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Padding the Stats: No Matter the Sport
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Padding the Stats: No Matter the Sport, Excitement is High for the Huskers

August 23, 2019

On Saturday at 6 p.m., my fifth season covering Nebraska athletics will begin with the volleyball Red-White Scrimmage.

There’s always a certain level of excitement that comes with the beginning of a brand new season, but this year it does feel a little bit different. Optimism throughout my beats seems to be at an all-time high.

I’ll start with volleyball, voted No. 2 in the AVCA Preseason Poll. Nebraska is the bluest of blue bloods in the sport, but the run John Cook’s program is on right now is on another level. In the four years since I started covering the team, the Huskers have four National Semifinals appearances, two national titles and one runner-up finish.

That’s a high bar to clear for the 2019 iteration of the Nebraska volleyball team, especially after losing a pair of All-Americans in Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney, but Lauren Stivrins isn’t expecting any drop-off.

The more I listen to her speak about the team, the more confident I grow in this team’s ability to make it back to the Final Four. 

“I’ve never been on a team that works as hard as these girls,” Stivrins said back at the beginning of preseason practices. “I know we’ve said that in the past, but this year it’s different. Everyone is just so driven and so motivated and we want to play well for the person next to us. Even in lifting we go in there and it’s like a competition with the person next to you, like ‘Oh, you just lifted that? Well, I can do that too.’ Everyone is just trying to get that much better every single day and so it’s really cool to see.”

Nebraska returned five starters from the national runner-up and has added two top-40 recruits to that lineup, and based on what Cook and Stivrins said on Thursday, the B team has been giving the starters all they can handle and then some in practice.

The Huskers still have a lot to prove; Foecke and Maloney will not be easy to replace. But all indications point to this freshman class being special and Nebraska’s got an incredibly strong supporting cast returning with potential breakout stars in co-captains Stivrins and setter Nicklin Hames. Though Cook has coached more than his fair share of All-Americans, Nebraska’s success over this last stretch has not been predicated on individual talent but rather on the strength of its overall team play. Serving, passing and defense are the cornerstones of Cook’s program and that won’t change in 2019.

This team might go though some growing pains early on, but I get the feeling it’s going to be a lot of fun to cover.

While the volleyball team is at the pinnacle of its sport, the football team is much further down the mountain, just beginning its climb. But there’s a different kind of excitement in seeing the start of what could be a precipitous rise.

The Year 2 comparisons to Scott Frost’s Central Florida teams have been written and talked about ad nauseam, and now it’s finally time to see it play out on the field. What kind of an encore does Adrian Martinez have in store following his record-setting freshman season? How do the Huskers replace the 1,000-yard men in Stanley Morgan Jr. and Devine Ozigbo? Can the front seven control the line of scrimmage and get to the quarterback?

Because of what I’ve seen in Lincoln over the past few years, I’ve avoided going out on a limb with my record prediction and went with the least exciting projection possible: 8-4 during the regular season (and even that record would match the team’s win total from the past two seasons combined). But the potential for more is certainly there.

Nebraska could very easily find itself in the race for a division title and that adds even more excitement. The Big Ten West looks as deep and competitive as it has ever been; there could legitimately be six good teams in the division (sorry Illinois; still love your beard though, Lovie).

As excited as I am for the volleyball and football seasons to arrive, nothing compares to basketball in my world and while the basketball season is still a couple of months away, I’m already fired up to see what the new-look Huskers look like under Fred Hoiberg.

I fell in love with basketball by watching the Seven-Seconds-or-Less Phoenix Suns in the mid-2000s. My idea of fun basketball includes up-tempo, free-flowing offense predicted on skill and ball movement. After four years covering the program under Tim Miles, I’m looking forward to seeing a completely different brand of basketball that lines up more with what I like to watch.

I love good point guard play more than anything else, and the new staff believes they have a star in Salt Lake Community College transfer Cam Mack who was one of the best distributors in junior college last season. I’m looking forward to seeing Dachon Burke Jr. unleashed after a redshirt year spent working on his game. I could keep running through the roster but I think you get the point.

There’s a new brand of basketball in Lincoln, and I think it’s one Nebraska fans are going to enjoy.

This year is shaping up to be the most exciting year in Nebraska athletics since I started covering the program, and I can’t wait for it to get started. 

I’ll see you at the Devaney Center on Saturday.

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