Those among the select group of fans that have been fortunate enough to attend volleyball matches at the Devaney Center this season might have noticed Nebraska’s three setters wearing special shirts during warm-ups prior to the match.
The shirts are covered in words that may appear random to those fans in the stands, but each one means something to the players wearing them.
“Every single word on that shirt is something that we’ve come up with this season in the setter group,” Nicklin Hames said. “There’s a bunch of different things on there. It’s kind of like just all over the place. Different words that represent the setting style that we use now and I think it’s just a reminder of it when we wear those shirts.”
The shirts also have nicknames on the back them. Hames is “Phoenix.”
“At the beginning of the year Tyler kind of gave me that nickname,” Hames said. “I’m just kind of going to burn what’s happened the past couple years and kind of rise out of the ashes and be this new thing, be this new Nicklin.”
Hames has been Nebraska’s starting setter since she arrived on campus in 2018. She was an All-Big Ten performer last season and has been an AVCA honorable mention All-American tech of the last two years. However, When Tyler Hildebrand returned to Lincoln, he and Coach John Cook saw more potential within Hames and Nebraska’s offense, and Hildebrand tweaked some things hoping to unlock it.
“Nicklin has just completely changed her game and she is chucking balls in from wherever to whoever,” Lauren Stivrins said after Nebraska’s first home match this season. “It started off kind of slow and a little bit rough, the previous practices and whatnot, but to see her get more comfortable doing that and for us to have that confidence and bond to be able to do that in games is something that’s so special. We were tryin to do that against Indiana and it wasn’t really working. There were a lot of misconnects but to see it come full-circle and for us to be able to execute in games is something really special and I think she’s going to be an amazing setter this year. I mean, she already is, but she’s taken it to a whole ‘nother level.”
Hames is leading the Big Ten in assists per set at 11.26, half an assist ahead of second place, the reigning Big Ten Setter of the Year in Wisconsin All-American Sydney Hilley.
One thing that hasn’t changed about Hames is the mention with which she plays on the court. However, she’s seeking new ways to impact the game and let that emotion show.
“I’m a smaller setter, so any time I get a kill or a block I get a little more exited, sometimes my tongue comes out a little
bit,” Hames said. “I just get excited. I wanted to be more of an offensive setter this year and actually be a threat at the net so they have to pay attention to me. That’s just another part of the offense that we’e trying to create where I’m a threat as well so it opens up a lot for our other hitters.”
Another thing that hasn’t changed is her passion for defense. Cook prefers for someone else to dig the ball because it allows the Huskers to stay in system, but Hames isn’t ever going to back off if she thinks she has a shot to get the ball up.
“I just have a mindset of if the ball comes in my area it’s not going to go down to the ground,” Hames said. “I just always try to play fearless on defense and it costs me sometimes, I get hit in the face. But that’s OK. I love defense. I think I’m maybe one of the only setters who really enjoys defense, but I love to do it.”
The hit to the face Hames referenced happened late in Nebraska’s sweep of No. 5 Minnesota back on Feb. 21 (the last time Nebraska has played). She took a shot to the face trying to dig a ball from Minnesota star Stephanie Samedy.
“I felt so bad,” said Stivrins, who was at the net when Samedy took her swing. “I knew she was going to hit there and I still let it get past me. I just kept saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ But she is a baller. Oh my goodness. That girl will put her body through hell if it means getting the ball up. She is just one of the grittiest teammates that I’ve ever had and I’m really happy that she’s on our side of the net.”
Hames is averaging a career-high 3.41 digs per set this season, which leads all Big Ten setters by far (she’s the only one over 3.0).
Hames was already a very good setter last season, but her goal this heading into this year was to become a new Nicklin, and based on her play so far, she’s done just that, rising out of the ashes of the extended offseason to post career numbers.
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.