Texas transfer Lexi Sun finally made her Nebraska debut during the Husker Invite, the last tournament of the preseason for the Huskers.
Sun started and played all six rotations in Nebraska’s wins over New Mexico and Missouri State. Against the Lobos, she showed a bit of rustiness but still tied for the team lead with 13 kills. She followed it up with nine kills in the sweep over the Bears. She hit .356 in the two matches.
“I think she was pretty nervous the first night, which happens in the Devaney, but she was much more relaxed the second night and I think she wasn’t worried about so much,” Coach John Cook said. “I thought she did great and she looked really comfortable out there. My whole thing with her was trust what we’ve been training her to do and she stayed with it and did a really good job.”
Sun sat out the first eight matches of the season while recovering from an injury that she had when she arrived at Nebraska, meaning last weekend was the first time Cook has really gotten to see her in live action. He came away impressed.
“I’ve only seen her for a little bit in practice but watching her play the last two matches, you can tell she is a very experienced player,” Coach John Cook said. “She sees the block very well, she knows what’s going on up there, she mixes everything up.”
The 6-foot-2 outside hitter and No. 1 recruit in the 2017 class according to PrepVolleyball.com was an AVCA All-America honorable mention as a freshman for the Longhorns, putting up 3.27 kills per set. However, seeking to round out her game to become more than just a hitter, she sought out a fresh start and found it in Lincoln.
“I think Lexi wants to be great,” Cook said. “I think she’s on a mission to become a great player. Maybe up until now, she’s been told how great she is. I think now, deep down, she wants to become great and she’s going to work really hard.”
Rather than easing her into the lineup as a front-row player only, which is how he had used freshman Capri Davis and sophomore Sami Slaughter in the second outside hitter role while Sun was rehabbing, Cook threw her right into the fire and had her play all the way around in both matches. That’s what she came to Nebraska to do.
“I want her to be a six-rotation player so we’ve got to invest in that,” Cook said. “I told her as long as she’s trusting her technique, then we’re going to be good. That’s what we’re trying to get instilled in her instead of reverting back, and she did a great job.”
Cook said Sun possesses all of the physical traits needed to be an effective six-rotation player.
“She’s quick, she gets up, she’s got a really fast arm and she sees really well,” Cook said. “You can see her flying around in the back row; she made some great ups Saturday night. Maybe Megan [Miller] can makes those; nobody else on our team, I think, can go get balls like that, so she can move.”
The Huskers played with two six-rotation players last season with Annika Albrecht and Mikaela Foecke. Now that Sun is in the picture, the Huskers can play that way once again and it provides Cook with more flexibility in terms of how the Huskers attack and how he uses substitutions.
“What I like about this lineup is we’ve got two outside hitters playing six rotations which allows us to develop a back-row attack … That’s the beauty of that, and then it allows us to use that double-sub a couple of times as opposed to just once,” Cook said. “There’s a lot of flexibility it gives us when you have hitters going around and it also creates more of a rhythm on the side of the net instead of having subs come in and out all the time and different players next to you.”
Cook also said Sun posted the highest serving numbers on the team last weekend. In addition to the tangible things she brings to the lineup, Sun has also provided an intangible boost to the Huskers.
“Lexi brings tons of positivity to our team,” senior setter Brooke Smith said. “She always has a smile on her face, she’s always laughing and I think she brings a lot of that energy but I think she brings a lot of consistency as well. She’s somebody we can definitely look to on the court — I don’t want to use her last name as a pun — but look to be that light on the floor. I just think she does radiate positivity but she can also get up there and bang and she’s pretty consistent. She’s definitely somebody we need and somebody we’re excited for.”
Sun said sitting out the first eight matches was not easy, but Cook said their plan was to be cautious with her all along “to make sure she has a great foundation to be able to continue to play week after week.”
“I know that I just needed to take my time and not rush into things,” Sun said after her first match. “So I trusted the process and everything that we had to go through to get to where we are today and I think that the coaches and the trainers and everyone did a really good job of getting me to be where I needed to be when I stepped back on the court. It’s been a process and obviously I’ve been super-antsy, but I’m so happy that it was tonight.”
The Huskers will continue to be cautious with her, but Cook said she hasn’t run into any roadblocks this week in practice after seeing her first action in a real match.
“She went full-go today, so we’ll see how she is tomorrow,” Cook said after practice on Wednesday, which just happened to be Suns’s 20th birthday. “She did her first what we call bro dig drill today; that’s a tough drill. She’s done trash can. So she’s gradually getting thrown into the heavy duty work load that we require.”
Sun passed her first test as a Husker with flying colors. Now, it’s time to up the ante, as Cook is fond of saying. The Big Ten begins on Friday with a showdown against No. 18 Michigan, and the Wolverines are tied with the Huskers for first in the country in opponent hitting percentage. Kills will not come easy for Sun against the Wolverines, but regardless of what kind of numbers she puts up this weekend, Sun has already made an impact in her short time in the lineup and her presence has significantly raised the team’s ceiling.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. 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.