Hames has assist record in her sights

Setter’s winding journey will soon have her in record books

By Lincoln Arneal

Nicklin Hames’ impending record-breaking performance for career assists will come Saturday night and will cap an improbable, winding journey. 

First, it took the first-ever exception by the NCAA because of the pandemic to grant her an extra year of eligibility. (Then again, the shifted and shortened season took away 10-12 matches during her junior season.) 

After she committed to a fifth season, Hames was committed to changing roles and playing as a defensive or serving specialist. That lasted less than two weeks as Hames moved back to setter and split time there while running a 6-2 system. However, her season was interrupted by a back injury that kept her out for a month. 

Yet through it all, Hames returned to the starting lineup last weekend and is now just nine assists behind Fiona Nepo, who owns Nebraska’s career mark with 4,824. Hames will have a chance to set the new record against Illinois, which hosts the third-ranked Huskers Saturday at 6 p.m. 

Nepo’s record came from her three seasons as a starter from 1996-98 when side-out scoring was used and teams played more rallies in a match. She averaged 1,595 assists per season and was named All-American three times after she sat on the bench behind another All-American, Christy Johnson. 

In fact, 12 setters earned All-American honors at Nebraska, including Hames in 2020. Soon her name will be at the top of the list for most assists. Her reliability and consistency have been her greatest assets in her career. Saturday’s match will be her 132nd. 

“Nicklin has been there in a lot of big matches and she’s very calm,” NU coach John Cook said. “She plays great defense and serves. She understands what we need to do, and she’s a veteran.”

To get to this point this season, Hames had to go through a gauntlet of three-a-day training sessions with strength coach Brian Kmitta to recover from a back injury she suffered during the Stanford match. 

She called those workouts grueling but received perspective from former teammate Lauren Stivrins, who had a back injury last year and missed the first part of the season. She also credited NU athletic trainer Jolene Emricson with helping her during her recovery. Cook said she’s looked strong in practice because of her work building her core muscles. 

After running a one-setter offense for her entire college career, Hames is warming up to the idea of a 6-2 system. In her time off, she said the attackers got more comfortable with having different setters on the court. In addition, Hames saw the Huskers’ trust and grit grow. 

The last time the fifth-year senior shared the court with another setter was her senior year of high school when she also was an attacker. The Huskers’ new system allows her to run the offense and use her elite defensive skills while taking her out of the front row. 

Hames doesn’t mind giving up her role as a front-row blocker as Nebraska has developed into one of the best blocking teams in the nation, averaging 2.84 stuffs per set, which is fifth in the nation. 

“I really enjoyed the 6-2, actually. It’s been fun just to see our offense kind of blossom with having all the attackers out there,” Hames said. “I’ve gotten comfortable with the fact that I’m going to be out for a little bit so I have to stay ready when I go back in.”

During her time away from the court, Hames also gained a new perspective on her setting, teammates and volleyball. She returned for the Huskers’ rivalry match against No. 14 Penn State on Oct. 14 and said she felt the energy and adrenaline during her first set back. 

“It felt so good to finally be back out there because I’ve been working towards it,” Hames said. “Sometimes, it felt like it wasn’t getting any better or I wasn’t making any progress. So to finally be able to step out there and to hear my name called and everyone cheering really loud, that was really cool and a really fulfilling moment because of what I’ve been through the last month.”

The Big Ten Season Starts Friday

All 14 Teams Will Be In Action

By Lincoln Arneal

After the nonconference season, the Big Ten Conference turns its attention inward as a 20-match marathon kicks off this week. 

Entering conference play, all 14 Big Ten teams are at least .500 or better. 

However, not all schedules are equal as Ohio State is .500 but has played seven of its eight matches against ranked opponents, including four matches against teams now in the Top 5. The Buckeyes set forth a challenging nonconference schedule and will play all eight regional finalists from a year ago to help them prepare for the Big Ten season.

“Looking back at the opening weekend of the Big Ten last year, we just weren’t ready,” OSU coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg said at Big Ten media days. “As (the schedule) all shook out, it got better and better and better. I said, All right, let’s go, and we’ll see what we’re about before we hit the Big Ten so that when we get to the Big Ten we’re ready to go.”

At the end of the year, the league has benefited from the grueling schedule come tournament time. A Big Ten team has advanced to the Final Four every year since 2006, including two teams in six of the past seven seasons.

Here is how the Big Ten teams stack up based on their performance entering conference play:

1. Nebraska (8-1, AVCA Poll, No. 3)

Best win: No. 13 Kentucky, 3-0, Sept. 18

Nebraska has tinkered a lot with its offensive system, but the Huskers still have the best defense in the league. They have wins over two ranked teams (three if you count the non-ranked Pepperdine team) but couldn’t get over the Stanford hump. Once they figure out who is playing setter or settle into a system, they could have a high ceiling. Getting more out of Kaitlyn Hord should unlock a more potent attack. 

2. Penn State (11-0, No. 9)

Best win: No. 11 Stanford, 3-2, Sept. 11

Under a new coach, the Nittany Lions haven’t shown any hiccups in the Katie Schumacher-Cawley era. They are one of six undefeated teams left in the NCAA. After getting through the first two weeks unscathed, PSU proved they are legit by knocking off a lethargic Stanford team and then surviving against No. 18 Oregon. They are buoyed by a pair of transfers, Zoe Weatherington (Utah) and Kashauna Williams (Long Beach State). 

3. Wisconsin (6-2, No. 6)

Best win: No. 14 Kentucky, 3-0, Sept. 9

If the Badgers don’t have to face the No. 16 ranked team in the country. They’ve lost to Baylor and Florida, who were both ranked No. 16 when they beat Wisconsin. They replaced a lot of players but have reloaded. Sarah Franklin (transfer from Michigan State) has been the best attacker, while they’ve run a two-setter system with Izzy Ashburn and MJ Hammill. Senior Danielle Hart is back after missing most of last year with an injury and is second in the nation with 1.81 blocks per set.

4. Ohio State (4-4, No. 7)

Best Win: No. 3 Louisville, 3-1, Sept. 4

The Buckeyes have been through a gauntlet to start the year. They started the season by losing twice to now-top-ranked Texas. They were also swept by now No. 4 San Diego and No.10 Pitt. OSU is the only team to beat Louisville so far, plus it has wins over BYU and Georgia Tech. We will learn how that will pay off in the Big Ten when they take on Nebraska on Saturday. 

5. Minnesota 5-3, No. 8

Best win: No. 13 Florida, 3-1, Sept. 4

The Gophers own three wins against rated teams, Florida, Oregon, and Baylor. They’ve suffered losses to Texas, Stanford, and Pepperdine, all on their home court. Out of eight matches, only one has ended in three sets, a sweep over TCU during the opening weekend. Taylor Landfair returned from an injury last year and is playing at an elite level. She’s second in the league with 4.35 kills per set. Perhaps it is a sign of their demanding schedule, but the Gophers rank in the bottom two of the Big Ten in all opponents’ statistics: kills, blocks, digs, assists and hitting percentage. 

6. Purdue (9-1, No. 11)

Best win: RV Utah, 3-2, Sept. 2

Eva Hudson has been a revelation for the Boilermakers. The freshman outside has already won three Big Ten freshman weekly awards. She leads the league with 4.85 kills and 5.51 points per set. She’s reached double-digit kills in every match and is hitting .323. Purdue could be good, but they’ve only played one top-notch team so far, losing to Louisville in straight sets. 

7. Northwestern (11-1, RV)

Best win: No. 24 Pepperdine, 3-0, Sept. 9

The Wildcats have played a fairly soft schedule but rose to the occasion and swept the Waves in one of their two matches against rated teams, losing to No. 13 Washington in four sets. Two other Northwestern players have won weekly awards, including setter Alexa Rousseau, the first NW setter award since 2013, and outside hitter Hanna Lesiak, the first player of the week award since 2015. In addition, Temi Thomas-Ailara is averaging 3.81 kills per set and was named the Big Ten player of the week as the Wildcats won the Chicago Cup last week.

8. Michigan (9-1, RV)

Best win:  RV Mississippi State, 3-1 Sept. 16

The Wolverines haven’t played any ranked teams and just three teams from major conferences. They lost in four sets to Duke but defeated Mississippi State and North Carolina. Jess Robinson is hitting a cool .534, tops in the nation, while Michigan leads the Big Ten with a .301 clip. Saturday’s match against Penn State might prove how much progress they’ve made.

9. Illinois (5-5, RV)

Best Win: Ole Miss, 3-1, Aug. 28

The Illini played a tough schedule with losses coming against Georgia Tech, Washington, and Marquette. However, Illinois stumbled against Illinois State and lost in five sets. Raina Terry has been a solid attacker, but the IIllini’s offense has been error-prone and has the second-worst hitting percentage in the league at .225.

10. Maryland (9-3)

Best win: Virginia, 3-0, Sept. 17

The Terrapins have played just four teams with winning records and lost three of those but fell in five sets twice. Rainelle Jones is doing Rainelle Jones things. After finishing No. 1 in the country in blocking last season, she is back on top with 1.83 blocks per set. While they lead the league in blocks and aces, they are last in kills and assists. 

11. Michigan State (9-2)

Best win: Louisiana, 3-2, Aug. 26

The Spartans won their first six matches of the season before hitting a stumbling block on Tobacco Road against North Carolina and Duke. MSU has eased into the Leah Johnson era as it has just two wins over teams with winning records. They’ve done it with defense, led by Texas transfer Nalani Iosia, leading the league with the fewest kills, assists and digs given up. 

12. Indiana 7-5

Best win: Texas A&M, 3-1, Sept. 16

The highlight of the Hoosiers nonconference might have been taking the first set off No. 21 Western Kentucky. Indiana knocked off Texas A&M in four sets before the Aggies upset WKU. Sophomore Mady Saris leads the team with 3.78 kills, the fifth best in the conference. 

13. Iowa (6-5)

Best win: Northern Iowa, 3-0, Sept. 17

The Hawkeyes also started over with a new coach this offseason and loaded their roster with transfers. Iowa has beat up on a soft schedule and has earned just two wins against teams with winning records this season. The offense isn’t overwhelming as no Hawkeye players average more than three kills per set. However, the defense has lots of opportunities.  Mari Hinkle leads the Big Ten with 4.76 digs per set. 

14. Rutgers (6-6)

Best win: The Citadel, 3-2, Aug. 27

Rutgers started strong by winning its first three matches (Fresno State, The Citadel and College of Charleston) to reach 3-0 for the first time since 1998. It didn’t get to four as it dropped the next match against Radford (now 4-8). After that, they pushed undefeated Towson to five sets, which No. 7 Pitt couldn’t even manage. It’s going to be another long season in East Rutherford, N.J. The good news is all home matches are free to attend.

Hames on the mend, possibly out for Kentucky

By Lincoln Arneal

Nebraska might be without Nicklin Hames this weekend.  

The senior setter left Tuesday’s match with an injury and NU coach John Cook said he didn’t know how long she would be out of action. However, based on his comments on his weekly radio show, Hames is unlikely to play in the Huskers’ match at No. 13 Kentucky at 2 p.m. on Sunday. 

“She’s out for right now,” Cook said. “So I don’t know. It’s one of those things. She just needs some rest. Time.”

After starting the season as a defensive specialist, Hames moved back to setting against Loyola Marymount earlier this month. She had started the previous five matches while the Huskers ran a two-setter offense. 

Against Stanford on Tuesday, Cook said he noticed Hames’ sets were getting lower and tighter as the match progressed. Finally, with the Huskers leading 20-18 in the third set, Hames told Cook that she was struggling to move and couldn’t continue. Sophomore Kennedi Orr entered the game and helped NU claim the set. She finished with eight sets in her first action in 10 days. 

Cook said he was impressed with Orr’s performance after standing around for almost two hours.

“She stepped up and really helped us when we needed it because we could have imploded right then or folded up,” Cook said. 

NU will rely on Orr and junior Anni Evans to run the offense with Hames unlikely to play. The Huskers work on both in practice because if they run out of subs in a set, they need to reverse to a 5-1. Cook said they could stick with the 6-2 or go back to a one-setter system depending on how practice goes. 

“If one setter can really separate and show that they can be a difference-maker and make all those hitters better, it’s better to always go with a one-setter offense,” Cook said. “If they are both a wash, then it’s better to go with a 6-2. We will see how practice goes tomorrow and the next day and decide. We can flip in and out of either one.”

BATENHORST ON THE MEND

Sophomore outside hitter Ally Batenhorts is getting closer to making a return, but Cook is still uncertain when she will be available. 

Batenhorst missed the Red-White scrimmage as a precaution with an abdominal injury. She then left NU’s match against Creighton after reaggravating it and didn’t play in the two subsequent matches. 

“She’s slowly coming back,” Cook said. “These soft tissue injuries (need) just rest. So it depends on how long it takes the body to heal, but she’s doing more and more every day.”

HORD HOMECOMING

 While Nebraska makes its first big road trip of the year this weekend, one Huskers player will be making a homecoming. 

Senior middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord will return to Lexington, Kentucky. Hord said she is excited to have some friendly faces in the crowd while playing in her hometown. 

Hord first learned Nebraska would be playing on the Wildcats’ home court while she took an official visit there earlier this year. Eventually, the former Penn State All-American committed to the Huskers in January. 

“Hopefully all my family comes. I mean, they better come,” she said. “Now they don’t have an excuse not to see me play. So I’m very excited to see some old friends.”

FIXING THE SERVE

On Tuesday, Stanford and Nebraska set a new low for serving futility. The teams combined for 37 errors, which set a Nebraska record for a match during the Cook era. Stanford’s 24 errors were a new high for an NU opponent during that time frame. 

Cook was not pleased with the showing, so the Huskers spent even more time working on serving. He calls their serving the most important drill they do every day in practice. He guided them through their pre-serve routine by verbalizing it to a teammate. Cook compared it to shooting a free throw or kicking a field goal and finding a way to develop consistency no matter the score.  

“It’s just trying to get them to trust their routine and trust what they’re doing,” Cook said. “Technically we worked on a couple of things today to help some of them out so they’d be more consistent. It’s a fine-tuning process because you’re just always living on the edge. If you serve too tough and it goes out or if you serve too easy, then you’re going to pay for it. 

LEAVING THE GOOD LIFE

Sunday’s match at Kentucky will be Nebraska’s first time leaving the state, but not its first away match. 

The Huskers’ only match outside the Devaney Center this year was in front of an NCAA-record crowd of 15,979 at the CHI Health Center. While it was officially a Creighton home game, most of the crowd was cheering for NU. 

Both teams enter the match following home losses. The Wildcats (5-3) are coming off a five-set setback to No. 3 Louisville, while Nebraska suffered its first loss of the season against Stanford on Tuesday. 

Because of the odd schedule of matches on Tuesday-Sunday, NU altered its regular practice schedule. The Huskers took off Wednesday before returning to the gym on Thursday to prep for their last nonconference game. 

“The ante goes up every week, and it goes up more this week,” Cook said. “(Kentucky) will be a great road test for us leading into the Big Ten. They’re a team that’s in the hunt right now.”

NU volleyball sweeps Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 3-0

By Lincoln Arneal

Bekka Allick’s Nebraska debut was legit. 

At least that’s the word the freshman middle blocker chose to describe her first career game.

Allick looked like a veteran as No. 1 Nebraska made quick work of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi with a 25-15, 25-16, 25-9 win Friday afternoon at the Devaney Center. 

Allick, who committed to Nebraska before her freshman year of high school, didn’t disappoint as she finished with seven kills on nine swings to go with five blocks in her debut. The Waverly graduate said she usually doesn’t get nervous before matches but admitted to a few jitters in her debut.

“I can’t explain to you the feeling once we come back out in our jerseys. Then it sinks in,” Allick said. “During warmups, I felt good, but I can say that this time I did actually get a little nervous. So I cracked just a little bit.”

Madi Kubik’s 11 kills paced the Huskers, who hit .388 as a team. While Kubik committed five hitting errors, the rest of the team committed just two on 51 attacks. Sophomore setter Kennedi Orr amassed 26 assists. 

NU’s block dominated the net and forced the Islanders to finish in the red for the match with a -.021 hitting percentage. Sophomore opposite Whitney Lauenstein and senior transfer Kaitlyn Hord recorded seven blocks each as the Huskers totaled 12 stuffs as a team. 

Cook said NU has a chance to be an exceptional blocking team this season. 

“We work really hard on it,” he said. “Look at Whitney, she does nice things and she’s really physical. Kaitlyn Hord has already proven herself. Madi’s proven herself. Lindsay Krause is a good blocker. Ally (Batenhorst) is a really good blocker. Kennedi upgraded us from where Nicklin (Hames) was blocking. The other question mark would be the middle blocker spot. Both Maggie (Mendelson) and Bekka for freshmen are really good blockers. So that should be a strength for us”

Behind the block, sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez anchored the defense with 12 digs, while Hames added eight. 

After a quiet first set with one kill on one swing, Lauenstein went off to start the second set. She recorded two blocks in a run of four straight NU roofs. Then she went off with two power swings that resulted in kills before capping a personal 3-0 run block and demolishing an overpass for another kill. 

Lauenstein, who is also a Waverly graduate, finished with eight kills at a .368 clip.

“It feels good (after the big kills), especially since when I turn around my teammates are all like, ‘Let’s go!’ So I feel super good,” Lauenstein said. 

The one area Cook wants NU to improve is serving. The Huskers committed 10 service errors compared to just five aces. Corpus Christi also struggled with nine serving miscues.

Cook said they needed to set Hord more as she had five kills on six swings. The Penn State transfer provides a lot of experience and doesn’t panic. 

“I would pay to watch her play,” he said. “I feel like the game is in slow motion for her. She’s just very smooth and I’d want her as a teammate if I was playing.”

Freshmen Maisie Boesiger and Hayden Kubik also made their NU debuts. Boesiger served a couple of points for NU in the third set and Kubik ended the match with her first career kill. 

Allick, who is Hayden’s roommate, was excited to see her end another match after she had the final point in the spring exhibition against Kansas. 

“Right before the play, I’m like, ‘All right, let’s get it roomy,’ with a little fist bump. It was just awesome to see your friends crush it. … Hayden strikes again. So I thought that was really cool.”

The Huskers are back in action Friday night against Tulsa and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. versus Pepperdine. 

After Two Matches Friday, It’s Hames vs. Hames On Saturday 

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.”

What We Learned From The Red-White Volleyball Scrimmage

By Lincoln Arneal

At the end of a long day, Nicklin Hames wasn’t quite done interacting with the fans.

Following a two-and-a-half-hour fan day autograph session in the morning and then a three-set intrasquad scrimmage, the fifth-year senior grabbed the microphone as fans filed toward the exit.

“Thank you so much for coming,” Hames said. “As you know, there is no place like Nebraska. We can’t wait to see you next week.”

The impromptu message followed a victory by Hames’ Red team 25-21, 25-15, 25-18 Saturday night in front of 7,946 fans at the Devaney Center.

NU coach John Cook said he struggled to put his thoughts into words after the day. All the fans he talked to during the first-ever fan day said the wait was worth it, no matter how long. He also enjoyed watching the student section jam along with the debut of the Red Kingdom song, and the crowd’s energy lifted the team.

“It’s hard to put into words because you never think you’re gonna pack a Red-White game,” Cook said. “I walked in today, and I was just blown away. … Today, people were fired up. They were into it, and it was loud down there. And so, you know, we’re just very thankful.”

Penn State transfer Kaitlyn Hord received one of the biggest cheers during the lineup introductions. She said it was a different vibe than she had ever experienced previously. While the senior has been in Devaney and dealt with a large crowd, she enjoyed having them on her side.

“It was nice to have them cheer for me this time, and it was very welcoming,” Hord said. “It was a very great experience.”

The results of the intrasquad scrimmage match aren’t that important, but it provides a glimpse into what the Huskers will look like when the season opens against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Friday morning.

Here are three things we learned from the scrimmage and three questions that remain:

WHAT WE LEARNED

THE ORR SHOW: Sophomore setter Kennedi Orr answered any questions about her ability to run an offense at a high level. She led the Red to a .311 hitting percentage with 35 assists.

She looked good mixing up tempo and putting her outside hitters in position to terminate the ball. Coming into the match, Cook said he didn’t know how she would play.

“That was a big worry for me – how confident she would be and how she would do. She hasn’t played in a long time,” he said. “So this will be a good match for her to build on.”

Orr said she loved how her teammates communicated on the court, and she got into the flow of the game after overcoming some early jitters.

“I think the biggest thing was just (proving) that I can run an offense instead of just being a setter – you can set the ball and put it in a good place,” Orr said. “I think I was trying to run an offense during that game. My teammates helped me out a lot and I think it worked out really well tonight.”

She wasn’t just dishing out the ball, Orr also put away three kills, including two via attacks on bump sets from libero Lexi Rodriguez. Orr said they’ve been working on that play and whenever she has first contact, she calls for the ball to come right back to her.

“I think at first it was more just kind of like a whim play that we don’t always do or we really don’t talk about, but she set me and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m gonna go up and hit it,'” Orr said.

NO NERVES: The freshmen came out swinging and didn’t show any nerves playing in their first match at the Devaney Center. Hayden Kubik and Maggie Mendelson each recorded four kills for the White team in the first set. White team libero Maisie Boesinger had two digs and served tough while recording an ace. Bekka Allick added two kills on three swings to go with two blocks for the Red team.

Cook said they’ve focused on remaining calm, not just at the beginning of matches but whenever adversity hits. He said the two biggest tactics are breathing and focusing on playing for the person next two you so you aren’t focused on yourself.

“We’ve been working hard on it when it happens in practice, trying to get them to work through that,” Cook said. “It’s just … like serving and passing.”

HAMES IS COMFORTABLE: After setting for four years, Hames adjusted well to her new role as a defensive specialist. She played the back row for sophomore opposite Whitney Launstein. Although she had just two digs, the super senior seemed comfortable in her new position.

“Nicklin looked pretty happy tonight. She was having fun,” Cook said. “I’ve been telling you guys she can be a great Libero and so if we can get two liberos on the court, that would be pretty cool.

REMAINING QUESTIONS

WHO IS IN THE MIDDLE?: All three middle blockers/hitters flashed moments of brilliance during the scrimmage. Hord finished with just four kills on 13 attacks but added nine blocks. Allick played the first two sets with the Red team before switching sides, while Mendelson did the opposite. Allick combined for six kills and two blocks, while Mendelson recorded seven kills and two blocks.

Cook said he plans to play all three when matches start next week.

“We’re gonna rotate them,” Cook said. “I’ve been telling them that I got confidence in all three of them. This week, on Friday, we play two matches and we’ll rotate them.”

While each of the middles found success with the slide attack, multiple times Orr mistimed their jumps making a full swing on the ball difficult. Cook said that is to be expected after just two weeks of practice, and he expects the timing to improve.

“It’s hard because with Kaitlyn, you almost got to set her higher than you think because she just jumps and keeps jumping and keeps going,” Cook said. “They see her there and then they go, ‘OK, there’s where I gotta set it,’ but you got to hang it for her. It’s just gonna take some time till they get that going.”

IS THE OUTSIDE ATTACK IMPROVED?: Well, we already knew that Madi Kubik is talented, but if the All-American outside hitter can terminate at a better efficiency it will unlock more potential for the Husker offense. She hit .202 last season after a career-best .220 in the spring 2021 season. In the scrimmage, the 6-foot-3 senior finished with a match-high 13 kills on a .385 hitting percentage.

She wasn’t the only outside hitting more efficiently. Sophomore Lindsay Krause, who mainly played right side last season while hitting .225, recorded 12 kills at a .407 clip. Also, Lauenstein came on strong with five of her nine kills coming in the third set.

While impressive, we don’t know if this was a one-match blip or if this improved attack is here to stay. If the Huskers can maintain better hitting from the outsides, their offense will be all the more potent.

“I’ve been on them so that’s a good start,” Cook said. “If you watch them, you’ll see how much they were moving the ball around. It wasn’t just the same shot over and over. It was mixing up shots, hitting high, inside, outside, tool, line, facing one way, hitting the other way. Those are all things we’ve been working on and when they’re feeling good, they do all that and that makes them hard to defend.”

WHERE DOES BATENHORST FIT?: Ally Batenhorst spent Saturday night wearing street clothes standing by the bench and didn’t play as she was dealing with an abdominal injury. After playing a pivotal role in the Huskers’ run in the 2021 NCAA tournament, the sophomore outside hitter will have to wait for her debut this season.

Cook said she was just sore and they didn’t want to risk it, and he hopes to have her back next weekend.

“It is a bummer because it would have been nice to have her out there,” Cook said. “We could have had six-on-six Huskers today. I can’t remember the last time that’s happened.”

A Complete Effort

Huskers Remain Undefeated in Kickoff Classic

Story by Shane G. Gilster

Some thought West Virginia and Nebraska should have played in the Orange Bowl for the national championship. Both were undefeated at 11-0, but a one-loss Florida State trumped the Mountaineers and went on to beat the Cornhuskers for the 1993 national championship.

A West Virginia/Nebraska matchup had to wait until the 1994 Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Mountaineers were ranked Nos. 23/24, while the Cornhuskers were again highly ranked, at Nos. 3/4.

Lawrence Phillips Mitchell Layton Getty Images Sport
Rush end Dwayne Harris was part of a formidable Husker starting defensive line that included Christian Peter, Terry Connealy and Donta Jones.

Before 58,233 fans and in temperatures close to 100 degrees by kickoff, Nebraska turned the game into a rout, leading 24-0 at halftime. Husker quarterback Tommie Frazier ran and passed for more than 100 yards and totaled four touchdowns in the 31-0 win.

The Nebraska defense, which had lost five of its 1993 starters to the NFL, pitched its first shutout in 20 games. It was preserved in the closing minutes by a Sedric Collins interception in the end zone.

“You’re always concerned when you lose people like we did on our side of the ball,” NU defensive coordinator Charlie McBride said. “We had a few breakdowns, but we didn’t have any defensive lapses where we just let people take the ball and ram it down our throats. That’s the thing that pleased me most.”

The Husker defense gave its offense numerous opportunities to put points on the board. The Cornhuskers had the ball for 18 of the game’s first 30 minutes and ran 48 plays.

Frazier, the game’s ABC Chevrolet MVP and the William J. Flynn MVP, had scoring runs of 25, 27 and 42 yards along with a 12-yard touchdown pass.

“They had a great defense,” Frazier said. “I guess they got fatigued or tired. Once their defense got tired, there was no way they were going to keep up with our offense. We mixed it up, we ran, we stayed with our game plan. Offensively, I can’t say how much better we are (than last year). We’ll have to wait four or five games down the road.”

NU coach Tom Osborne knew his quarterback could be the difference in the game.

“The big difference today was the quarterbacks. I’m proud of Tommie’s performance. He made some great plays and some not-so-great plays, but for the most part he played well,” Osborne said.

Game Program

Meanwhile, West Virginia’s quarterback play was abysmal. The Mountaineers had to replace their top two quarterbacks from the previous year. The new QBs, Chad Johnston and Eric Boykin, couldn’t handle Nebraska’s attacking defense, which got eight sacks.

“They didn’t have much of a chance,” West Virginia coach Don Nehlen said of his quarterbacks, who were a combined 6-of-19 passing for 81 yards and two interceptions.

Osborne concurred with Nehlen’s assessment. “We felt we showed them lots of pictures. Sometimes we blitzed, sometimes we showed blitz and other times we stayed back. I’m not saying their quarterbacks were bad, they just didn’t have much of a chance.”

The only bright spot for West Virginia was its punter, Todd Sauerbrun. He helped keep the game from becoming even more of a blowout by averaging 60 yards on nine kicks, including a 90-yarder in the first quarter.

“We got a lot of work to do on defense. We got a lot of work to do on offense. We got a lot of work to do everywhere,” Nehlen said.

Dwayne Harris was part of a dominant front line for the Huskers
Rush end Dwayne Harris was part of a formidable Husker starting defensive line that included Christian Peter, Terry Connealy and Donta Jones.

The Mountaineers’ strength was its running game, with Robert Walker returning from a 1,000-yard season. But Nebraska’s Blackshirt defense held Walker to 46 yards and gave up only eight net yards rushing overall in the game.

Meanwhile, Nebraska’s Lawrence Phillips made his first career start at I-back and had 126 yards on 24 carries. He reached the 100-yard mark on the first play of the second half. Phillip’s success was due to the way Frazier ran the offense.

“I guess Tommie could see they weren’t playing the option too well and every time we’d get to the end to turn upfield, there’d be nobody there. The corners were so wide open, the corners and the safeties were making all the tackles, and Tommie knew that,” Phillips said.

Husker linebacker Doug Colman, a native of Ventnor, New Jersey, had a great game playing in front of 106 friends and family. He made eight tackles and forced and recovered a fumble by Boykin that set up a score in the second quarter.

“We pretty much showed the nation Nebraska’s got a pretty good defense,” Colman said. “We have enough guys up front to blitz and enough guys in the secondary to cover the pass well. Everyone thinks of Nebraska as only having an option-type offense with big numbers. We not only can throw; we also have a defense.”

Defensive linemen Christian Peter and Grant Wistrom combined for four of Nebraska’s eight sacks. Those two along with Terry Connealy and rush ends Dwayne Harris and Donta Jones, gave the Huskers a formidable front line.

“To have a great football team, you need a great defense. The interior line of our defense should be better than it was last year,” Osborne said. “But it’s only one game, and you don’t want to be overly optimistic.”

The Husker defense set four Kickoff Classic records. Fewest total offensive yards by a team (89), fewest first downs by a team (nine), fewest rushing first downs by a team (three) and most punts by a team (nine).

The way the Blackshirt defense played to start the season boded well for a squad that started slow the previous year.

Tommie Frazier entered his name into the Heisman conversation after his perfromance
The Mountaineer defense was no match for Husker quarterback Tommie Frazier who scored on runs of 25, 27 and 42 yards and also threw a touchdown pass.

“I don’t think we started last season real well, but as the season went on, we started smoking,” said NU defensive coordinator McBride. “In the Orange Bowl, we played about as good as we can play. It’s just continuing now.”

“No one is talking big, but we think we have a good team, and we want to get back and play for the title,” said Zach Wiegert, NU’s 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive tackle. “We just want to be ranked high enough where, if we win all our games, we’ll have the opportunity to play for the title.”

Some of the Mountaineer players had nothing but praise for a Nebraska team that showed the nation that it is national championship caliber.

“They could be the No. 1 team in the country,” Johnston said of Nebraska. “We sure made them look like it today.”

“We lost to a team that’s capable of winning the national championship,” said West Virginia offensive lineman Tom Robsock. “They were a great team. I have to compliment coach Osborne for how well-prepared they were. I think man-for-man we could hang with them, but as far as taking care of the schemes, they were a little bit ahead of us at this point in the season.”

Nebraska, which took home a $500,000 payoff for playing, ran its Kickoff Classic record to 3-0, and is the only team with three appearances and three victories in the game. The Huskers beat Penn State in 1983 and Texas A&M in 1988. NU piled up a 98-20 scoring advantage in those three games.

The Huskers’ quarterback also won the MVP in each of those three games. In addition to Frazier, Steve Taylor won it in the 1988 game and Turner Gill earned it in 1983.

The Loyal Nebraskan

Former Husker Split End Todd Brown’s Dream Was to Play for NU

By Shane G. Gilster

Todd Brown
When Todd Brown showed up at Nebraska from Holdrege High School he weighed only 160 pounds but it didn’t take him long
to show his game was a lot bigger than his frame.

Although he caught only 65 passes in his career, a number that many top receivers catch in a season these days, former NU split end Todd Brown was one of the best receivers in Nebraska history.

He wasn’t the biggest (6-0, 175) but he had speed to burn.

“My inroad was my speed,” Brown said.

His 40 was blazing fast at around 4.36/4.38 handheld. “I was right in there with Irving Fryar… we were side by side when running.”

At the NFL Combine, Brown remembered, the only receiver faster was Olympic-level sprinter Willie Gault out of Tennessee.

As a high school track star at Holdrege High School, Brown ran the 100 meters and was a long- and triple-jumper. As a senior in 1978 he was a state champion in all three of those events, running the 100 in 10.8 and breaking the state record in the triple jump by four feet. His record of 50-2¼ stood until it was broken this year.

“Nebraska offered me a scholarship for track, but my heart was to play football for Nebraska. You can’t play football on a track scholarship,” Brown said. “So, I passed up a track scholarship and walked on the football team. The reason coach (Tom) Osborne didn’t give me a scholarship was because he didn’t know if I was fast enough. So, I ran the 100 meters in the spring of my senior year.”

After proving he had the speed and necessary athletic ability, Brown earned a scholarship in the second semester of his freshman season.

“I would have played even if they didn’t offer me one,” Brown said. “It was a huge dream for me to play for Nebraska. When you were a young man, the pinnacle of sports in our state was to represent the state. It was almost a patriotic thing, like going to the army or something. There was something that was compelling inside. It was representing my community; it was my representing my family, representing my God, to be a Husker. It was really important.

“I don’t know if young people feel that way anymore, but in my high school when I grew up, if you wore an Oklahoma shirt, you would get razzed all day long. It was like another country; you were flying a different flag. I was so loyal, not just me but our community and everybody I grew up with. If you felt like you had a shot to (play football at Nebraska), try it. That is certainly what I did.”

Brown was lucky as a freshman. Within the first week, he was one of five players on the team to redshirt in the new freshman redshirt ruling. Dave Rimington, Roger Craig and Jamie Williams were part of that group.

“So, I never played on the freshman team,” Brown said. “It was the best move strategically that could have happened to me. I came up there just wanting to make a name for myself. I was only 160 pounds, but was really fast. It (redshirt year) toughened me up and taught (me) to go full speed. I saw playing on the scout team as an honor, and if I could score touchdowns on the Blackshirts, I could start for Nebraska. If you ask the defensive coaches from back then, I raised a lot of havoc in their secondary as a freshman against the Blackshirts. I scored a lot of touchdowns and gave them a good look.”

For a Nebraska boy from a small town, it was more than just football. That became apparent to teammates who didn’t know what Husker football was all about.

Today, Brown is the CEO of Brown Church Development Group headquartered in Kearney.
Today, Brown is the CEO of Brown Church Development Group headquartered in Kearney.

“It was important to me, it was important to my community, and it was important to my family. These people from out of state got a sense of this being a bigger deal than your average college football,” Brown said. “I think it gave them a sense of pride for the state and a love for the people of this state, and ultimately it elevated everybody’s game. This isn’t just about me becoming an NFL football player. We didn’t worry about that.”

As a redshirt freshman in 1979, Brown bided his time on the depth chart. He did not have any receiving stats but learned from veteran receivers like Tim Smith. Then, as a sophomore in 1980, Brown won the job at split end and didn’t disappoint, having his best season as a Husker in catches (28), yards (416) and touchdowns (five).

Brown said the most memorable game of his career came in that 1980 season, in a home game against No. 16 Florida State. At the time the Seminoles were not the marquee program they are today. As Brown put it: “It was just another nonconference we’re-going-to-kill-’em kind of game.”

It didn’t turn out that way. Brown scored Nebraska’s only two touchdowns and played well, but third-ranked Nebraska lost in an upset, 18-14, in a game that gave Florida State national credibility.

NU had a chance to win at the end when they drove to the Seminole 3-yard line with just 12 seconds to play, but as quarterback Jeff Quinn rolled left, he was hit by an FSU linebacker and fumbled.

“If Jeff wouldn’t have gotten hit, I was wide open in the end zone,” Brown said. “I ran a simple out pattern and I had their defensive back’s number all game, and he took a fake to the inside and I spun him around. So I was standing wide open in the corner of the end zone as Jeff was getting hit and going down.”

At the end of the game Florida State coach Bobby Bowden sought out Brown and told him that he played a really good game.

Brown started again at split end in 1981 and 1982. Even though he didn’t catch as many passes as most receivers would have liked, for Brown, just winning mattered most.

“For me, I wasn’t there to catch balls, I was there to win football games. I was there to represent my state and to do whatever it takes to help the Huskers win,” Brown said.

When Brown caught the ball, it was a big play. He knew he was going to get only three or four balls a game, but that they were going to be big plays. He had several games in which he caught two touchdowns, despite catching a total of only three passes.

“It was a different way of thinking about a receiver. It was just as much fun to block and spring Mike Rozier or Roger Craig on a big run than it was for me to catch a pass. I was there for the team, not for myself,” Brown said.

Brown and the 1982 team suffered probably one of the most gut-wrenching losses in Nebraska history. It came in State College, Pennsylvania, against the eighth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions. Nebraska came in ranked No. 2, featuring probably the most talented offense of any Husker team ever. The offensive line had Outland and Lombardi Trophy winners Rimington and Dean Steinkuhler, tight end Williams, I-backs Rozier and Craig, quarterback Turner Gill and receivers Fryar and Brown.

“When we lost to Penn State out there because of those two bad calls, coach Osborne handled it like a man,” Brown said. “What he said at the end of the game was just a character builder. He said, ‘Guys, you want to win a national championship, you gotta play so much better than the other team that no one can take it away from you. So, no one say anything about the officiating, those guys don’t try and make bad calls, just don’t talk about it.’

“It was good for us to hear, because our hearts were broken. I felt we were as good a team Nebraska has ever put on the field.”

Not winning a national title didn’t define Brown’s playing career or his college experience.

“A national title would have been nice, but I got so much out of the game, the memories, the teaching, and the life experiences. Just playing for coach Osborne was enough.”

After Nebraska, Brown was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round but ended up playing Canadian football for six years before retiring.

The teaching, life experiences and lessons learned carried Brown into a rewarding profession.

“I was involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and became a Christian before I came to the University of Nebraska. That has been a driving force in my life,” Brown said. “I found a way to take my profession, or architecture and construction, and point it towards promoting the Gospel by designing and building churches across the United States.”

He is now the CEO of the company: Brown Church Development Group.

The company has projects coast to coast from California to Florida. They are one of the top companies in the country that builds churches and work mainly with Protestant, Baptist and independent Bible churches.

With his office in Kearney, the 62-year-old Brown enjoys life with his wife, Michele, on an acreage by Overton, an easy drive from his boyhood home of Holdrege. The couple has four children and eight grandchildren.

Two of his kids are twins. Micah played football at Kansas and experienced an Orange Bowl with the Jayhawks. Ashley was a Big 12 champion in the 100-meter hurdles at KU in the late 2000s. Another daughter, Justine, also graduated from KU. Son Isaac played football for Gill at Liberty University.

Brown was and always will be a perfect example of a Nebraska kid living out his dream. And he has nothing but high praise for how the NU football program enabled him to realize that dream.

“You knew that the Nebraska program developed you into a player that was competent and able to compete. It was more about the testimony of the Nebraska program than about something great about that individual. They turned willing kids into football players.”

Homegrown Huskers Show the Way

Nebraska Returns Its Top Seven Scorers From a Year Ago

By Nick Rubek • Photos by Nebraska Communications Office

Sarah Weber hates to dwell on the ones that got away.

Learning opportunities, the Nebraska sophomore calls them. And there were plenty of them during her first year of college soccer.

Soccer vs Wisconsin SB 5577
Sarah Weber learned much in her first season as a Husker, when she tallied six goals. She looks forward to putting her experience to good use as a sophomore.

“Looking back I’m glad I had last year under my belt,” Weber said, “but I know there were so many times I had a chance in front of goal and missed it. I learned a ton as a player.

“I was happy with last season … I wouldn’t say that I was content.”

They are lessons and driving forces that Weber hopes come in handy in her second crack at it.

The Gretna, Nebraska, native is part of a returning core for NU that includes the top seven scorers from a season ago.

Weber is also – very proudly, she added – one of five in that group who are playing for their home state Huskers.

“It’s a talented group,” Nebraska coach John Walker said of the native Nebraskans. “It’s kind of a fun, exciting group, too. A lot of them have grown up coming to games. They have preexisting relationships.”

Preexisting accomplishments, too. Both Weber and junior Reagan Raabe – last year’s leading scorer – led prep teams to Class A state championships and were players of the year in the state during their high school careers.

Walker, who started five or six in-state players in the spring, credited the development of the sport within Nebraska for a roster that is nearly half homegrown.

“A lot of them last year played big roles,” Walker said. “We kind of expect the same, and I think that’s exciting for them.”

Added Weber: “That just kind of shows that Nebraska can produce some really good athletes that can play at the Division I level.”

It won’t take long to find out exactly what level that is.

A challenging schedule features eight of 18 matches against teams that played in last year’s NCAA tournament. Seven of the eight won a game there.

Walker sees it as the kind of slate that NU needs.

“That’s traditionally what we’ve tried to do,” he said of a tough schedule. “They’re exciting games. The goal is to get back into the NCAA tournament and contend for the Big Ten title. And the only way you’re going to achieve those things is by testing yourselves.”

Nine of the Huskers’ first 10 are at home, including nonconference clashes with Oklahoma and Arizona, as well as matches against tourney qualifiers North Carolina State and USC.

There will certainly be road tests, too. Nebraska’s first three matches away from Hibner Stadium – at Saint Louis in early September and back-to-back trips to Michigan and Purdue early in Big Ten play – all come against sides that were part of the postseason mix a year ago.

“Super, super pumped,” Weber said of the high-profile matches. “Those are the types of games that are going to push you and show you what you’re made of. We don’t get caught up in the names of the teams, though. When you get into the game, it’s 11 v 11.”

Both Weber and Walker like their 11.

Reagan Rabbe, still just a junior, was one of two leading scorers for the Huskers in 2021 with seven goals.
Reagan Rabbe, still just a junior, was one of two leading scorers for the Huskers in 2021 with seven goals.

Raabe and fellow forward Eleanor Dale are both back. Each tallied seven goals a season ago, tops on the team.
Dale, a junior out of England, gives NU more than just stats, though.

“She brings a level of class and expertise,” Weber said. “Really adds to our attack. Just the way she talks about the game … she knows everything that’s going on.”

Weber, an All-Big Ten freshman team selection coming off of a six-goal campaign, was tied for third with 14 points. Sophomore Abbey Schwarz, an Omaha Roncalli graduate, had a team-leading eight assists to go with three goals.

Gwen Lane and Haley Peterson – a pair of Lincoln products – are back, too. The two finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in points a year ago.

“This spring, our energy at practice was there,” Weber said. “We’re here to get better. I think we’re doing all of the little things that we need to focus on.”

It’s those details that Walker said will make the difference in close matches this season. He points specifically to one-score losses to Michigan and Rutgers a year ago for proof.

In a 3-2 loss against a Michigan side that reached the regional, Nebraska had a 21-10 advantage in shots. That came just two weeks after the Huskers went toe-to-toe with national semifinalist Rutgers, eventually losing 1-0.

“Gave some of the best teams in the country a tough time,” Walker said. “That’s how tight it is. Those results need to turn into wins.”

And what’s the formula for that success?

“There’s no exact science to it,” Walker said. “Can you improve and be a bit more consistent? Game management. Handling the demands. Having the confidence that you’re good enough.”

School’s Back In Session

Can Fred Hoiberg’s Bigger and Longer Team Pass the Big Ten Test?

Opinion • By Jacob Bigelow

The fall semester officially begins Aug. 22, but for Nebraska basketball, the entire summer has felt like the first day of school.

CE5A7161
Derrick Walker, who had to do the dirty work under the basket last season at only 6-foot-9, will have help this season with the arrival of 6-11 Blaise Keita.

There are new faces and new ideas. There’s been some get-to-know-you activities. There are new assistant coaches, including one, Ernie Zeigler, who officially came aboard just eight days before the start of classes. There are super seniors who feel like they have been in school forever. And there are hotshot freshmen and newcomers still finding their way.

And most of all, there is a sense of giddiness. Is this the group that will finally bring home a pleasing report card with passing grades?

There are lots of first-day-of-school metaphors. The coach is a basketball professor who can lecture X’s and O’s for hours on end. He’s in constant search of players who can navigate his curriculum. The syllabus is a schedule that could see as many as seven high major opponents in the nonconference before the meatgrinder of a 20-game Big Ten slate.

There are questions to answer. There will be tests early and often.

And following the restructuring of coach Fred Hoiberg’s contract, I don’t think Athletic Director Trev Alberts will be grading on a curve.

Over the summer, the media spoke to a handful of players, a mix of old and new faces – it’s not a total overhaul as in recent years. The only coach we heard from was Hoiberg, who spoke highly of his roster.

The headlining off-season addition is Lincoln East product and North Dakota State graduate transfer Sam Griesel, who grew up idolizing the Huskers and will spend his super senior season looking to turn the tide for his hometown team.

The 6-foot-6 guard had surgery in the spring to repair the labrum in his hip. Once healthy, look for him to become the face of the program when the season starts.

Another player recovering from surgery is sophomore forward Wilhelm Breidenbach, whose season-ending knee injury 10 games into his freshman season affected Nebraska’s depth. Doctors repaired Briedenbach’s ACL that was injured in December as well as his meniscus which the 6-10 forward believes he injured as far back as his senior season of high school in California.

NUCU106
Versatile Wilhelm Breidenbach, a 6-foot-10 sophomore forward who missed most of his freshman season with a knee injury, should fit in well with Nebraska’s bigger, more defensive-minded rotation.

Also returning is big man Derrick Walker, who not only will get a third senior night at Nebraska but may very well be the biggest fan favorite of the Hoiberg Era by the time his Husker career is done. The head coach himself already waxes poetic about the 6-9 Walker, who has been at Nebraska for Hoiberg’s entire stay.

“He’s going to go down as one of my all-time favorites,” Hoiberg said.

And this could be Walker’s breakout year. He’ll have legitimate post depth around him in 6-11 JUCO transfer Blaise Keita, a touted recruit. Together, they could be a handful for Big Ten opponents who liked to feast on Nebraska’s lack of size and rebounding.

While the recruiting class going into last season centered around the first five-star recruit in program history and a purported cast of 3-point shooters who fit into Hoiberg’s pace and space offense, the new roster centers on length and versatility. Expect it to be much better defensively.

The roster won’t be overmatched in size at any position. There are also experienced transfers aside from Griesel, including 6-4 SMU grad transfer Emmanuel Bandoumel and 6-6 Alabama transfer Juwan Gary.

Both have been described as “energy” guys who were fan favorites on their previous teams. Their stats don’t jump off the page, but Hoiberg has spoken highly of both.

“I have not been around many guys like Emmanuel, just such a great character kid that is all about the right things,” Hoiberg said. “He’s all about the team. You talked about the energy-givers, the energy-takers; he’s an energy-giver.

“Juwan Gary is going to be somebody that I think our fans will fall in love with right away because of just his tenacity of going to get the ball,” Hoiberg said. “We’re changing our offensive rebounding philosophy, and we’re going to get after it.”

Hoiberg has emphasized a change in philosophy to go along with how he’s constructed the roster. It’s a long, aggressive lineup with an emphasis on defense and rebounding – two things that have lacked on previous Hoiberg teams.

But who will score?

A slimmed-down C.J. Wilcher is a proven shooter, and freshmen Ramel Lloyd Jr. and Jamarques Lawrence likely will both be in contention for playing time.

Lloyd is another long and versatile guard who is no stranger to high pressure hoops, having played at California prep powerhouse Sierra Canyon. Lawrence is a sharpshooter from New Jersey whose jumpshot has already received lots of praise from his head coach.

Young guards Denim Dawson (6-6) and Quaran McPherson (6-3) fit the new mold, and with real size down low, who knows what might open up for Keisei Tominaga.

Hoiberg made critical staff changes. He parted ways with two of his closest coaching confidants in Matt Abdelmassih and Doc Sadler, who both contributed to his success all the way back to Iowa State.

New assistant Adam Howard has a defensive-minded background and has been working with post players since arriving in Lincoln. Nate Loenser, who was with Hoiberg at Iowa State and the Chicago Bulls, came aboard in April of 2021. And now there is Zeigler, the former Mississippi State assistant who replaces Armon Gates. Zeigler has been with big-time programs as an assistant with Ben Howland, following him from Pittsburgh to UCLA in the early 2000s and then reuniting with him at Mississippi State where he’s been the past seven years. He also was head coach at Central Michigan from 2006 to 2012.

To bring this back to my comparison to the first day of school, I’ll finish with a first-day-of-school icebreaker: Two truths and a lie for Nebraska basketball.

Option 1: Fred Hoiberg likes his roster.

Option 2: Fred Hoiberg is willing to adjust his philosophy.

Option 3: We all know exactly what to expect from this team.

It shouldn’t be hard to ace that test.