By Lincoln Arneal
At long last, the 6-2 is gone.
After relying on a two-setter offense, Nebraska is poised to return to having one setter play full time and guide the offense.
That was the intent in 2022, but the Huskers’ were forced to switch up the offensive system through a combination of injuries, inconsistency and desire for defensive strength. While the Huskers had plenty of pin hitters to swing away and put up a big block, NU coach John Cook never hid his preference for a one-setter system. Afterall, no team has won the national championship with a 6-2 since USC in 2003.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. In February, Cook said he was ready to hand the keys to the offense to Kennedi Orr. However, the rising sophomore suffered a setback in her recovery from a knee injury during the beach season and underwent a minor operation.
Four-year starter Nicklin Hames was slated to return for a fifth season and was ready to embrace a role as a defensive specialist. Orr started the first match and appeared to have the inside track for the starting position, with junior Anni Evans playing some matches as Orr built her strength back.
That plan lasted two weeks.
After a lackluster offensive showing against Pepperdine, Hames and Evans split the setting duties against Loyola Marymount. The setters rotated in as Orr, Evans and Hames all split time as the two setters. NU hit .244 as a team, an improvement over 2021 but the third-lowest since 1983.
All that appears in the past. With Orr returning, and touted freshman Bergen Reilly joining the mix, NU will return to one setter running the show. Which one, though, remains to be determined.
Who is back: Kennedi Orr, 6-foot, junior.
Who is gone: Nicklin Hames, 5-10, exhausted eligibility; Anni Evans, 5-9, transferred to San Diego.
Who is new: Bergen Reilly, 6-1, No. 4 overall prospect according to PrepVolleyball.com
The central question entering the fall is if Orr can live up to the potential she flashed as a prep player. A knee injury interrupted her senior year when she was ranked as the top prospect in the nation.
After she appeared in just two matches as a freshman, Orr took a step forward. Cook praised her skills and ability to make sets that no one else in the gym could do. However, she struggled at times. The low point came against Maryland last fall when she was called for seven ball-handling errors.
However, Orr appears to be in a different place this spring. She bypassed the beach season to get extra training with Cook and assistant coach Kelly Hunter, a three-time All-American setter.
Orr looked improved and more steady this spring against Wichita State. She started the Huskers’ lone spring exhibition and amassed 15 assists in the first set.
Orr has big hands, which allow her to send the ball all over the court like few setters. If she can stay healthy and build strength and trust in her knee, her ceiling is high.
The Huskers’ other option is Reilly. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native comes in as the top setter nationally in her graduating class.
While she played outside hitter for O’Gorman High School, winning state titles in 2020 and 2021, Reilly has excelled as a setter on the international scene. She helped the United States win the bronze medal at the U18 World Championships in 2021 and took Best Setter honors at the 2022 Pan American Cup, claiming the gold medal.
Reilly also appeared for the U.S. Senior National Team at the Pan Am Final Six last fall. She started twice as the Americans took home the silver medal.
During the Huskers Brazil trip this summer, Reilly earned the start against the Brazilian U21 National Team and Brazil Military Selection team. Against the Military Selection team, Reilly set the whole match, recording 51 assists with six digs and five blocks.
The 6-foot-1 freshman is a smooth operator on the court and makes running an offense appear easy. She remains calm no matter the score and delivers hittable balls to teammates all over the court. Reilly has the poise and athletic ability to be an All-American in her career.
Should Nebraska need an emergency setter, defensive specialist Maisie Boesiger played the position for Norris in high school. But at 5-6, she would be a defensive liability in the front row.
Cook has refrained from naming any favorite heading into preseason camp. He said the two setters were “dead even” after the Brazil trip. Cook might not have an answer until the first match. Even then, he could choose to rotate them for early-season matches. If the Huskers find the correct answer, they will be among the elite teams this season.
Next Week: Libero/Defensive Specialist