After leading Husker volleyball for four seasons, Hames ready for new role
When Nicklin Hames arrived at Nebraska after the 2017 season, the expectations were high for the freshman setter taking over from two-time national champion Kelly Hunter.
Hames led Nebraska for four seasons, leaving the program as the all-time assist leader.
The three-time team captain marched her team to two national championships and two elite eight appearances. Hames will be returning for her fifth season as a Husker but in a new position, a defensive specialist, in 2022 and a graduate assistant in 2023 to eventually coach the sport she loves.
Hames said on a podcast on Huskers Radio Network that she doesn't have "huge expectations" for her new position on the court, leaving her more time to focus on her leadership role.
Jason and Christine Hames, Nicklin's parents, are the founders and directors of K2 Volleyball Club in Louisville, Tennessee. She said this sparked her love for the sport and dream of coaching.
"I just saw the impact that they had on young girls' lives and the community in general," the 5-foot-10 athlete said. "I want to be able to do that and give back. I've gained so much knowledge from playing here at Nebraska and my entire career, and I want to give that back. I've had those great coaches that make that impact on you for life and I want to be able to do that."
Hames has an opportunity to make an impact on the Huskers' next starting setter.
Freshman Kennedi Orr, who was the top prospect in the 2021 class, will be Nebraska's next starting setter. In her new role, Hames will be able to help Orr and setter Anni Evans navigate the pressure of being a young setter at Nebraska.
"I have full faith in Anni and Kennedi," Hames said. "They're going to be amazing and I'm excited to be able to help them really understand what it's like going into that role because I went in my freshman year, and it was a lot, it was stressful."
As for Orr, who played in two matches at the beginning of the season, Hames said her ceiling is "so high."
"She is so talented," she said. "Me and Anni are always so jealous of her because she has the biggest hands and so the ball just comes out beautifully."
Orr tore her ACL during her senior year of high school and did lots of her rehab at Nebraska in the spring of 2020 as an early enrollee. Hames said Orr worked "so hard to get back."
"It was a really hard journey for her with her ACL and coming back from that," Hames said. "I'm just excited to see her in that position. And knowing that, she can just go for it and not feel held back by anything. I'm excited too because she's the stud. She's just such a great athlete, too. I'm excited to see where she can reach."
While Hames doesn’t have huge expectations for her role on the court, middle blocker Kayla Caffey, who submitted an NCAA waiver to return for her seventh season, said she wouldn’t be surprised if Hames found herself on the court.
“Whenever she is on the court, Nicklin is just an amazing volleyball player,” Caffey said. “She's so knowledgeable, I think she can honestly play any position she wanted to on the court and make it look good. She already is an amazing defensive player.”
Having her on the court is also a boost in leadership, Caffey said.
“She is a leader,” Caffey said. “I think it'd be good for her to find her way on the court some kind of way because we always look to her in those tough moments.”
While the Huskers did have their share of “tough moments”, Hames said they displayed growth, resiliency and fight during the 2021 season. She said although Nebraska lost to Wisconsin in the national championship, they played the Badgers the best they had in her career at NU.
After learning about herself and her team last season, Hames is ready to learn more from Cook and assistant coaches Jaylen Reyes and Kelly Hunter.
Some of the most successful coaches in college volleyball have coached under Cook and learned from him. For example, Louisville head coach Dani Busboom Kelly took her team to its first-ever Final Four in 2021 and Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner won a national championship in 2020.
Hames said Cook's growth mindset encourages the people around him to be constantly learning and growing.
While Hames won’t be leading the team on the court at the setter position, she said she'll do everything she can to help her teammates.
"I don't have all the huge expectations for my role, I'm going to be a leader, someone that people can lean on and talk to, and if that means I'm on the bench cheering my butt off for my teammates, I'm happy doing that," Hames said. "I'm excited about this new role because I think it'll give me a different perspective than I've had the past four years."