By Lincoln Arneal
Usually players and coaches talk about taking it one match at a time and not looking past anyone.
However, forgive Nicklin Hames if she is a little more excited for Nebraska’s match on Saturday, the Huskers’ third of the weekend.
Hames, a fifth-year senior, will face off against her sister, Kayleigh and Pepperdine this weekend as part of the Ameritas Players Challenge. The Huskers open with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Friday at 11 a.m. and then face Tulsa later that day at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s so special just to be able to see her and play against her,” Hames said of Kayleigh. “We don’t get to see each other the whole year, basically. So just to have one year where all my family can be here and watch both of us. That’s huge, and I’m really excited about it.”
Pepperdine was originally scheduled to come to Lincoln in 2020 before COVID-19 shut the season down and Nebraska played a Big Ten-only schedule when play resumed in the spring.
This year’s matchup between the Hames sisters will look quite different than if they met two years ago. After running Nebraska’s offense for four years, Hames changed positions to defensive specialist. Kayleigh also switched to the back row after playing outside hitter for most of the past three seasons.
Nicklin said her parents and younger brother, Eli, will be in the stands as will a lot of their extended family.
“We have a huge family so they are all coming into town,” Nicklin said.
Last year for doubleheaders
Friday’s double dip will likely be the last time Nebraska plays twice on the same day in program history. NU coach John Cook isn’t a fan of two matches as it eliminates recovery.
Earlier this year, the NCAA changed the scheduling rules to allow teams to schedule 32 match days. Currently, schools can only play 28, which causes them to double up to get more matches during the preseason.
“A lot of these teams want to play three matches (in one weekend), so the only way to get them to come here is to do that,” Cook said.
With the compressed schedule, the Huskers plan to play a lot of players, which will help provide opportunities for position battles. Cook said he would rotate between freshmen middle blockers Bekka Allick and Maggie Mendelson.
The outside hitters should get ample opportunities this weekend. Sophomore Ally Batenhorst missed the Red-White scrimmage with an abdominal injury but is expected to play during the weekend. Batenhorst is battling with Lindsay Krause on the left pin. Meanwhile, Whitney Lauenstein is trying to establish herself at Krause’s position last year on the right pin. Freshman Hayden Kubik also looked solid during the scrimmage and could get a chance to play against outside competition.
Madi Kubik said the challenge will be fighting through adversity because they will make mistakes as they figure out how to play together and build “ultimate trust.”
“We’re probably going to be ironing out kinks, changing up lineups, so (it’s important to) just lean on each other, trust each other and try to find a way to get kills and win sets and matches,” Kubik said.
When the weekend is over, the Huskers will have played three matches in 36 hours, which they won’t have to do the rest of the season.
“Hopefully, we’ve trained and they’re in good enough shape that they can handle that,” Cook said. “It’s like a two-a-day, but there’s more to it because you have to warm up, you play the match, you cool down and you play another match. And when they go four or five games. I mean, it’s a long day.”
Trio named captains
When the Huskers returned to their locker room Monday, three were greeted by plaques on their lockers indicating they were elected captains for the season.
Kubik, a senior outside hitter, Kenzie Knuckles and sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez were chosen by their teammates. Knuckles served as a captain last year.
Kubik said she was honored by the title and excited to do it alongside Knuckles, with whom she entered the program more than three years ago.
“It’s really special because it’s very challenging to be a leader at this program. They have a lot of responsibility,” she said. “I’m just really excited for that challenge. And I’m excited to do it with Kenzie and Lexi because they’re awesome and great leaders and they bring a lot of great things to our team.”
Last week, Rodriguez said one of her goals was to take command of the back row more. She was elected captain of the U21 junior national team at the Pan Am Cup and said that experience helped her grow and develop her leadership skills.
Hames previously served as captain for the past three seasons but is more than happy to step aside to have other players take on the leadership role, especially her “Little Lexi.”
“Those three ladies are amazing and I voted for all of them,” Hames said. “I’m just super happy for them. They’ve worked super hard this summer and just to be able to watch them grow into leaders has been a really cool experience.”