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Padding the Stats: Nebraska Alums Star in Volleyball Nations League
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Padding the Stats: Nebraska Alums Star in Volleyball Nations League

May 31, 2019

The Nebraska volleyball season is still a few months away, but if you’re jonesing for a volleyball fix, get to Pinnacle Bank Arena next week.

The Volleyball Nations League is coming to Lincoln for the second straight year and the Husker fans who attend will see some familiar faces on the court. When Karch Kiraly announced the initial 25-player pool — including three former Huskers — for the VNL, I expected we’d see all three suiting up for the Lincoln stop of the international league.

Mikaela Foecke made her Team USA debut a couple of weeks ago during the first pod of games, helping the team to a 3-0 record. For this week’s matches, Foecke was left off the roster as she has some other business to take care of — she’s getting married on Saturday (congrats to the happy couple). 

Kiraly chose to field a young roster for the first two weeks, giving some of the newcomers to the program a chance to show him what they could do while veterans like former Huskers Jordan Larson and Kelsey Robinson waited their turn.

When the roster for next week’s matches in Lincoln was announced on Thursday night, however, my expectation proved to be correct as all three former Nebraska standouts were on it.

Here’s the full roster:

Setters (2): Carli Lloyd, Jordyn Poulter

Liberos (2): Megan Courtney, Mary Lake

Middles (4): Tori Dixon, Lauren Gibbemeyer, Chiaka Ogbogu, Dana Rettke

Outsides (4): Mikaela Foecke, Madi Kingdon Rishel, Jordan Larson, Kelsey Robinson

Opposites (2): Annie Drews, Jordan Thompson

After using the same roster for the first two weeks (minus Foecke for week two) Kiraly shook things up for week three. Larson and Robinson replace Sarah Wilhite Parsons and Simone Lee at outside hitter, Carli Lloyd takes Micha Hancock’s place at setter and Tori Dixon and Lauren Gibbermeyer step in for Haleigh Washington and Hannah Tapp.

Each of the players Kiraly added to the lineup for week three has at least five years of experience with the national team with Larson leading the way in that regard. There’s still a fair bit of youth on the team as well — Foecke, Wisconsin’s Dana Rettke who still has another year of college eligibility and Jordyn Poulter, who just wrapped up a standout career at Illinois, to name a few.

The last time three Huskers suited up for the women’s national team was in 2016 when Kayla Banwarth — now an assistant coach on John Cook’s staff — was playing alongside Larson and Robinson. Seeing the past and future of Husker volleyball on the world stage would have to be a pretty cool opportunity for Nebraska fans, I’d imagine.

Minnesota and Penn State each had four players make the 25-player roster pool while Nebraska’s was right behind them with three as well as two more — Justine Wong-Orantes and Kadie Rolfzen — that just missed out on the cut-down from 30 to 25. That speaks to the strength of not only Nebraska’s program under Cook, but to the Big Ten as a whole. Seventeen of the 25 players on the roster played for schools that are currently in the Big Ten conference. 

As for Foecke, her volleyball career nearly came to an end when Stanford scored match-point in the national championship. She applied for and got into graduate school at Iowa State where she planned to study to become a veterinarian. However, the lure of a chance to keep playing volleyball eventually convinced Foecke to put her further academic pursuits on hold, at least for now. If Kiraly has his way, it seems, it will be a while before she starts up her schooling again.

She got a week off for her wedding, but as soon as the weekend comes to a close Kiraly expects her to be back with the team for Monday’s practice. He eased her into the lineup as a serving sub in the first match of the VNL, then started her in the second and third matches. Foecke has a powerful swing along with a nasty serve, and her defense improved each year in college. Her name is all over the Nebraska record books, and now she’ll get the chance to follow in other Husker greats’ footsteps with the national team.

As for Larson and Robinson, Husker fans should enjoy watching them as much as possible as hey might not get too many more chances. This year’s VNL may not be the official passing of the torch from one generation to the next, but it certainly feels like Kiraly is using it to prepare for that day, whenever it may come. Hopefully for Husker fans, Foecke will be there to receive the torch from Larson whenever she does decide to call it a career.

In the meantime, the youth on the roster finally caught up to the team this week as the U.S. went 2-1, dropping a five-set match to the Dominican Republic on Thursday. That moves USA into a four-way tie atop the standings as No. 12 Turkey, No. 8 Italy and No. 26 Poland are all sitting at 5-1 through two weeks of play.

The third-ranked United States will face No. 9 Korea on Tuesday, No. 15 Germany on Wednesday and No. 4 Brazil on Thursday. All three matches are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be purchased here.

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