Saturday’s Red/White Scrimmage provided Nebraska volleyball fans with their first opportunity to see the 2018 Huskers and a standing-room crowd of nearly 8,000 took advantage. Those that made it out were treated to a glimpse of the past, present and future of Husker volleyball.
The Red team beat the White 2-1, but the result was the least important thing that came out of the match.
First of all, fans got a blast from the recent past as former Nebraska all-Americans Kadie and Amber Rolfzen suited up for the Huskers for the first time since graduating in 2016. The twins had been in town and practicing with the team all summer, so in need of some players to fill out the White team roster, Coach John Cook asked them to play.
“I think that was a great opportunity, especially for the fans to get to see them since they’re playing overseas,” senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke said. “For them to get to come back and play in front of Husker Nation I think was great. I’m sure they had fun; I mean, who wouldn’t?”
The evening wrapped up with a showing of NET’s documentary “Nebraska Volleyball: Culture of a Champion,” a look back at the 2017 season and that team’s journey to a national championship.
However, all eyes were on the next wave of Huskers on Saturday, and they did not disappoint.
“I’ve been excited about this freshman class for a long time,” Cook said about his five-player freshman class during the team’s preseason media day.
I highlighted setter Nicklin Hames and outside hitter Capri Davis in my recap on Saturday, but it’s worth emphasizing again just how impressive Hames was, especially in comparison to the other setters. Cook mentioned how much of an adjustment Czech Republic native Mari Kurkova was facing, and she struggled to find a connection with the Rolfzen twins (12 kills and 14 errors between them, and all those errors weren’t on them), while senior Brooke Smith played behind Kurkova in the scrimmage.
Hames still has a long way to go before she has the Nebraska offense humming like Cook wants, but I think it’s pretty safe to say at this point that she will be the starting setter next Friday against Florida.
As for Davis, she’s less of a sure bet for immediate playing time as she’s in a battle for the second outside hitter spot behind Foecke along with sophomores Sami Slaughter and Lexi Sun. Cook gave Slaughter the nod for the Red team on Saturday and she finished with six kills on 19 swings and four digs. Sun, who has been limited in practice as she recovers from a back injury, did not play in the scrimmage.
“It’s kind of a day-to-day and we’re taking it very conservatively,” Cook said about Sun’s status. “We don’t have a timetable. It’s just each day she’s doing more and more and it’s just how fast we can progress that.”
Regardless, Davis gave the fans a glimpse of the talent that made her a top 25 recruit for PrepVolleyball.com.
“I felt like for me, it was a chance to prove myself because I’m a freshman still,” Davis said. “There are a lot of people above me that I feel like I’m competing against. I feel like it was just a really big opportunity.”
Another freshman standout was 6-foot-5 middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach. She finished with five kills on nine swings and five blocks.
“I thought Callie did exactly what she’s been doing in practice,” Cook said. “She probably had pretty good stats, hit .333, she had five blocks; you just kind of don’t notice her, but you look at her stats… Every day in practice we stat her like, ‘Oh, is Callie there today? Oh, she has pretty nice stats here.’ When she figures it out, look out.”
With Schwarzenbach and sophomore Lauren Stivrins, the Huskers should have a very talented, if young, pair of middle blockers.
Defensive specialists Megan Miller and Chan Abramovich, the last two freshmen, each had moments as well for the Red and White teams, respectively.
All in all, the scrimmage was more than just a practice; with 8,000 fans in the stands, it gave the freshmen a chance to experience what the Devaney Center is going to look and feel like next weekend when Florida and Oregon come to town.
“I know a lot of the freshmen and I haven’t played in front of a group of people over 50 so it was a really big difference, but after a couple serves I know that I got a lot more comfortable and the girls helped a lot with that too, making us feel part of the team” Schwarzenbach said.
The freshmen weren’t the only ones who impressed Cook. The first individual he praised without a specific prompt was sophomore defensive specialist Hayley Densberger. As a freshman, she saw the court in a serving specialist role and played a little back row defense, but on Saturday Cook gave her the libero jersey for the White team. She finished with eight digs, an ace and just one serve receive error, the same numbers that senior captain Kenzie Maloney posted at libero for the Red team.
“I thought Hayley Densberger really impressed tonight,” Cook said. “I thought she did an outstanding job over there. We served her a lot of balls because we wanted to test her, and I thought she competed really well.
After the scrimmage, Cook grabbed a microphone and addressed the crowd, thanking the 7,965 strong for showing up and creating a great atmosphere. He also told them that this year’s team is going to be a lot of fun to follow and support. Cook expanded on what he meant by that in his post-match press conference.
“There are so many unknowns and I think there are going to be some new stars that emerge and it’s going to be wild,” Cook said. “They’re young, so there are going to be a lot of wild matches that are going to be entertaining, and we also play a lot of good matches. I just think it’s going to be fun, exciting, edge-of-your-seat, hang on, but we’ve got a team that’s going to compete really hard. I just think our fans are going to love it.”
Between the experienced stars, the sophomore breakout candidates and the talented freshmen, the 2018 Nebraska volleyball team certainly has the pieces to put together a memorable season.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.