By Lincoln Arneal
It didn’t take long this season for Long Beach State to get the attention of the college volleyball world.
On opening day, Tyler Hildebrand and the Beach knocked off No. 1 Texas in four sets – a surprising development that certainly caught the attention of Nebraska coach John Cook, who sent Hildebrand, his former assistant coach, a congratulatory text.
The next big test for the Beach will come Saturday, when Hildebrand returns to Nebraska, where he coached in 2017 and again from 2020-21, to play the fourth-ranked Huskers at 7 p.m. at the Devaney Center.
The success doesn’t surprise Cook. He said Hildebrand has learned from several great coaches at prominent programs, coached men and women and coached indoor and beach.
“He just has a lot of experience and that’s why I’ve hired him twice,” Cook said. “He’s a very good coach and now he’s learned how to build a program, and he’s doing a great job.”
LBSU went 19-9 in Hildebrand’s first season. However, it missed the NCAA tournament as it lacked wins over ranked opponents.
Following the Texas victory, the Beach was brought down to earth against Loyola Marymount, falling in straight sets. After picking up its first win against a Big Ten team since 2015 with a four-set victory against Indiana, LBSU dropped a pair of matches against Pac-12 teams Washington and UCLA.
The Beach (4-3) topped Nebraska-Omaha on Thursday night to get above .500 for the season.
LBSU is led by two experienced attackers in fifth-year transfers Hannah Lesiak (Northwestern) and Abby Karich (Oregon), who combined for 25 kills against the Mavericks.
Cook said he still talks with Hildebrand often, and they plan to hang out before the match and talk about everything that goes along with being a head coach.
“I love it because he’s so stressed out about more than just coaching now,” he said. “I love it because these guys have no idea when you’re the head coach and all the other things you have to deal with and take care of.”
Developing a Rhythm
Once the Huskers picked a starting lineup to begin the season, they’ve stuck with the lineup for most every match. NU has used a few subs and most of those come near the end of a set.
Sophomore middle blocker Maggie Mendelson and junior outside hitter Ally Batenhorst have appeared in eight and seven sets this season. At the same time, Hayden Kubik has only gotten on the court twice, both times for just a few points.
Cook said Thursday night during his weekly radio show that he wishes he could play more people, but he’s trying to develop consistency on the court.
“We have a very strong team and we got a lot of competition at each position, so it’s tough and I feel for them,” he said. “But volleyball is such a momentum game and you have to be in this great rhythm. It’s just hard.”
He said it’s different than basketball or football, where teams can rotate players and keep the same level of play. Volleyball requires precise timing and connections between passers, the setter and attackers to play at a high level.
Against Creighton, Cook thought for the first time the Huskers played with a good rhythm on offense and in transition. NU hit .305 for the match as freshman Bergen Reilly dished out 42 assists.
However, just because players are on the bench right now doesn’t mean they are resigned to that role for the rest of the year.
They’ve been competing all summer to get to this point but as the season goes on, we’re gonna need everybody,” he said. “We call them game-changers. You’re gonna come off the bench. You gotta be a game-changer.”
Laney Choboy and Lindsay Krause battle daily in practice with plenty of trash talk to determine who will be serving.
Choboy, who plays back row for Krause, earned the honor on Wednesday against Creighton and delivered with three aces, accounting for 11 points on her serve. Krause is no slouch from the end line as she served in the season opener against Utah State and recorded two aces.
Choboy said she has been making tweaks to her serve in practice, and those are starting to pay off.
“I backed up a little bit because I hit the ball really hard,” she said. “Sometimes it sails out so I backed up a lot. We’re just trying something different.”
Allick Breaks Out
Offense had been hard to come by at times for sophomore middle blocker Bekka Allick.
She failed to record a kill against Omaha and didn’t get on the board until the third set against Kansas State. She was hitting just .184 through four matches. Allick said she is still building her connection with Reilly and figuring out their best attacks.
However, the Waverly graduate is still contributing as her 1.64 blocks per set is second best in the Big Ten and ranks in the top 10 nationally.
“The great thing about being a volleyball player is there’s multiple parts of the game,” she said. “When one thing’s not working, you’re able to focus on another, and blocking has always been my bread and butter. So if attacking is just not going well, I know that I can still serve the team via defense.”
Allick broke out of a mini-slump against Creighton with seven kills on 10 attacks and just one error.