By Lincoln Arneal
After spending most of the previous three sets on the bench, Campbell Flynn checked into the United States’ match against Turkey for one of the most important points of the tournament.
With the U.S. leading 14-10, Flynn cleared her mind. Her goal was to serve an ace, just like she did in the third set, or force an out-of-system play. Flynn, a 2025 Nebraska commit, stepped to the line and delivered a hard, flat serve that Turkey overpassed, and middle blocker Auguste Jaela slammed home the final point of the rally.
The Americans collapsed to the floor, shouting and pumping their fists in celebration. The final point capped off a 20-25, 23-25, 25-22, 25-16, 15-10 reverse sweep by the U.S. at the U19 World Championships in Osijek, Croatia, on Friday night.
Flynn started the match at setter but was replaced in the first set. She was glad to contribute any way she could to help the U.S. win its second U19 World Championship. The Americans overcame a limited training schedule and a roster of 16- and 17-year-olds to claim the gold medal.
“It felt amazing. It was so, so fun hugging my teammates at the end,” Flynn said. “When we all fell down and hugged each other, we were all teary-eyed because we put so much work into it. We knew we were the underdogs in that tournament. It felt like a dream. We couldn’t believe it.”
Flynn was one of four future Huskers on the roster, each starting the event’s bracket portion. The group also featured 2024 middle blocker Ayden Ames, 2024 libero Oliva Mauch and 2025 outside hitter Teraya Sigler.
The other time the United States won the U19 title came in 2019 when current Huskers Kennedi Orr, Lindsay Krause and Lexi Rodrgues were on the team.
The early stages of this year’s championship match didn’t play out how the Americans would have liked. They fell behind Turkey early in the first set and then coughed up a 20-18 lead in the second.
Ames said they had a few nerves playing in a championship game. However, even though they trailed, they knew they weren’t done. After dropping the second set, they quickly talked about their motto for the tournament: “Find who you are as an athlete.”
“We just found ourselves again, and that helped us play better,” Ames said. “Our defense got better, our serving got better and our passing got better. We got more comfortable and then we just elevated our game.”
The U.S. won the next two sets to force a fifth set. They had won their first four fifth sets at the tournament, leaving little doubt, winning four of the first five rallies. Mauch said the difference started at the service line as they became more aggressive. That carried over to the attack and they took smarter swings as the US hitters got used to the Turkish block.
Sigler, who recorded 12 kills in the championship match, said winning the gold medal was unlike anything else she’s experienced. While she’s not much of a crier, she couldn’t help but feel the emotion after the final point.
“We’ve all won championships before because it’s the best 12 girls in the country. We’ve won state, won nationals, but the World Championship is like, ‘Wow,’” Sigler said. “It’s also better because you’re representing the USA. So being able to come home wearing that on your chest, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just unbelievable.”
Sigler’s best performance of the event came in the quarterfinals against Brazil when she put up 23 kills with four aces and two blocks in another five-set win. Sigler won the Next Best Attacker for the tournament behind fellow American outside hitter Abby Vander Wal. The 2025 Texas commit was also named the MVP for the championships.
“I love the awards, and I’m so grateful for it, but I couldn’t have done without our teammates and our coaches,” Sigler said. “I honestly think they all deserved awards because I just can’t explain enough how amazing those girls are.”
While some other teams played together for a year in preparation for the event, the Americans only trained together for a week in Colorado before heading to Croatia.
Instead, they perfected the system. Ames said the first match against Korea – another five-set win – was the scariest of the tournament. However, they soon found their groove and went undefeated in pool play.
“It was new ball, new gym, new team. Everything was brand new to all of us,” she said. “We were all just like international newbies, and it was so scary but so fun at the same time.”
Sigler said while some of the European players tried to keep their emotions in check, they took the opposite approach with smiles on their faces and plenty of cheering and dancing on the bench.
Muach said they hung out a lot outside the matches. Following a training session, they would gather in someone’s room. After each victory, the players celebrated with an on-court dance. Mauch taught the team the “Cotton Eye Joe” line dance and they often danced in the locker room before the matches to get hyped up.
“We just all had fun together, which is kind of crazy because we’ve only been together for six days of training before that,” Mauch said. “We just meshed so well together.”
Because they played nine matches over 11 days, they didn’t have much time to explore the Croatian city of 97,000. They visited the market, made trips to a local pizza shop and interacted with the other teams staying in their hotel.
While winning was the best memory for Flynn, she enjoyed the downtime with teammates outside the matches.
“I loved going on gelato runs, going to the store and there was like this bread place we went to before our last few games and that was fun,” she said. “The locker room was really fun before games.”
The championship match ended just before midnight in Croatia. After celebrating, they drove to Zagreb, Croatia, caught a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, and flew to Chicago, where team members went their separate ways.
Ames said she didn’t take off her gold medal until returning to the States.
“I wore it nonstop on the way home but it’s super heavy,” Ames said. “It’s the heaviest metal that I’ve ever had, so I had to take it off my neck.”
Even a few days later, Mauch said she’s still coming to grips with winning a World Championship.
“I don’t think it has sunk in yet,” she said. “I don’t know if it ever will because it’s just crazy.”
Some team members stuck together and flew to California to continue their training. Because the college season started and older players are unavailable, many U19 team members will pull double duty and participate in the U21 World Championships, which begin later this week.
Ames was slated to join the U21s, but she couldn’t afford to miss another two weeks of school. She plans to graduate midyear and enroll early at Nebraska. Sigler is also returning to catch up on her schoolwork. Flynn isn’t done playing for the Red, White and Blue, and she will be joined by outside hitter Skyler Pierce, a 2024 NU commit.
As the players returned to their homes with new hardware, Sigler said the event was a lifetime memory. She can’t wait to play with her future NU teammates again, whether at another U.S. Volleyball event or in Devaney Center in a few years.
Sigler met Flynn at the Dream Team camp a year ago and played with Ames at the National Developmental Training Program. At Worlds, she was roommates with Mauch, who she called a “spitfire.” She got goosebumps during a film session when she realized there were four future Nebraska players on the court making an impact on the junior national team.
“I’m so excited because they’re just great human beings,” Sigler said. “(Nebraska coach) John (Cook) did a great job with picking his girls. I’m so excited for the future with them, the USA and Nebraska. This was just a 10 out of 10 trip.”