By Lincoln Arneal
The Devaney Center gym was filled with yells, cheers and lots of banter as Nebraska volleyball players battled during drills on Monday.
Moments after Caroline Jurevicius slammed home a kill, Andi Jackson blocked another attack. Then Laney Choboy delivered a diving dig to set up a point.
All three are newcomers and part of the group making an impact in their first spring with the Huskers with an injection of energy, athleticism and competition. It only takes a few seconds of listening to an NU volleyball practice to tell that it is a different type of team as it began its fourth week of spring practice on Monday.
Even with six newcomers, the camaraderie is tight among the 14 players.
“It’s a very, very live group, as you can tell,” sophomore middle blocker Bekka Allick said. “There’s a lot of friendly smack-talking going on. It’s a very, very feisty group.”
All five incoming freshmen enrolled early and are joined by junior opposite Merritt Beason, a transfer from Florida. The Huskers added a new player at each position, creating competition for playing time at each spot.
Beason said the position battles and everyone pushing each other every day stood out to her.
“How hard those girls go each and every day and the coaches – how hard they push us – it’s been really cool to see and to be a part of,” she said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a challenge, but it was something that I noticed from the start that I was like, ‘Wow, this is really special.’”
After one of the most successful beach seasons in program history, the Huskers transitioned to indoor quickly after spring break. Maggie Mendelson joined the group a week after taking a few days off following the end of the women’s basketball season on March 23.
Because of the academic calendar and the late spring exhibition, the Huskers can practice for six weeks this year, one more than in previous springs.
With so many newcomers, Cook said discussing priorities for the upcoming season will wait. Instead, NU is focusing on terminology and installing practice drills right now.
Beason said having so many new players has made it easy to mesh with everyone since almost everyone has a learning curve.
“There have been lots of things that we’ve had to learn really, really fast, but all of the girls that have been here were really welcoming and open,” she said. “They’ve welcomed us with open arms, so they’ve made the transition really easy.”
Beason has integrated seamlessly with the team. She is rooming with junior Lindsay Krause and enjoyed connecting with teammates during the Hawaii trip. The 6-foot-3 opposite has already made an impact as Cook asked her to design the logo for NU’s Brazil trip.
Some of the returners are experiencing new roles as well. Allick said she’s had to transition to being the veteran middle blocker. Even though she’s just a sophomore, she’s the most experienced player at the position after starting 29 matches last season.
Allick said she is impressed with Jackson and doesn’t think that starting is too far out of her future. When Jackson has questions during practice, she turns to the Waverly product for help.
“On the first day, she was like, ‘Bekka, I’m gonna follow you.’ I was like, ‘Oh, crap.’ I’m used to usually being the follower and I never really had to think about that,” Allick said. “Knowing that someone is watching my moves, what I’m doing in practice, and how I talk to coaches and things like that, that’s what she’s going to assume is a standard. So being that older sister figure is new.”
NU lost four players to graduation, plus setter Anni Evans, who transferred to San Diego during the offseason. So even though the Huskers return multiple key contributors from last year’s team, which went 26-6 and exited the NCAA tournament in the regional semifinals, they are left with a young team.
Not only do they not have any seniors, none of the players have turned 21. Cook said they are a curious group and want to learn as much as possible. The one thing Cook hasn’t had to worry about is challenging them to bring energy to the gym daily.
“They’re not bashful,” he said. “They don’t care how old they are or who’s ahead of them. They’re competing. They want to play. … The game doesn’t know how old you are.”