The Huskers are two weeks into practice, but the season begins in earnest on Saturday as Nebraska holds the annual Red/White Scrimmage at the Devaney Center.
According to Coach John Cook, the new-look Huskers are ready to show the fans what they can do.
“You can feel the energy in here, the level of athleticism, how hard the ball’s being hit,” Cook said. “The level of play is really high.”
Despite having six newcomers including five true freshmen, the Mother of All Summers and some veteran leadership prepared the young Huskers to hit the ground running when preseason practice began.
“Our whole team did a really good job starting in June, because they were all here in June, of acclimating,” Cook said. “I never know how it’s going to go until we start, but they’ve done a really good job, those freshmen are really comfortable. That’s usually the biggest thing with freshmen is they don’t feel part of it, they just feel intimidated, they’re playing with national champions out here. They made those freshmen feel really comfortable and you can never tell they’re freshmen out here.”
Senior outside hitter Annika Albrecht had something similar to say about the freshman class.
“They are so talented,” Albrecht said. “There was never really a day where it was like, ‘OK, those are freshmen.’ It was always ‘these girls are very talented, very athletic, and they just make good plays. They’re all around the board with their positions and it’s just a good bunch of girls. They are so good at volleyball.”
The freshmen are the headliner for the Red/White Scrimmage as many fans will show up eager for a glimpse of the newest Huskers. However, Cook has not yet determined the format for Saturday’s scrimmage.
“I haven’t thought about it yet,” Cook said. “We’ll decide Saturday how we want to do it, if we’re going to split even teams or put what we think might be a starting team. We’re just going one day at a time right now. Whatever we do, it’s going to be competitive. It’s going to be a great show for the fans and we’ve got a lot of people who can play at a high level. Our intensity level and our level of play has been really high for the second week of the season.”
Senior setter Kelly Hunter has been a noteworthy scratch from practice as she recovers from an offseason injury, but Cook said she has practiced in a limited fashion. He has not decided whether or not she will suit up on Saturday.
“She can play, but we may just be really safe,” Cook said.
If Hunter does indeed sit out the scrimmage, new assistant coach Kayla Banwarth will fill in as setter for one of the two teams. Banwarth has been playing that role throughout preseason practice.
With Hunter out of commission, redshirt freshman Hunter Atherton has gotten plenty of snaps with the top unit, and Cook said she has taken advantage of that opportunity.
“She’s doing great,” Cook said. “She’s had a lot of reps and she’s learning how to be a really good setter, so it’s been really good for her. But there are expectations when she’s over on that side [with the top unit]; it’s not being on the white side where you just fling it around and don’t have to score it that much. Now there are expectations. It’s good for her; she’s doing well.”
It could be a busy night for Banwarth as well as she will also help coach one of the two teams along with Kristin Hildebrand, volunteer assistant Ryan Coomes and graduate manager Joe Klein.
On the other side, Cook will coach alongside his other new assistant, Tyler Hildebrand.
“Tyler and I, we have to learn to work together in a match,” Cook said. “We’ve only done it once at Colorado State and that match, the scores were 15; it was over in about an hour or so. We need to get in a good situation where we’re battling and we have to make some calls and adjustments and things like that. Want to work with him so we’re used to that. Those guys will take the other side.”
Saturday’s scrimmage is set to begin at 7 p.m.
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.