Lauenstein Embracing Her Role As Numbers Jump

By Lincoln Arneal

Meet Whitney Lauenstein, the Assassin. 

It’s not the real Whitney, just her on-court alter ego. However, opposing defenses and hitters should beware of her new intention to kill every ball and smother every attack. 

Nebraska’s sophomore opposite hitter developed the new identity this offseason to help put her in the needed mindset to become one of the Huskers’ most lethal attackers. So far, the results are impressive. In 2021, Lauenstein totaled just 62 kills in 67 sets. After three sweeps this season, she is halfway to that total and averaging 3.44 kills per set with a .353 hitting percentage. On defense, she has 13 blocks after recording 21 all of last season.

“I have to be really calm and quiet and just go up and kill it and block it,” the 6-foot-2 Lauenstein said of her on-court persona. “I embrace it. I like it. I think it gives me a role on the team. I think that really feels good, because last year, I didn’t know my role as much.”

The next challenge for Lauenstein and the Huskers (3-0) will come on Thursday night when NU hosts Loyola Marymount at 6 p.m. at the Devaney Center.

Lauenstein has always been blessed athletically. She came to NU after winning an all-class gold medal in the 300 hurdles as a senior at Waverly. Now, she’s grown more comfortable as a volleyball player. 

NU coach John Cook said he’s noticed the leap from Lauenstein. He said the next step is for her to have the confidence to take over matches and make big swings in crucial moments.

“She’s very quick. She flies. She’s fast off the floor. She has a very fast arm. Those are a lot of things you can’t coach or develop,” Cook said. “She has those and we can refine them, but yeah, she’s got some talent there to work with.”

On top of her physical tools, Lauenstein has worked to develop her mental approach. She uses a meditation app to help her focus on breathing and remain calm in tense moments. 

Also, she’s finally embraced her position as an opposite hitter. After playing middle blocker and outside hitter in high school, Lauenstein switched to the right side as a freshman, where she competed with Lindsay Krause.

“I was in denial for a long time,” she said. “I played outside my whole life. I didn’t want to switch it up in college. I feel like I finally peaked and didn’t want to switch up and then have to start all the way at the bottom again. This summer, I was like, ‘Okay, right side, let’s go.'”

Part of Lauenstein’s evolution is to not just rely on her power, which is usually quite effective. She’s mixed in hitting shots off blocks, tipping the ball and off-speed shots to keep the defense guessing. She said she’s learned to react to what is in front of her rather than just swinging away. 

On Saturday, Pepperdine held set point in the opener following a hitting error by Lauenstein. However, setter Kennedi Orr went right back to Lauenstein, and she read the defense and hit a roll shot to the middle of the court that tied the set that the Huskers eventually won. 

Orr said while Lauenstein plays with a lot of energy, it is contained and used positively.

“She has a lot of composure, and she doesn’t let her emotions get the best of her,” Orr said. “That’s so much growth for her and that’s such a special characteristic to have in a teammate.”

Cook said he thinks Lauenstein is on a mission this year. She’s put in the time to improve and was named the program’s co-lifter of the year on Friday. 

When asked what her mission is, Lauenstein said she wants to be on the floor for the season’s final match and not have to watch another team celebrate. 

“Last year, I just got to watch all my teammates and how we played in the national championship, and I just don’t really want that to happen again,” she said. “I want us to see happy faces after winning it and holding the trophy and like wearing the hats and the confetti falling on us.”

HUSKERS FALL ONE SPOT — Despite finishing the opening weekend with three sweeps, Nebraska fell to No. 2 in this week’s AVCA coaches poll. Texas won six of seven sets against No. 8 Ohio State to move up one spot.

The Huskers increased their point total by 14 to 1552, but it wasn’t enough to hold off the Longhorns. NU lost one first-place vote, while Texas collected the first-place votes from Wisconsin (12) and Louisville. 

“Texas went and had two great wins at Ohio State. So they deserve it,” Cook said. “They proved it. We played some good teams, but Pepperdine was not ranked in the top 10 so I’m assuming that’s it. But hey, great, let them have it.”

The Badgers, which lost to Baylor in Fort Worth, fell to No. 6. Louisville, Minnesota and Georgia Tech rounded out the Top 5.

The biggest climbers were Baylor, which went from No. 16 to 9, and San Diego, which jumped 10 spots after defeating then-No. 6 Pitt. UCLA, which lost to Utah State, fell 11 spots to No. 23, while fellow Pac-12 member Washington split a series at Arkansas and dropped six spots to No. 14. 

BACK TO WORK — Nebraska was back at work Monday gearing up for its second week. Cook said the team had plenty to work on and dubbed the day “Fix-It Day.” 

“Footwork, positioning, where we start in our serve receive patterns, blocking technique. You want me to keep going?” Cook said before continuing. “Defensive positioning, being in the right spots, they got a big lecture about serving yesterday. That was a few of the things.”

Cook brought up serving as one area of focus this week. The Huskers are last in the Big Ten with just nine aces in nine sets, compared to 25 service errors, which was the fourth most of any team in the league.

“Serving is the one time it’s you and the ball,” he said. “You don’t need a setter or you don’t need anything else. It’s just you and the ball. So you have to have the mindset that you’re going back to create a point for your team.”

PASSING GRADE — After starting two matches this season, Orr said she would grade herself out at a B. 

She said she was a little nervous in the first match against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, but settled down and found a rhythm. Even though she played in two matches as a freshman, Orr considered last weekend her first true outing as a Husker. 

Cook said he wants more even play from Orr as NU enters the second week of matches. While Orr averaged almost nine assists per set, NU’s offense struggled for stretches, especially against the Pepperdine block. 

“(Consistency) would look like every set is the same. It’s consistent tempo and consistent location,” he said. “For a setter, she was a little inconsistent this past weekend.”

Husker Volleyball Pick Up Their Third Sweep

By Lincoln Arneal

After Nebraska scored the first five points of the match against Pepperdine Saturday night, it appeared like the top-ranked Huskers were going to have another easy early-season match. 

Even though Nebraska swept the Waves, the Huskers (3-0) looked disconnected on offense and sometimes struggled to terminate. NU hit .120 against Pepperdine but relied on a stingy defense and timely kills to remain perfect on the season with a 26-24, 25-19, 25-22 victory in front of 8,066 fans at the Devaney Center.

Coach John Cook said he tried to prepare his team for a more physical Pepperdine lineup that would force close games. 

“We’re trying to win two-point games. There was our first shot, and we found a way to do it,” Cook said. “There’s a lot of new players out there that haven’t been in that situation and they made plays. That’s what we got to get better at.”

After posting hitting percentages of .388 and .318 during the first two matches, the Huskers never found a rhythm against Pepperdine. The Waves recorded 12 blocks, including six in the first set, and also served tough, which caused issues with NU’s attack. 

Senior outside hitter Madi Kubik led the way with 11 kills but committed seven errors. Sophomore Lindsay Krause added nine kills and four errors. Sophomore Whitney Launestein posted the top attack percentage at .238 with eight kills. 

“They have some good servers. I think our passers had to settle in a little bit,” Kubik said. “We had to get in a groove and get (setter Kennedi Orr) in a groove. They had more physical blockers than we had seen this weekend. We just had a little bit of an adjustment period to that.”

Meanwhile, NU’s defense did its job. The Huskers recorded 10 blocks, including six by Ameritas Players Challenge MVP Kaitlyn Hord. Orr added five and Bekka Allick tallied four. 

The Huskers faced their first big deficit of the season in the first set with Pepperdine leading 22-20 after scoring five straight points. Kills by Krause and Kubik tied the match up.  The Waves had a chance to claim the set before Lauenstein delivered a big kill. Two Pepperdine hitting errors closed out the set. 

The Waves (2-1) led 12-8 in the third set, but the Huskers cranked up the pressure and forced miscues. During an 11-4 run, the Waves were blocked twice, had five  hitting errors and missed two serves. Kubik and Hord had the only kills during the streak. 

“This match was a little bit tougher and matches like these help us to grow our resilience muscle,” Kubik said. “We played in some tight sets and being able to find a way in big points is what we need to get good going into the Big Ten.  This match was really good for us and our young team..”

After not playing the first set, Rachel Ahrens paced the Pepperdine offense with nine kills on 25 swings, but she also had nine errors. For the match, the Waves had 28 kills and 27 errors. 

Super senior Nicklin Hames led the defense with 12 digs, while libero Lexi Rodriguez added 11. 

Cook credited Kenzie Knuckles with setting the tone for the match. The senior defensive specialist recorded five digs and served 14 points, including the final two of the first set.

“Kenzie Knuckles would have been our MVP tonight,” Cook said. “Just her energy, her mindset, her passing, digging and serving, really, I think was the difference tonight.”

The match was an emotional night for Hames as she shared the court with her sister, Pepperdine defensive specialist Kayleigh Hames, for the first time since the Tennessee state championship match five years ago. They hugged before the match and talked a little bit before warmups. 

Nicklin said she had eight or nine family members in the crowd, many of whom wore navy blue for the Waves.

The public address announcer put a little extra energy into Kayleigh’s introduction before the match, which also drew a loud response from the crowd. 

Nicklin said she got a little emotional in what she called a “surreal moment.” She appreciated the opportunity to play against her sister in their last seasons of college volleyball.

“It makes me tear up a little bit now,” Hames said after the match. “This place is just so special to me and for them to cheer for her like that, it was really cool. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment and I think it’ll probably still bring tears to my eyes every time I think about it.”

All-Tournament Team: MVP: MB Kaitlyn Hord, NU. OH Whitney Lauenstein, NU. OH Madi Kubik, NU. L Lexi Rodriguez, NU. S Isabel Zelaya, Pepperdine. OH Kayley Cassaday, Tulsa. L Carissa Barnes, TAMU-CC.

Huskers Take The ‘L’ in Ireland As Northwestern Grinds out 528 Yards Of Offense

By Steve Beideck

Find a new starting quarterback, bring two dozen new players into the program, make sweeping changes to the offensive coaching staff.

All those things happened in the offseason, but none of the moves made a difference in the second half Saturday as Nebraska squandered a pair of 11-point leads before dropping a 31-28 decision to Northwestern in the 2022 football season opener for both teams.

The result wasn’t all on an offense that gained just 84 yards in 23 plays the final 6:41 – drives that ended with four punts and two interceptions. Or that tight end Travis Vokolek left the game in the second half with an injury.

It also wasn’t just on the defense, which did a nice job stopping ball carriers around the line of scrimmage. It was in the back seven where receivers and runners got free after catching one of the 27 passes Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski completed.

After scoring 28 points in the first 35-plus minutes of the game played at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, the Nebraska offense crumbled, and the defense continued to miss tackles as the Wildcats shredded the Blackshirts for 528 total yards.

That total includes 313 yards from a program not known as a pass-oriented offense.

Nebraska racked up 465 yards of offense, including 355 through the air by QB Casey Thompson. That total obliterated the school record of 238 set by Tanner Lee against Arkansas State in 2017 for the most passing yards by a Nebraska quarterback in their Huskers debut.

There also was Anthony Grant, who rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. He accounted for all but nine of Nebraska’s total rushing yards.

Sadly, those won’t be the numbers most people reflect on as preparations begin Monday for Nebraska’s Sept. 3 home opener against North Dakota and the other 10 games on the regular season schedule.

Instead it will be numbers like these that will stick in the craw of Nebraska fans, players, coaches and administrators as they evaluate how a game like this could seemingly slip away after so much early game success:

•       Northwestern possessed the ball for 34:14 and ran 12 more plays than the Huskers (85-73)

•       Wildcats quarterback Ryan Hilinski was 20-of-23 passing at halftime (87%) and finished the game 27-of-38 (71.1%) for 313 yards while toying with the Nebraska secondary

•       This was Nebraska’s seventh consecutive loss by nine points or less, and 10th loss in 11 games, dating back to the 2021 season.

•       Worst of all, Nebraska committed three turnovers, compared to one for Northwestern.

Nebraska seemed to be poised for a victory after taking a 28-17 lead less than six minutes into the third quarter. Instead of kicking the ball deep, the Huskers attempted an onside kick after locking down the game’s momentum with that TD run by Grant following Northwestern’s lone turnover.

The Wildcats took advantage of Nebraska’s head-scratching decision and went 44 yards in five plays to get those seven points back, never again surrendering the momentum.

“Any time something doesn’t work, you want it back,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “We’ve been talking to the kids about being aggressive and attacking this thing for weeks. We got a look that was good for it, and I made the call, so it’s on me.

“At that point in the game, I thought all the momentum was on our side. I felt at that point we had a really good chance of winning the game. You can’t really foresee them scoring 14 points and us sputtering after we played well to start the second half on offense.”

Northwestern rallied in the battle of teams that went 3-9 and 1-8 in Big Ten play in 2021. The setback was Nebraska’s 10th loss – all by nine points or less – in the past 11 games. The lone win in that stretch? A 56-7 victory over Northwestern on Oct. 2, 2021.

Nebraska (0-1)…7 7 14 0 – 28

Northwestern (1-0)…3 14 14 7 – 31

At Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland

Neb-Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda 32 pass from Casey Thompson (Timmy Bleekrode kick)

No-Adam Stage 35 FG

Neb-Thompson 1 run (Bleekrode kick)

No-Raymond Niro 43 pass from Ryan Hilinski (Stage kick)

No-Donny Navarro 6 pass from Hilinski (Stage kick)

Neb-Anthony Grant 3 run (Bleekrode kick)

Neb-Grant 46 run (Bleekrode kick)

No-Cam Porter 3 run (Stage kick)

No-Evan Hull 4 run (Stage kick)

NU sweeps two in one day;  Next up: Pepperdine

By Lincoln Arneal

Nebraska changed half of its lineup for its second match of the day and the results were nearly identical. 

Junior setter Anni Evans, sophomore outside hitter Ally Batenhorst and freshman middle blocker Maggie Mendelson replaced Kennedi Orr, Lindsay Krause and Bekka Allick, respectively, in the starting lineup and the top-ranked Huskers swept Tulsa 25-15, 25-12, 25-13 Friday evening.

NU coach John Cook said he doesn’t think he’s ever before swapped out half of a starting lineup during the same tournament.

“I had a lot of confidence that those guys would play smoothly, and they did a nice job,” he said. “It was fun to watch.”

Evans saw extensive time in two matches last season, but she split time with Orr in both. Against the Golden Hurricanes, the Waverly graduate had complete control of the offense. 

The attackers hardly missed a beat as the Huskers finished with a .318 hitting percentage. Sophomore opposite Whitney Lauenstein was one of the biggest beneficiaries. She finished with 15 kills at a .429 clip with her former high school teammate calling the shots. 

Evans said Cook told her that she would start on Wednesday and she was prepared to set the entire match. Afterward, she said she felt good about her performance. 

“We’ve got a lot of reps in practice and my hitters make my job so easy,” she said. “Honestly, I just go out there and trust my teammates.”

Evans finished with her first career double-double with 36 assists and 10 digs. She had reached double figures in any category only once before with 12 assists against Kansas State last year. Her previous career high for digs was five against Iowa in 2021. 

Senior outside hitter Madi Kubik also lit up the offense with 14 kills and a .414 hitting percentage. Senior middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord had eight kills on 13 swings, while Batenhorst added seven kills. 

Mendleson struggled early on and recorded her first career kill in the second set. Her defense was solid with four blocks, including one solo stuff. 

Cook said he was glad to see the 17-year-old stick with it even with a bit of adversity. 

“I just asked her, ‘What’s the most nervous you’ve ever been in your life?’ She’s played a lot of big stuff. She goes, ‘You just saw it,’” Cook said. “Which is great, you know? I could tell, but you can see she gets after it. Nothing bothers her. She comes right back if she makes an error.”

The Huskers totaled nine blocks led by five from Hord. The Penn State transfer said she enjoyed playing with many teammates and watching them succeed.

“We have no person on our bench who’s going to come out and hurt us,” she said. “Anybody can come in and do amazing things.”

Sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez anchored the defense with 16 digs, while senior Nicklin Hames added 11. 

Tulsa hit .038 as a team led by 10 kills from Kayley Cassady. 

Cook told Evans she would get in some matches this season, but he is firmly against running a two-setter system. 

“A two-setter offense takes out our exceptional back row because it limits your subs,” he said. “Look how many points Nicklin won for us tonight. Setting, digging, serving, passing. … With a 6-2, you would do that to try to get more kills but that’d be something we would be giving up. I don’t think we’re there yet.”

After watching nearly every player put up a solid performance in the first two matches of the season, Cook said he needed to sleep on it before he determined the starting lineup for Saturday’s match against Pepperdine. 

However, with so much depth on display for the first two matches, Cook is encouraged by the early results. 

“It’s a long season. We’re going to be in a lot of tough matches and we have to have depth and people that can come in. You just gotta have that in the Big Ten Conference and they got to feel confident coming in.”

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:


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.


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.”