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Husker volleyball notes: Eligible to return, Nebraska's seniors now face big offseason decisions

Husker volleyball notes: Eligible to return, Nebraska's seniors now face big offseason decisions

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When one season ends, you never really know for certain what the roster will look like when the next one begins, and that’s especially true right now for the Nebraska volleyball team.

"We don’t really know who’s coming back," said Nebraska co-captain Nicklin Hames, shortly after fourth-ranked Nebraska’s season ended with a four-set loss against No. 5 Texas in the NCAA Elite Eight on Monday at CHI Health Center Omaha.

Almost always, at least one player transfers, and sometimes it’s a player you didn’t think was considering it. The added uncertainty about the current roster is because players won’t lose a year of eligibility due to the NCAA’s pandemic exception.

That means seniors Lauren Stivrins, Lexi Sun, Jazz Sweet and Hayley Densberger could return. The expectation is that they won’t all be back, but none has publicly said what she’ll do.

Stivrins and Sun will likely have professional volleyball opportunities. But if they decided to return, they’d only be adding about eight months to their career as a college athlete. And they’d also have some pro opportunities in January in Puerto Rico or the new U.S. pro league.

Nebraska coach John Cook told the seniors to have an open mind about the potential to return for the fall season, not knowing what the season would be like and if an NCAA Tournament would even happen.

“We’ll have meetings this week, because some of them are going to go home and do finals, and we’re wrapping up the semester here, and some of them are finished pretty much except for a final,” Cook said. “We’ll have meetings this week and see where we’re at. We’ve tried to not make that a focus or much of a conversation. So those will happen this week.”

Regardless, six freshmen will join the team this summer, including the top three national recruits in setter Kennedi Orr, outside hitter Lindsay Krause and outside hitter Ally Batenhorst.

The other freshmen are defensive specialist Lexi Rodriguez, outside hitter Whitney Lauenstein and middle blocker Rylee Gray.

Next season there should be a competitive battle for the libero and defensive specialist spots with Kenzie Knuckles, Kaylei Akana and Rodriguez.

And the Huskers will likely experiment with different combinations at the outside hitter and right-side hitter spots, including a natural outside hitter playing the right-side position.

Closer to normal: If next season begins on schedule in late August, it will begin in about four months. It’s too early to know if 8,000 fans will be allowed back in the Devaney Sports Center, but there should be fans, and Cook will welcome that in a big way.

“Man, do we miss it, and hope we can get back to normal,” Cook said.

Cook said Monday, when there were about 4,000 fans at Nebraska’s match, it was the first time this season it felt like "a real volleyball match."

"Here’s what I realize, is I never thought how much we would miss having full arenas and big crowds, whether you’re home or on the road,” Cook said. “You really miss that. It’s hard to describe. It’s an empty feeling.”

Final Four field set: After Monday’s matches, the field is set for the Final Four. Kentucky will play Washington at 6 p.m. Thursday, and Texas takes on Wisconsin at 8:30 p.m. Both matches will be televised on ESPN. Kentucky is in the Final Four for the first time.

Briefly

* Nebraska finished with a 16-3 record, with all three loses coming against current top-10 teams (Texas, Ohio State and Minnesota). Nebraska’s 19 matches are the fewest played in the 46 years of the program. The fewest matches Nebraska had played in Cook’s 21 seasons as Nebraska head coach had been 30, in 2011, when Nebraska lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

* Stivrins finished the season with a .471 hitting percentage. That is the second-best season mark in school history, falling just short of Tracy Stall's record (.473 in 2007).

* Cook has a 77-17 record in the NCAA Tournament as Nebraska’s head coach. His .819 winning percentage at Nebraska is the top mark in NCAA history among any coach with at least 20 NCAA Tournament matches at one school.

* This is the first time in six seasons that the Final Four won’t include two teams from the Big Ten. But the streak continues of 18 straight seasons with at least one Big Ten team making the Final Four.

* Texas’ .336 hitting percentage against Nebraska on Monday was the second-best hitting percentage by a Nebraska opponent in the past six seasons. Wisconsin hit .376 against the Huskers during a regular-season match last season.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.

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