekend was Lauren Stivrins making her 2021 debut, and after so much time away from the game, the senior middle blocker said Friday night was even better than she envisioned.

“The only thing that would have made this night just a little bit better is if my brother would have gotten here on time, but it’s fine; he showed up halfway through the first set, I’m not mad, but I’m a little bit disappointed,” Stivrins said. “But this night, I couldn’t have asked for anything more, really. I love this team, it is so fun to play with them and I think everyone’s in a really great spot right now. I’m excited, really, truly, to see where we can take this thing.”

Stivrins did say that her brother, Lucas, made up for his late arrival with his dancing throughout the night.

Nicklin Hames said she had never heard the Devaney Center louder than when it came time to announce Stivrins during the starting lineups, and Cook spoke to why he thought that was.

“One, I think she’s a warrior, and two, they know what she’s gone through, and I think she’s done an amazing job of — if you listened to her podcast and listened to her interviews — of what this means to her,” Coach John Cook said. “I’m sure she had a lot of doubts that she could ever play again, and I think sitting and watching our crowd, our team, all that just makes you really appreciate it and want it really bad, and I think our crowd empathizes with that and understands that.”

Stivrins suffered a back injury late in the spring season and it limited her in the NCAA Tournament before ultimately leading to surgery. It set her back to such a degree that she went a long time without being able to exercise or work out. In order to make it back to the court, she had to put in a lot of work in a short amount of time. That also provided her with an opportunity to essentially start from scratch.

“It was crazy, but it was kind of nice,” Stivrins said. “I got to reset the whole body and just take some time off and focus on stuff that I wasn’t really great at before and just like really make sure that my body is physically in the best shape. It was tough. I started off real slow after surgery and there was like a month where I just didn’t do anything and I lost pretty much every bit of muscle that I ever had before I came in. And so it’s been a long grind trying to get that back, but lots of lifting, lots of conditioning, lots of reps in the gym and one-on-one stuff, but it’s been so amazing and I’m so happy to be where I am.”

Stivrins led the Huskers with 11 kills on .733 hitting in her first match back, and Cook wasn’t surprised to see her have so much success against the Wolverines.

“Being in practice the basically last week and a half, our gym is not an easy gym to be in right now in regards to the level of play and what you’re going against,” Cook said. “So probably practice was harder than what she saw tonight in the match. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, John Baylor asked me if she comes back is she gonna be 100%? He’s like, ‘Is she going to be 60, 70, 80%?’ I said she’s going to be 105. Because the layoff that she had, she was able to rebuild her body back, so she won’t have back issues, she’s more balanced, and you saw how that impacted her movement tonight and how she was doing. She’s blocking bigger than she ever has since she’s been here.

“It’s just she’s had a chance to really rebuild her body back up. She’s been rehabbing six to seven hours a day since August, since we started Aug. 7 or 8 or whatever it is. That’s what she’s been doing. Now, it’s been baby steps toward volleyball, but that’s how hard she has been training her body. She’ll probably continue to train, really, really hard.”

Cook was hesitant to put any sort of public pressure or time frame on Stivrins’ return, but she went to him late last weekend to ask if she could start getting practice reps with Hames, and as she progressed through the week she felt like she was ready.

“I’ve felt better than I’ve felt in a long time, which is so cool and I’ve been working super hard with Jolene [Emricson] and Brian [Kmitta], our strength coach and our trainer, so they’ve been really hands on making sure that I have exactly what I need to get better and be ready to go the next day. I’m feeling great and I’m excited to move forward.”

Red, White and Gold

Nebraska volleyball legend Jordan Larson returned to Lincoln this weekend for the Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Larson entered the hall alongside fellow program dignitaries Terry Pettit and Cathy Noth on Friday afternoon, and the university recognized them during Nebraska’s sweep over Michigan later that night.

Nebraska also recognized Larson for her most recent accomplishment: leading the United States to its first Olympic Gold Medal. Larson (2005-08) wasn’t the only former Husker on that team, though. Justine Wong-Orantes (2013-16) and Kelsey Robinson (2013) joined her on that journey.

“It’s great, and I think it’s just honestly a reflection of the program and the people that come through this building,” Larson said. “I think it’s just so unique and so hard to explain to people when they’re not from here, really, but I think Justine and Kelsey have both shown that you don’t have to be from this state to understand the magnitude and what it can do is to set you up for success for the long term. It’s just really cool, and I don’t know, there’s just something about how even though we came at different times through the university, we all share similar values and it’s like ‘Hey, you’re a Husker, I’m a Husker, we’re in this together, let’s do it.’

“And then we can talk a little smack when there’s like, ‘Hey, you’re a Nittany Lion…’ So it’s a fun energy on the national team.”

Small World for Setters

Noth, who excelled as both a hitter and a setter at Nebraska in the 1980s, currently serves as the director of development for Capital Volleyball Academy, a club program in Madison, Wisconsin. Not said she trains setters and mentors the coaches in the organization. She also runs her own facility and service called Train Like an Olympian.

Additionally, before the pandemic, Noth made a trip to work with the Northern Lights club program just outside of Minneapolis once a month. That’s how she met Kennedi Orr, Nebraska’s talented freshman setter.

“That’s where I trained Kennedi all the way through when she was a little tot,” Noth said. “Well, she was never little I don’t think … Obviously setters are special to me since I was a setter as well, but just to see her grow and just another level of volleyball that she gets to experience and be a leader.”

In addition to working with her when she was younger, Noth also got a chance to see Orr in action for the Huskers during the first weekend of the season when Nicklin Hames was out with an ankle injury.

“I’ve just seen her on the court a couple times when Nicklin got injured, Noth said. “Certainly, consistently, she sets that ball out, and I think for her, it’s just getting that endurance, getting that fire and getting those reps. She’s gonna have her time, and that’s what’s so exciting, and I think she understands that.”

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