Huskers Gear Up for NCAA Tourney in Omaha
• The Nebraska volleyball team opens the NCAA Tournament at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday at the CHI Health Center Omaha Convention Center. The Huskers will take on the winner of the Texas State-Utah Valley first-round match-up. Thursday’s second round match will be streamed on WatchESPN.com.
• Husker Sports Network will broadcast all the Husker action on HSN radio affiliates, including 107.3 FM in Lincoln and AM 590 in Omaha. A live audio stream will be provided at Huskers.com and the Huskers app. John Baylor is in his 27th season doing play-by-play for the Husker volleyball program. Lauren (Cook) West, a former All-America setter for the Huskers, will provide color commentary.
About the Huskers
• The Huskers, making their 39th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, will open the tournament on Thursday, April 15 at 2:30 p.m. against the winner of the Texas State-Utah Valley first-round match that takes place on Wednesday, April 14.
• The top 16 seeds received a first-round bye. Nebraska’s region includes No. 4 seed Texas, No. 12 seed Baylor and No. 13 seed Penn State. The Huskers are on the left half of the bracket that also includes No. 1 national seed Wisconsin, No. 8 Florida and No. 9 Ohio State. The top two national seeds on the other side of the bracket are No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 Minnesota.
• Nebraska, which has been to four NCAA Semifinals in the last five years and won National Championships in 2015 and 2017, finished the regular season 14-2 and in third place in the Big Ten Conference. The Huskers played 16 of their 22 scheduled regular-season matches, as six were canceled due to COVID-19 issues for opposing teams.
• The first-round bye will be the Huskers’ first automatic advancement to the second round since 1997 when the tournament featured 56 teams. In 1998 the field was expanded to 68 teams. The Big Red will await the winner of Texas State-Utah Valley, who will play on Wednesday, April 14 at 2:30 p.m.
• The Huskers led the Big Ten in defense last season and picked up where they left off this season, holding opponents to .157 hitting to rank second in the conference behind only Wisconsin.
• Nebraska’s .272 season hitting percentage also ranked second in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin.
• Nebraska ranked third in the conference in kills (14.11 per set), second in assists (12.82 per set) and fourth in digs (14.79 per set).
• Senior outside hitter Lexi Sun leads the Huskers with 3.82 kills per set with 19 service aces as well as 2.13 digs per set. She ranked fifth in the Big Ten in kills per set and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection. Sun was named the Big Ten Player of the Week on March 8 after averaging 5.17 kills per set on .315 hitting in the two wins at Illinois. Sun earned the conference player of the week honor again on March 22 after 4.33 kills per set on .408 hitting in two sweeps over Iowa.
• Senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins is putting up 3.21 kills per set on a team-high .468 hitting percentage, which led all Big Ten players this season and ranked fourth in the nation. She was also named to the All-Big Ten First Team.
• Junior setter Nicklin Hames paces the Husker attack with 10.93 assists per set – most in the Big Ten – and she chips in 2.89 digs per set with 12 service aces. Along with Sun and Stivrins, Hames was a repeat All-Big Ten First-Team selection.
• Sophomore outside hitter Madi Kubik adds 2.71 kills per set and 2.54 digs per set.
• Junior transfer middle blocker Kayla Caffey has stepped in for the Huskers and contributed 1.96 kills per set on .362 hitting with 1.04 blocks per set.
Scouting Texas State
• Texas State played 38 matches – more than any team in the country – spread out over both the fall and spring and posted a 30-8 record. The Bobcats won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in November for the third year in a row. Texas State is coming off a 3-1 win at No. 9 Baylor on April 1.
• Janell Fitzgerald paces the Bobcats with 3.47 kills per set on a .311 hitting percentage. She was an All-Sun Belt First-Team selection, and her 462 kills are the most in the nation for the 2020-21 season. Junior setter Emily DeWalt is a three-time Sun Belt Conference Setter of the Year. She averaged 10.73 assists per set this season and posted 1,427 assists for the season to lead the nation.
Scouting Utah Valley
• Utah Valley is making its first tournament appearance after winning the WAC Conference Tournament with a 3-0 sweep over New Mexico State. Utah Valley posted a 14-5 overall record this spring. The Wolverines went 12-4 in the WAC.
• Junior outside hitter Kazna Tanuvasa led the Wolverines with 3.61 kills per set and was the WAC Player of the Year. Libero Seren Jardine averaged 4.89 digs per set and was on the All-WAC Second Team.
• Utah Valley ranks ninth nationally in blocks per set at 2.82.
• Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against Texas State. That lone win was a 3-0 sweep in 1992.
• Nebraska has never played Utah Valley.
• John Cook: 21st year at Nebraska (602-83); 28th year overall (763-156)
• Sean Huiet: 1st year at Texas State (30-8)
• Sam Atoa: 22nd year at Utah Valley (448-264)
2020-21 Huskers at a Glance
• The Huskers return every starter from last year’s 28-5 squad that reached the NCAA Regional Final against eventual national runner-up Wisconsin.
• Senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins and senior outside hitter Lexi Sun were AVCA All-Americans and All-Big Ten First-Team selections in 2019. Junior setter Nicklin Hames was also an All-Big Ten First-Team choice in 2019. Stivrins and Hames return to captain the Huskers for a second straight season.
• Sophomore outside hitter Madi Kubik was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2019 and, along with sophomore libero Kenzie Knuckles, was a member of the All-Big Ten Freshman Team.
• The Huskers added four newcomers during the offseason, including junior Missouri transfer Kayla Caffey. The middle blocker ranked ninth nationally with a .408 hitting percentage during the 2019 season. She joins three freshmen who are new to the program: middle blocker Kalynn Meyer, setter Anni Evans and defensive specialist Kaylei Akana.
Huskers Ranked No. 4 in AVCA Coaches Poll
• Nebraska is ranked No. 4 in the AVCA Coaches Poll this week.
• The Huskers have been ranked No. 1 in 100 all-time polls, the most in NCAA history.
• The Huskers have been ranked in the top 10 a total of 514 times, which is also the most in NCAA history.
• Nebraska has appeared in all 570 AVCA Coaches Polls it has been eligible for since it was established in 1982. With Stanford dropping out of the poll this year, Nebraska is the only program to be ranked in every eligible poll all-time.
Husker Garner Postseason Accolades
• Nebraska volleyball seniors Lauren Stivrins and Lexi Sun and junior Nicklin Hames were voted to the All-Big Ten First Team and the AVCA All-North Region Team. Sophomore outside hitter Madi Kubik was an AVCA All-North Region selection as well, giving the Huskers the same four AVCA All-Region honorees they had in 2019.
• Stivrins is a two-time AVCA All-American and a three-time All-Big Ten First-Team selection. She posted 3.23 kills per set, 1.09 blocks per set and a team-best .468 hitting percentage during the regular season. Stivrins’ hitting percentage was the best in the Big Ten and ranked No. 4 in the nation. The middle blocker from Scottsdale, Ariz., had double-digit kills in 10 of 16 matches and hit .400 or better in 13 of 16 matches. Stivrins holds a career hitting percentage of .384, which is fourth-best average in school history and the No. 1 mark in the rally scoring era, which began in 2001. She led the Huskers to a .272 season hitting average and .157 opponent hitting percentage, both of which ranked second in the conference. Stivrins was a unanimous selection for the third year in a row.
• Sun earned All-Big Ten First-Team honors for the second straight year last week after leading the Huskers in kills with 3.82 per set. She also added 2.13 digs per set with 39 blocks and 19 aces on the season and recorded five double-doubles. Sun, who hit .247 for the season, was a two-time Big Ten Player of the Week during the 11-week regular season. An AVCA third-team All-American in 2019, Sun reached double-digit kills in 14 of 16 regular-season matches. She ranked fifth among all Big Ten Players in kills per set and was a unanimous choice to the All-Big Ten First Team. In addition to AVCA All-North Region honors in 2019, Sun was an AVCA All-Southwest Region selection while at Texas in 2017.
• Hames also garnered AVCA All-North Region and All-Big Ten First-Team accolades for the second straight season. The junior setter led the Big Ten in assists at 10.93 per set and ranked 17th nationally. The Maryville, Tenn., native posted eight double-doubles in 16 matches, and she served 12 aces. Hames set the Huskers to a .272 regular-season hitting percentage, the second-best mark in the Big Ten.
• Kubik, a sophomore, made the AVCA All-North Region for the second time in as many seasons. She was the AVCA North Region Freshman of the Year in 2019, and this year she put up 2.70 kills and 2.52 digs per set with 19 blocks and 12 aces. A six-rotation hitter for the Big Red, Kubik posted double-doubles in six matches and had nine matches with at least 10 kills.
• Senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins surpassed 1,000 career kills this season on March 12 against Ohio State and now has 1,057. Stivrins became the 22nd Husker in school history to reach 1,000 career kills at Nebraska and the eighth player to do so in the rally-scoring era (2001-present).
• Stivrins has also established herself as one of the most efficient hitters in Nebraska volleyball history. She has a .384 career hitting percentage, which ranks fourth all-time in school history and first since the rally scoring era began in 2001.
• Lexi Sun also owns more than 1,000 career kills with 1,303 (337 as a freshman at Texas in 2017). Jazz Sweet is closing in with 950 career kills.
• Junior setter Nicklin Hames surpassed 3,000 career assists this season and now has 3,302 entering the NCAA Tournament. She became the 10th Husker setter in school history to reach 3,000 career assists at Nebraska and the fourth in the rally scoring era (2001-present), joining Kelly Hunter (4,125), Sydney Anderson (3,332) and Lauren Cook (3,198).
AVCA Hall of Fame Head Coach John Cook in 21st Season at Nebraska
• Nebraska head coach John Cook is in his 21st season as the Nebraska volleyball head coach in 2020-21. He has led the Huskers to four national championships, nine final fours, 12 conference championships and 18 top-10 final rankings since 2000.
• Cook has 763 career wins and is one of the all-time winningest coaches in NCAA history. Since taking over the program in 2000, Cook has led the Huskers to a nation-leading .879 win percentage in that time (602-83).
• Under Cook, the Huskers have achieved 57 AVCA All-Americans and 19 CoSIDA Academic All-Americans, both among the best in the nation. He is a two-time AVCA National Coach of the Year, earning the prestigious honor in 2000 and 2005, and a seven-time conference coach of the year, including Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2016 and 2017, his first and second Big Ten honors with the Huskers in their Big Ten era (2011-present).
• Cook is one of only four active coaches – and one of six all-time – to be a two-time AVCA National Coach of the Year and was honored in 2008 by USA Volleyball, receiving its All-Time Great Coach Award.
• Cook was inducted into the AVCA Hall of Fame in 2017, joining former Husker volleyball coach Terry Pettit in the hall.
• Cook became the ninth active Division I head coach to reach 700 career wins in 2018.
Hildebrand Returns to Huskers After 2017 NCAA Championship Season
• Former Nebraska volleyball assistant coach Tyler Hildebrand returned to the Huskers as an associate head coach in January 2020. Hildebrand, who helped coach the Huskers to an NCAA Championship in his only season at Nebraska in 2017, replaced Kayla Banwarth, who accepted the head coach position at Ole Miss in December.
• After the 2017 season, Hildebrand served as the Director of Coaching for the USA Volleyball Beach National Team Program.
• Hildebrand is the first associate head coach in Cook’s tenure (2000-present). He had a remarkable season at Nebraska in 2017, helping the Huskers win the NCAA title while coaching Hunter to first-team AVCA All-America honors and outside hitters Annika Albrecht and Mikaela Foecke to second-team All-America honors. Nebraska led all Big Ten teams in opponent hitting percentage (.154) as he coordinated the Huskers’ defense and game plans. His wife, former U.S. National Team captain Kristin Hildebrand, was a volunteer for the Huskers in 2017, but will not be this time around as she runs her own interior design business.
• “The 2017 season was one of my most enjoyable seasons as a head coach with Tyler and Kayla,” Nebraska Head Coach John Cook said. “Obviously we had great results, but Tyler made me a better coach that year. I think he has a gift for coaching in how he sees the game. He has a very positive way of challenging people, including me. That’s why I reached out to him. Part of my job as head coach is to provide the best staff possible for our team. I really feel like hiring Tyler and having him join our staff gives us the best chance to be successful.”