With the transfer portal closing, the spring semester about to begin and Nebraska’s recruits all set to officially join the program, now is a good time to look back and look ahead at the Husker volleyball program.
We’re going to break it down position by position to review 2022 performance and preview each group heading into spring ball.
First up is the setter position, perhaps the group that needs to take the biggest step forward in order for Nebraska to make a deeper run in 2023.
According to Coach John Cook throughout the offseason, the plan for 2022 was to turn the keys to the offense over to Kennedi Orr while Nicklin Hames played a defensive specialist role in her fifth season.
That lasted all of one weekend Cook apparently decided Orr wasn’t ready for that responsibility just yet. He switched things up heading into week two, deploying a 6-2 (two-setter offense) with Hames as one of the setters, and he stuck with that the rest of the way.
Between injury and performance, Cook cycled through all three combinations (Hames and Anni Evans, Hames and Orr, Evans and Orr) at various points throughout the season. Nebraska’s offense improved somewhat from 2021 (from .222 hitting to .244), but it wasn’t enough of a step forward for Nebraska to accomplish its goals.
Nicklin Hames (senior, 5-foot-10)
2022 stats: 5.47 A/S, 0.14 SA/S, 2.88 D/S, 23 MP (78 SP)
Hames never planned to start at setter for a fifth straight season, though she split her practice reps between setter and defensive specialist during the offseason in case the team needed her to slide back into her old role.
Well, the team did, and Cook pulled the trigger on that early. After four years of setting in a 5-1, however, Hames had to adjust to a new role as a 6-2 setter who plays three back-row rotations before subbing out for the next three rotations. The 6-2 fit Hames insofar as she presented a target for opponents in the front row at her height, and she’s an elite back-row defensive player.
Unfortunately, injuries piled up, forcing Hames to miss nine matches in total split between two different stints, and her physical state likely impacted her performance beyond just the nine matches she missed entirely. She (like the other setters) struggled to establish a connection with middle blocker transfer Kaitlyn Hord. Yet despite playing half the rotations most matches, she still recorded six double-doubles including a season-high 38 assists with 17 digs at Creighton and a season-high 21 digs with 32 assists at Ohio State.
Hames served a career-low 14 aces this season (0.18 per set), but she also only recorded 14 service errors; Hames was still one of the team’s best players and seemed to change up her style somewhat, opting for precision over power.
Anni Evans (junior, 5-foot-9)
2022 stats: 4.37 A/S, 1.78 D/S, 27 MP (89 SP)
The walk-on from Waverly spent most of her first two seasons in Lincoln as a situational sub, and she wasn’t necessarily part of the offseason discussions about the setter position (beyond Cook saying she was going to make Orr earn the job). Yet Evans ended up playing more than anyone else.
Evans started four matches (one in a 5-1, three in a 6-2), but spent most of the season as the setter off the bench in the 6-2. She also notched five double-doubles including a career-high 36 assists with 10 digs in her lone 5-1 start against Tulsa and a career-high 17 digs with 25 assists at Creighton.
Evans seemed to develop an especially strong connection with opposite hitter Whitney Lauenstein (which makes sense as the two were high school teammates), and she stepped up when Cook called her number and gave the program everything she had. Still, relying on a walk-on at a position like setter certainly wasn’t an ideal situation for a program chasing a national title.
Kennedi Orr (sophomore, 6-foot)
2022 stats: 5.11 A/S, 1.98 D/S, 17 MP (60 SP)
Orr was the No. 1 recruiting in the country in the 2021 class, but the knee injury that ended her senior season prematurely appears to have dramatically impacted the beginning of her collegiate career as well.
Orr spent her first spring on campus rehabbing, then she played the first weekend of the 2021 fall season while Hames nursed a sprained ankle. Hames returned for the second week of the season, however, and Orr spent the rest of the year watching from the bench. Unfortunately, the knee continued to bother her during the 2022 spring season as she missed some time and therefore wasn’t ready to start and play a full match when the Huskers played their spring exhibition in Grand Island.
Cook said the setter job was hers to lose, and she started the season-opener against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, putting up 26 assists, seven digs, one block, one kill, one ace and three service errors. Eans started the second match, then Orr started the third again, recording 27 assists, six digs, five blocks, two kills and four service errors. Then Cook changed to the 6-2, and Orr found herself on the bench.
Orr served as the second setter behind Evans during the first six matches Hames missed, then she played behind Hames down the stretch of the regular season up until the injury that knocked Hames out until the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Orr started the regular season finale against Minnesota and the NCAA Tournament opener against Delaware State, the Cook went back to the Hames-Evans pairing against Kansas and Oregon.
Orr showed some flashes of the physical talent that had her ranked No. 1 in her class, but she also struggled at times, particularly with double contacts when setting.
Hames’ playing career is finally over after five season in Lincoln, and now her coaching career is set to begin as a graduate assistant.
Evans became the lone Husker to enter the transfer portal after the season, sharing on Dec. 11 that Nebraska does not offer the graduate program she’s passionate about pursuing (she graduates in May).
That leaves Orr as the only returning setter on the roster. With the way the season played out (including her multiple benchings), many speculated that she’d look elsewhere after the season. However, she announced she’d be back on Dec. 14.
Orr and Cook are both probably hoping another year removed from the injury and another offseason of training will give her an opportunity to get back to the player she was prior to the ACL tear.
Orr will have to take a big step forward if she hopes to see the floor in 2023, because Nebraska landed the No. 1 setter in the incoming class as well in Bergen Reilly (6-foot-1), the setter from Sioux Falls (S.D) O’Gorman. She’s a three-time Gatorade South Dakota Volleyball Player of the Year, PrepVolleyball.com‘s fourth-ranked player in her class and an emergency call-up to the USA Volleyball Senior National Team as a 17-year-old.
With Reilly and a hopefully healthy and confident Orr on the team, the setter position could see some fierce competition this offseason, which is just the way Cook likes it. The starting position (with a potential shift back to a 5-1 offense) is there for the taking.
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.