HuskerOnline - The Rally: Nebraska Volleyball prepare for first games without their setter
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The Rally: Nebraska Volleyball prepare for first games without their setter

Welcome to the first edition of The Rally!

Similar to Sean Callahan’s Weekly Rundown for Husker football but I’ll be diving (pun intended) into Nebraska volleyball. The Rally is the best place to get a look at NU volleyball’s week including their opponents, players to watch, storylines and more.

Nebraska volleyball’s 2021-2022 season starts on Friday with a Husker Invitational at the Devaney Sports Center with Tulsa, Colgate and Kansas State.

The Huskers play Tulsa at 11:00 a.m. and Colgate at 6:30 p.m on Friday and take on Kansas State at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday.

Let’s dig in (puns are always intended in The Rally).

Scouting the Opponents:

Tulsa: The Hurricanes went 2-8 in the American Athletic Conference in the 2020-2021 season. They beat Memphis twice, sweeping them once. Memphis finished with a 5-7 record. Tulsa’s previous record looks bleak for them and promising to help Nebraska work out some first game kinks.

Tulsa is returning all seven starters and lost one player that didn’t contribute last season. So, they have lots of experience, something that the Huskers, a team with six freshmen, doesn’t have in as much abundance.

Colgate: Nebraska’s second game on Friday is Colgate who finished with an 8-2 record in the Patriot League last season. Let’s just say, the Patriot League is no Big Ten when it comes to volleyball or any sport really.

The Raiders lost a starting defensive specialist/libero in Bridget Kolsky. The 5-foot-9 senior led the team with 150 digs and 3.95 digs per set. She also received 177 serves with a reception percentage of .960.

Kansas State: Last season, the Wildcats went 13-8 overall and finished third in the Big 12, the highest since 2008. While Kansas State is coming off of their most successful season in recent history they are also recovering from losing five players.

Starting setter Shelby Martin, a 2020 All-Big 12 second-team selection, graduated after the 2020 season. Kansas State had four players transfer: MB/OH Abigail Archibong (Arkansas), MB Megan Vernon (Rutgers), DS/L Dru Kuck (Alabama) and OH Brynn Carlson (Missouri). Four of these athletes contributed at least 56 sets and Vernon played in 26 sets.

The Wildcats still have most of their starting intact but have a completely new team outside of that.

Colgate outside hitter Alli Lowe
Colgate outside hitter Alli Lowe (Colgate Athletics)

Players to Watch:

MB Maggie Hembree, Tulsa:

6-foot-4 middle blocker Maggie Hembree led Tulsa in 2020 with 41 blocks and a .335 hitting percentage. She is a graduate student returning for her fifth year with the Hurricanes. Hembree had a breakout year in 2019 and nearly doubled her career total kills with 211. She’ll be itching to build off of that year after a shortened 2020 season.

OH Kayley Cassaday, Tulsa:

Next to Hembree is 5-foot-11 opposite hitter, Kayley Cassaday that led the Hurricanes with 112 kills and 3.20 kills per set in Tulsa’s 10 games last season. She earned 125 points, the most on the team.

OH Alli Lowe, Colgate:

6-foot-0 outside hitter Alli Lowe is one of the most decorated players in the Patriot League. She was named the Patriot League Player of the year for the 2019 and 2020-21 seasons. Lowe is the Pre-Season Patriot League Player of the Year and was selected on the pre-Season All-League team.

She led the Raiders with a .954 reception percentage on 196 service receptions. In 2020 and her fourth season at Colgate, she had 165 kills and 4.34 kills per set. Lowe had 12 aces last season, the most on the team.

S Julia Kurowski, Colgate:

Setter Julia Kurowski was also a Pre-Season selection for the Patriot League’s All-League team. Kurowski had 369 assists and an average of 9.71 assists per set. Like Lowe, Kurowski is a graduate student that’s returning for her fifth and final season as a Raider.

OH Aliyah Carter, Kansas State:

5-foot-9 outside hitter Aliyah Carter was setter Shelby Martin’s go-to hitter last season. Carter had 838 total attacks and 325 kills while hitting .199. Brynn Carlson was the player that came close to Carter’s numbers. Carlson had 468 total attacks and 153 kills, less than half of Carter’s kills.

Carter’s freshman season set the bar high for her sophomore year. She was named the 2020 Big 12 Freshman of Year and the 2020 AVCA Midwest Region Freshman of the Year. The Dubuque, Iowa native was selected on the All-Big 12 First Team and All-Big 12 Freshman Team.

DS/L Mackenzie Morris, Kansas State:

Libero Mackenzie Morris started every set as a freshman last season. She contributed 342 digs, including six games with 20 or more digs, and had a team-high 28 aces. The 5-foot-7 libero had 483 service receptions with a .954 reception percentage.

Storylines:

Setter Nicklin Hames out this week:

Three-year starting setter Nicklin Hames will not be playing on Friday or Saturday due to an ankle injury during the Red/White Scrimmage on August 21. Head coach John Cook said she avoided a serious injury but “the Phoenix will rise.”

Cook said Hames was clipped in the air which sent her off balance and forced her to land awkwardly. He has never seen Hames out of control like she was in that moment. This is her first injury in her four years at Nebraska.

“The good thing is Nicklin doesn't jump that high,” Cook said. “The high fliers, it takes them a little longer.”

Sophomore Anni Evans and freshman Kennedi Orr will be battling for the starting position. Evans played in 15 matches last season and had three assists. Orr has been impressing NU’s coaches and her teammates during fall practice.

Orr suffered a knee injury before her senior year of high school and missed the entire season. Cook said she is participating in 90 percent of practice as of last week. He said he's unsure if she will be able to play three games in 36 hours.

Nebraska’s Middle blockers and Hitters lineup:

Cook said this week’s practice will decide the starting lineups. He is looking for players who are “playing with an edge.”

During the Red/White Scrimmage, Cook changed the outside hitters and middle blockers for each of the four sets in order to find the best combination of players. After the scrimmage, he said “I’m even more perplexed now than I was before the game.”

He is hoping for three players to jump out and take a starting position for the three games this weekend. Cook hasn’t decided whether he will be changing up the lineups from game to game this weekend.

Two Nebraskans returning home:

Two Nebraskans will be returning home this weekend to play in front of their home crowds.

Kansas State defensive specialist and libero Molly Ramsey and Tulsa outside hitter Lauren Isenberg are both from Nebraska and will be able to play in front of their families and friends.

Ramsey is a 5-foot-4 freshman from Roca, Neb. that is Norris high school’s all-time leader with over 1,700 career digs as a four-year starter. During her senior season, Ramsey had 465 digs and 47 aces.

Isenberg, a redshirt junior, attended Omaha Marian and was named the Marian Scholar Athlete of the Year. Behind Isenberg, Marian finished her senior season with a 38-2 record.

Both student-athletes will be able to play in the Devaney Sports Center, a place they have likely dreamed about playing in.