By Lincoln Arneal
The solution in Nebraska’s offseason scholarship shuffle revealed itself on Tuesday when junior opposite Whitney Lauenstein announced that she was leaving the Huskers to focus on herself and her family.
Now the Huskers will have to replace their top two attackers with Lauenstein stepping away and Madi Kubik graduating. Help is on the way as all five 2023 signees will be on campus next week as NU begins offseason workouts that will soon give way to beach volleyball practices. With an eye to the fall, here are the implications of Lauenstein’s departure and how the new pieces fit together for the Huskers.
OPPOSITES ATTRACT: Even though Lauenstein started almost every match at the left pin, the Huskers already have a ready replacement in Merritt Beason, who announced her transfer from Florida in December.
Beason actually posted a better-attacking stat line than Lauenstein last year. She averaged 3.35 kills per set on a .261 hitting percentage with 38 aces. Lauenstein put up 2.78 kills at a .238 clip with 28 aces as a sophomore. The Waverly graduate was a better blocker averaging more than a block per set.
Beason should get the first crack at the starting position. She already has a rapport with several Huskers as she played with middle blocker Bekka Allick and libero Lexi Rodrigeuz on the junior national team. Incoming freshman Caroline Jurevicius should provide depth as she adjusts to the college game.
KRAUSE COULD FLIP: Last year, Lindsay Krause played both at the left and right pins with high effectiveness. She has more experience on the left side and looks more comfortable. With Beason’s experience, she could finally settle in on the left pin along with fellow junior Ally Batenhorst. Those two finished third and fourth for the Huskers in kills last season, both averaging more than two per set. Krause flourished late in the season with 62 kills and a .351 hitting percentage.
This is dependent on Nebraska reverting back to a one-setter offense. If junior Kennedi Orr or freshman Bergen Reilly can grab control of the system and perform at a high level, NU can revert back to the offense preferred by NU coach John Cook. The Huskers have enough attackers to run a 6-2, but Cook might want the consistency of playing just one setter.
Batenhorst and Krause should start the spring as the top outside hitters, but don’t count out sophomore Hayden Kubik and freshman Harper Murray. Kubik really only got extensive playing time against Creighton and held her own, while Murray enters the program with a boatload of prep awards and talent.
With Rodriguez and the top libero prospect Laney Choboy, the Huskers have a bit of flexibility with their back-row defense. If Beason continues to play all six rotations, NU only needs one of its two outside hitters to play all the way around. Batenhorst stepped in late after Kenzie Knuckles was injured, but Krause has shown the ability to pass as well. It might lessen the load as they become NU’s featured attackers.
SCHOLARSHIPS STILL FULL: Entering the off-season, Nebraska was at the limit of 12 scholarships. When Beason committed out of the portal, it signaled that some sort of roster movement was likely.
The Huskers now have five scholarship juniors: Krause, Batenhorst, Rodriguez, Beason and Orr. Allick and Kubik are the two sophomores on scholarship as Maggie Mendelson counts toward women’s basketball and Maisie Boesiger is a walk-on. The final five are freshmen: Murray, Choboy, Jurevicius, Reilly and middle blocker Andi Jackson.
Nebraska will have more scholarship numbers to crunch next year as it has no seniors on the roster. Still, three verbal commitments for the Class of 2024 – outside hitter Skylar Pierce, middle blocker Ayden Ames and libero/defensive specialist Olivia Mauch – mean more player movement is probable. The one caveat is sometimes NU only awards two-year scholarships to defensive specialists, so that could create an open scholarship or two. But, that’s an issue for next offseason.