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No Timeline for Lauren Stivrins’ Return to Play, But Huskers Happy to Have Her Back

August 09, 2021

The biggest question hanging over the Nebraska volleyball program this summer was the status of All-American middle blocker Lauren Stivrins.

Nebraska’s other three seniors — Lexi Sun, Jazz Sweet and Hayley Densberger — made their decisions within a month of the season’s end. Stivrins’s situation was different, however. The delay wasn’t a result of indecision, but rather uncertainty.

The back injury that limited Stivrins during the NCAA Tournament required surgery with an undetermined recovery timeline. The volleyball season returning to the fall created a quick turnaround and less time to get healthy, making Stivrins’ decision even more difficult.

Ultimately, she decided continuing to rehab at Nebraska with the hope of playing at some point this season was the right move, which she announced on Friday.

“I’ve been talking a lot with my sports psych about just going through my options and kind of figuring out what’s the best route for me and she was like ‘Well, I think it’d be best if you make a decision before the season starts so that way your teammates have clarity and your coaches and everyone else, and you yourself can be at peace with the situation and kind of go from there,’” Stivrins said. “I just kind of spent that time, these past two weeks and honestly since I’ve been back reflecting and trying to decide what’s best for me and I think it was me staying here for another year.”

The Red-White Scrimmage is set for Aug. 21 with the season-opener to follow on Aug, 27. Stivrins certainly won’t be ready by then, and the Huskers really have no timetable for when she will be back. They’re going to be cautious.

“With an injury like that, so far she’s doing really, really well,” Coach John Cook said. “I think that’s why she announced that she really wants to come back and is on a mission. I think all summer she’s been really uncertain. Her rehab’s going well but she still hasn’t played volleyball or been on the court. There’s really no timetable. Those things are hard to predict. It’s not like you get a sprained ankle where you’re back in a week, or you break thumb and you’re out two weeks or whatever. This is a slow progression back and we don’t want to push it.”

It’s not simply about getting fully healthy for Stivrins. She also needs to regain the strength that she lost while she was unable to work out.

“They’re not going to put me on the court until I’m strong again and I only just started this past week using weights again, and they’re only like 5, 10 pounds,” Stivrins said. “But it’s still something. Until I can get my body back to full strength, we’re not going to jump right in because then this is going to happen all over again.”

In 2018 after she transferred from Texas, Sun had to deal with a back injury that cost her most of the nonconference schedule. Stivrins said she’s leaned on her friend for advice and encouragement as she’s going through her own back issues.

“Actually, she was the reason I went and said something to my trainer because usually if we have little nagging stuff we don’t really talk too much about that; we just kind of tough it out,” Stivrins said. “But when she said she was experiencing the same things, the same pains and sensations that I was, I was like ‘Oh man, I might have actually done something bad.’ So I actually said something the next day after we had that talk and then we got an MRI literally the next day and found out what was wrong.

“It was crazy, but it is nice to have someone like that who’s gone through it all and is also your closest friend on the team just supporting you throughout the whole process.”

Stivrins also used “crazy” to describe the fan interest in and response to her decision.

“It’s madness, obviously, but it’s kind of what I expected being a Nebraska volleyball player,” Stivrins said. “There are so many fans and so many people here to support you. Regardless if I were to stay or go, I feel like they would have had the same reaction and same support. Just to have everyone get so excited made me even more excited as well.”

Regardless of how many matches Stivrins plays this season, her presence alone will make a difference for the Huskers. On a team featuring six true freshmen — a few of whom might have a chance to play right away — the two-year captain’s leadership leadership will be invaluable.

“She’s a natural born leader,” Cook said. “We did some leadership stuff with the team this summer and Lauren is always off the charts in how they view her as a leader. So she’ll find a way to lead. She did last year when she wasn’t playing at the end. But she’ll really be an impactful leader if she can get back on the court. She kind of talked to me about ‘I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have a leadership role,’ because there are so many uncertainties for her, but I just said ‘Lauren, you’re going to be a leader whether you want to or not.’ It’s just who she is and goes with the game for her with what she’s done and how the girls view her. I anticipate she will have a major role in that.”

Stivrins said that she had that conversation with Cook even before the back situation happened, saying she didn’t want to be a captain if she chose to use her extra season of eligibility.

“It’s not because I don’t enjoy that role and don’t appreciate everything that goes into it, it’s just that I shouldn’t be here any more and it should be someone else’s team, someone else’s turn to step up,” Stivrins said. “I’m still going to be a leader, I’m still going to voice my opinions and try to help out where I can, but it’s definitely time for someone else to step up and for me to be here to help someone else.

“I know I had a lot of growing pains when I first started as a captain and I didn’t realize how much work that was going to be and how stressful it actually is. So if I can be here and kind of help them through that and just help the team in any way I can, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Whether she carries the captain title or not, regardless of how many matches she ends up playing, Lauren Stivrins’ return is a big deal for a Nebraska volleyball team with big goals.

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