Strong Sophomore Class Looks to Being the Leaders Next Season

By Lincoln Arneal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As they huddled in the middle of the court, tears began to well in their eyes. 

Moments before, Kiari Robey slammed home a kill that ended Nebraska’s 2022 season at the KFC Yum! Center in the regional semifinal. 

For those Huskers in the huddle, they cherished the ride they had been on and the connections they made, and NU coach John Cook came in and praised them for the fight they displayed the entire match. 

“Our seniors talked a little bit about how much our relationships mean to one another and how much playing on this team has meant to everyone,” sophomore outside hitter Lindsay Krause said as she fought through tears in the postgame press conference. “Developing those close relationships are most of the reason why a lot of girls play athletics.”

For the players, coaches and fans, the season ended sooner than many expected. Nebraska had grand hopes of making the Final Four in Omaha – up the road from its home arena – playing in front of more than 17,000 people at the CHI Health Center Arena. 

With the year’s final loss, Nebraska says goodbye to four seniors. Three of them — outside hitter Madi Kubik, defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles and setter Nicklin Hames combined to play in 373 matches during their career. 

“It’s hard to believe they’re not going to be here anymore. That’s the first thing I’m trying to wrap my head around,” Cook said on Thursday. “(I saw) Madi on the way over here, and it just seems like she just got here as a freshman. It goes by really fast. But they’re gonna have their master’s degrees. They’ve had great careers.”

The fourth senior class member, Kaitlyn Hord, wrapped up her career at NU after four years at Penn State. When she announced her intention to transfer to Nebraska earlier this season, Hord spoke about rediscovering her love for volleyball. 

In the press conference before the Oregon match, Hord talked about the joy she experienced with her teammates and how much she appreciated how they cared about her as a person and not just a volleyball team. She didn’t have any regrets as the Huskers entered the portion of their schedule where any game could be their last. 

“I wouldn’t have rather done that with anybody else than these girls because it’s just so fun here, and the vibes are amazing,” she said. “We are really playing like every match is a championship match. We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re giving our all and stepping out on the court with each other and playing for each other.”

Kubik and Hord will head overseas to play professionally. Knuckles has a job lined up with the 1890 Initiative, a name-image-likeness collective in Lincoln. Hames will start her coaching career as she returns to NU as a graduate manager. 

Now, Nebraska will transition into the offseason. The future for the Huskers remains full of possibilities. The roster might look slightly different as transfers in and out are possible. The coaching staff should remain stable, but Jaylen Reyes could be a candidate to take over as a head coach. The Huskers could also add a volunteer coach to help the program. 

A glance at the final stats against Oregon provides a glimpse into next season. Krause led the Huskers with 16 kills, while fellow sophomores Ally Batenhorst and Whitney Lauenstein finished with 15 and 12 kills, respectively. Sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez recorded 18 digs and should add another All-American award during the Final Four. Setter Kennedi Orr struggled with consistency but provided depth at setter as she tried to regain her form. 

“ As sophomores, there’s five of us, and I think that we know that we’re going to play a really big role next year,” Krause said. “We’re looking forward to that, but also, we really want to get this one for the seniors. So that really sucks.”

In addition, freshman Bekka Allick proved to be a force at the middle blocker, and classmate Maggie Mendelson held her own in limited action. 

On top of the solid group of returning players, Nebraska will add the No. 1 recruiting class that features elite prospects at each position, including setter Bergen Reilly, who played with the women’s senior national team. With all the talent on next year’s roster, NU should be in position to make a deep tournament run next year. 

“This team should have a great opportunity to be great next year,” Cook said. “We’ve got to get a setter that is going to run it. And, of course, we got some freshmen coming in. Those freshmen will all compete. I guarantee that. They will all complete.”

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