With top-10 teams coming to Lincoln to start season, Cook pleased with Huskers’ freshman setter

August 23, 2018

Nebraska volleyball John Cook isn’t ready to make it official, but it still looks and sounds like true freshman Nicklin Hames will be the starting setter when the Huskers begin the season Friday.

Nebraska has three setters on the roster this year, with Hames joined by junior Mari Kurkova and senior Brooke Smith. The signs point to Hames being the starter. She was the only setter who played on the top team during the Red-White scrimmage last week, and this week she was back working with the top group at practice. But after practice on Wednesday evening Cook wasn’t saying who the starter will be.

“(Nicklin) got the majority of the reps,” Cook said. “I was rotating the other two, but we try to get Nicklin in a rhythm, so we’ll see.”

Cook has been pleased with how Hames, the No. 1-ranked setter nationally in her class by Prepvolleyball.com, has handled her first three weeks of college practice.

“Nicklin has done everything we’ve asked her to do in coaching her,” Cook said. “We’ve had her change some techniques, we’ve had her change some things she does, and she is all over it. And now she knows exactly when she doesn’t do it right, and she sees the results. Nicklin is a really, really quick learner.”

The other big question about the starting lineup is at the second outside hitter position. Senior Mikaela Foecke has one spot. Transfer Lexi Sun probably would have had the other, but she’s out with an undisclosed injury that has kept her from hitting at full strength to this point.

So either sophomore Sami Slaughter or freshman Capri Davis will be a starter to begin the season in a decision that may go down to the wire. Cook said it’s close between Slaughter and Davis.

“They both have shown signs of brilliance, and they’ve both shown signs of inexperience,” Cook said.

Big start to season

After three years of waiting, this weekend is Nebraska’s chance to host the VERT Challenge, a tournament that has had the same four teams for four years.

This season won’t disappoint with a rematch of the last year’s national championship match when Nebraska and Florida play on Friday. And three of the team teams are ranked in the top-10 of the AVCA with No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 Texas and No. 7 Florida. Oregon, at No. 18, is the final team.

Several of the best players in the country are on the teams, and if not for Sun’s injury you would have seen three players who won the Gatorade national player of the year as high school seniors. Foecke won the award in 2014, Sun in 2016 and Florida freshman outside hitter Thayer Hall in 2017.

On NCAA.com this week there was a list of eight impact players to watch this season. Three of them are in Lincoln this weekend: Texas freshman middle blocker Asjia O’Neal, Oregon freshman libero Camryn Tastad and Hall. And, yes, Nebraska fans on social media voiced their displeasure that no Huskers made that list.

Cook says the tournament should be a great start to the season, because the Nebraska players will quickly learn how they need to improve.

“It’s great for our fans because it’s all four big-time teams coming in, so it’s going to be really high-level volleyball,” Cook said.

While this tournament may continue after this season, Cook said Nebraska won’t be a part of it. Instead he hopes to start another tournament with some big-name programs with a format where teams would get to play more home matches.

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