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Padding the Stats: The Governor is Coming Home

June 14, 2023

Tuesday was a big day for Nebraska volleyball as the Huskers officially welcomed legendary pin hitter Jordan Larson back into the fold as a full-time assistant coach.

After a decorated college career in Lincoln, the Hooper native’s volleyball journey has taken her all over the world, and in September it will bring her back where it began.

“I’ve come a long way since college and I’ve tried to make a lot of changes and learn and grow,” Larson said. “And now to give back to a place that really has meant so much to me, it’s really come full circle. It’s really cool.”

I can’t pretend to know what kind of coach Larson is going to be — her résumé currently includes three short stints as a volunteer assistant (at Texas, Midland and Elkhorn North) and nothing else. However, John Cook has a pretty good eye for coaching talent (see basically any branch of his coaching tree), and he’s wanted Larson on his staff for some time.

Larson acknowledged she’ll be facing a steep learning curve, but as one of the best American volleyball players of all time who has competed at the highest level, she has a lot to offer the Huskers.

She’s the Governor. Larson has been the captain and face of Team USA for half a decade and led the U.S. to its first Olympic Gold Medal at the 2021 Tokyo Games. Before that, she was a three-time All-American and a national champion at Nebraska with 1,600 career kills, 1,410 digs and 186 aces. She’s an icon in the volleyball world.

And now the current Huskers will have access to her and her wealth of knowledge and experience on a daily basis.

Larson got the chance to spend some time around the program last season while she was training to head back to Italy, so she’s already gotten a head start on forging relationships with some of the players she’ll now be coaching directly.

“The girls are awesome,” Larson said. “It’s funny because some of my Italian teammates are their age, so I have experience of playing with girls that are their age … So I think I have a little bit better understanding on how to connect. I wouldn’t say I’m great, but I think just being able to start those conversations and kind of create a pretty good relationship and know that I’m here to help and I want the best for them and I know what it’s like to be in their shoes. So just giving grace when it’s needed but also holding a standard as well.”

I’m sure the whole team was excited by the announcement, but Larson’s presence will hold special meaning for one Husker in particular: junior outside hitter Lindsay Krause. The Papillion native didn’t waste any time after the announcement sharing her excitement on Twitter.

Larson is arguably the best American outside hitter of all-time, and she’s a homegrown Husker. No doubt her name came up during the course of Krause’s recruitment. Now, instead of simply trying to be like her, Krause — along with the rest of the pins — will have the chance to learn from her.

The one-on-one instruction will have to wait, however. Larson won’t arrive in Lincoln to join the program until late September. Even so, she’s not waiting until then to begin her coaching duties.

“With video nowadays, like Volleymetrics, you can do wonders,” Larson said. “You can screen share, you can FaceTime, and I think also too, my side of it where I think I can add maybe more value is more mindset stuff. I feel like understanding, talking about tactics even now in the offseason. How are they going to put in the work now, even culturally, working on team dynamics and having those conversations now? Because if you put in the work now, it pays off in the fall. 

“So I think it’s just more about having those conversations, building those relationships. I’ve been watching video now with them in Brazil and making tweaks here and there on certain things … For me, it’s more about mindset and tactics and how we can be really aggressive and go out to win, not play to lose kind of thing.”

Larson said she felt more comfortable leading by example early on, but as she’s progressed through her career she’s found her voice and become more willing to speak up when she has something to say. It’s going to be a little different speaking up when she’s working alongside her college coach in Cook, however.

“I think with anything, any new thing you encounter, there’s always going to be an adjustment period,” Larson said. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot, I hope, since my freshman year in college; maybe he might say differently. But I think that I have learned, obviously going to new clubs and things like that and kind of really observing first and foremost, so coming in and kind of taking notes on what’s happening, not really speaking a lot to start and knowing where I can add value and maybe where things that I should speak on or not. 

“So just really kind of getting a lay of the land first, and then really understanding kind of where, first of all, where he sees my role and what he feels I can add, because ultimately he’s going to have that decision. But then also where maybe I feel like I can add a little bit more in certain areas. So I’m kind of excited to see what that looks like. For sure there’s going to be some trial and error as we go with anything but hopefully there’s going to be more growth.”

Larson’s addition makes an already star-studded coaching staff even more impressive. Jaylen Reyes has emerged as one of the top recruiters in the country in addition to being Cook’s lead assistant with plenty of on-court responsibilities during matches and practices. Kelly Hunter is one of the best setters in program history who is heading into her fifth year of coaching (one as a graduate assistant and two as a volunteer assistant before earning a promotion to full-time assistant last year). Nicklin Hames was one of the best defensive setters in the country over the past five years and now begins her coaching career as a graduate assistant. And of course, Cook is still running the show.

The best part is that with such a talented staff already in place and Hames pitching in, Cook can afford for Larson to miss part of the season and to learn on the job once she arrives. As Larson herself said, this opportunity couldn’t have come around at a better time, and the flexibility Cook will allow her is the key to making it work.

The Governor is home (or at least, she will be in a few months), and Nebraska fans have one more thing to be excited about this fall.

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