By Lincoln Arneal
One year ago, Nebraska looked poised to have one of the best middle blocker combinations in the nation in super seniors Kayla Caffey and Kaitlyn Hord.
But just before fall camp, Caffey announced she was transferring to Texas. Hord led the nation with 1.61 blocks per set but never got on the same page with the setters. She averaged 1.4 kills per set on a .297 hitting percentage, both of which were the lowest of her career.
With one starting spot open, Bekka Allick seized the opportunity early in the season and looked the part. She more than held her own and earned All-Big Ten second-team honors and was also on the all-league freshman team.
Now the Huskers are in full youth mode. Allick returns as a sophomore, while the other two middle blockers on the roster are a freshman and a sophomore.
Who is back: Bekka Allick, 6-foot-4, sophomore; Maggie Mendelson, 6-5, sophomore.
Who is gone: Kaitlyn Hord, 6-4, exhausted eligibility.
Who is new: Andi Jackson, 6-3, No. 6 overall prospect according to PrepVolleyball.com.
A year ago, Allick started the first match of the season and injected energy and power into the lineup. She has a big personality and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She’s likely a future captain and should be a four-year starter. She can do it all on the court, terminating with authority and putting up a big block.
It will be interesting to see if she elevates her game even more with the addition of her brother, Josiah, to Nebraska’s men’s basketball team. She has talked about how big of an influence her brother has been on her competitive spirit and how inspiring he can be. Having him around more could push her to a new level.
Mendelson balanced a demanding workload in what should have been her high school senior year. She played with the Under 19 U.S. Volleyball Team last summer and also worked out with the Husker basketball team. After the volleyball season, she averaged 2.0 points and 2.2 rebounds over 22 games.
She started three matches a year ago and typically saw limited time playing right side filling in for Allick. Mendelson appeared more comfortable jumping off one foot to attack on the slide, which is quite similar to a basketball move.
Jackson is the newcomer of the group and oozes potential. Her club coach was Christina Houghtelling Hudson, and the former NU All-American gave NU coach John Cook an early heads up to get in early and land the Colorado native. She was a latecomer in the prospect rankings but finished No. 6 overall. She burst onto the scene and stood out for the U19 team at the Pan Am Games and the Under Armour All-America game.
At 6-3, Jackson is the shortest of the trio, but she can jump out of the gym. Her leaping ability allows her to hit over blocks and create new angles. Even though she has to refine some skills, Jackson showed during the spring match it might be challenging to keep her off the court. She changes the game’s dynamic with her ability to cover ground and close down mistakes with her athleticism.
The hope for the position is that better setting will give more termination chances. The two-setter system didn’t allow NU’s middle to get into much of a rhythm last season. Kennedi Orr or Bergen Reilly will have time to build rapport with the middle and unlock their attacking, benefiting all of the Huskers’ hitters.
The other unknown is whether any of them will serve during the match. NU typically has the libero serve for one of the middle blockers, but the other served. Allick amassed a team-high 51 service errors last year, with just 10 aces. However, with the Huskers running a 5-1 offense, they should have more substitutions for serving specialists.
Next week: Setters.