The 12th-ranked Nebraska volleyball team hosts the Ameritas Players Challenge this weekend at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. The Huskers play three matches this weekend: UMBC on Friday at Noon, Oral Roberts on Friday at7:30 p.m., and Saint Mary’s on Saturday at 2 p.m. This will be the 12th Ameritas Players Challenge dating back to 2006. Nebraska is 29-1 all-time in the Ameritas Players Challenge. All three matches will have a BTN Plus live stream ($9.95 per month).
Husker Sports Network will broadcast all the action on Husker Sports Network affiliates including 107.3 FM in Lincoln and 105.9 FM in Omaha. A live audio stream will be provided at Huskers.com and on the official Huskers app. John Baylor is in his 24th season doing play-by-play for the Husker volleyball program. Lauren Cook, a former All-America setter for the Huskers, will provide color commentary.
About the Huskers
• Nebraska’s two losses last weekend at the VERT Challenge came at the hands of then-No. 18 Oregon, 3-1, and No. 12 Florida, 3-2. The Gators are now ranked third in the nation as they also beat the then-No. 1 Texas Longhorns.
• Mikaela Foecke was a VERT Challenge All-Tournament selection after averaging 3.44 kills and 3.67 digs per set. Foecke had double-doubles in both matches and also served four aces in the match against Florida.
• Freshman Jazz Sweet had one of the most impressive freshman debuts in Nebraska volleyball history, averaging 3.33 kills per set on .349 hitting in the two matches. Sweet had 14 kills in her debut against Oregon, which matched Kadie Rolfzen for the most by a Husker true freshman in a collegiate debut since Sarah Pavan’s 16 in 2004.
• The Huskers were without setter Kelly Hunter and outside hitter Olivia Boender last week. Nebraska head coach John Cook is optimistic both will be ready for this weekend.
• Cook is 499-67 in his 18th year as head coach of the Huskers. The next win will put him at 500 wins at Nebraska and 661 in his Division I coaching career.
• John Cook, Nebraska: 18th year at Nebraska (499-67); 25th year overall (660-140)
• Ian Blanchard, UMBC: 13th year at UMBC (180-167)
• Sheera Sirola, Oral Roberts: 15th year at ORU (255-182)
• Rob Browning, Saint Mary’s: 13th year at Saint Mary’s (187-152)
• Nebraska is meeting UMBC for the first time.
• NU is 6-1 all-time against Oral Roberts with the last meeting a Husker sweep on Sept. 1, 2008. ORU’s lone win came in 1979.
• Nebraska is 3-0 against Saint Mary’s and beat the Gaels, 3-1, in the 2013 Ameritas Players Challenge.
Scouting the Opponents
• UMBC went 1-2 on opening weekend with a 3-1 win against Temple and 3-1 losses to Maryland and Northeastern. Carmen Freeman recorded 3.00 kills per set, and Claudia Lopez coordinated the attack with 12.40 assists per set. Kristin Watson totaled 62 digs for an average of 5.17 per set. Watson was the America East Defensive Specialist of the Year in 2016.
• Oral Roberts was swept by Purdue and Alabama last weekend at the Purdue Mortar Board Invitational. The Golden Eagles also fell in five sets to Cleveland State. Laura Milos averaged 5.00 kills per set, while CeCe Madison added 3.36 kills per set. Those two combined for 67 percent of the team’s kills in the first three matches. Milos was an All-Summit League performer last year and led NCAA Division I in service aces (81) and aces per set (0.74) while ranking fourth in total kills (631).
• Saint Mary’s opened its season with three losses last weekend in Seattle, but two came at the hands of then-No. 9 Creighton and No. 3 Washington. Saint Mary’s also fell to Pittsburgh, 3-2. Sarah Chase led the team with 2.55 kills and 3.27 digs per set. Alex O’Sullivan totaled 15 blocks on the weekend, and as a team the Gaels put up 2.82 blocks per set. Lindsey Knudsen led the team last season with 3.03 kills per set and added 2.72 digs per set.
Cook Adds to Legacy; Will Join AVCA Hall of Fame in December
• Nebraska head coach John Cook is in his 18th season as the Nebraska volleyball head coach in 2017. He has led the Huskers to three national championships, seven final fours, 11 conference championships and 15 top-10 final rankings since 2000. Cook has 660 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 .882 win percentage in that time (499-67).
• Under Cook, the Huskers have achieved 49 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 six-time conference coach of the year, including Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2016, his first Big Ten honor with the Huskers in their Big Ten era (2011-present).
• Cook was named the AVCA North Region Coach of the Year this season, his fifth career regional coaching honor and fourth while at Nebraska.
• 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 will be inducted into the AVCA Hall of Fame in December in Kansas City, Missouri. Cook will join former Husker volleyball coach Terry Pettit in the hall.
Hunter Guides Young Husker Squad
• All-America setter Kelly Hunter is set for her senior season after leading NU to a national championship and a Big Ten championship the past two seasons as team captain and starting setter.
• Hunter was a second-team AVCA All-American in 2016 and an All-Big Ten setter, becoming the first Husker setter since Lauren Cook in 2012 to make the All-Big Ten team. She is a preseason All-Big Ten selection.
• Hunter was named Big Ten Setter of the Week four times last season, giving her six career awards. She set a career high with 61 assists at Penn State. She posted 11.24 assists per set to rank third in the Big Ten.
• Hunter is eighth on NU’s career assists chart with 2,881.
Foecke Poised for Bigger Role
• Junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke is set for a huge role in the Husker attack this season and worked to become a six-rotation player in the offseason.
• Foecke is NU’s top returning hitter with 2.93 kills per set last season on .304 hitting. She received All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2016 and was an AVCA All-Region honoree.
• Foecke was a unanimous preseason All-Big Ten selection and was one of just two players to earn a unanimous selection (Minnesota setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson).
• Foecke was the NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player in 2015 – becoming just the third freshman to earn the honor – after 19 kills on .385 hitting in the championship win against Texas. The other freshmen to win the award were Deja McClendon (Penn State, 2010) and Kerri Walsh (Stanford, 1996).
Holman Leads Husker Middle Blockers
• Senior Briana Holman guides a relatively inexperienced group of Husker middle blockers. In 2016, Holman averaged 2.42 kills and 1.18 blocks per set with a team-high .350 hitting percentage.
• Holman earned AVCA All-Region honors for the third time in her career last season and received All-Big Ten honorable mention.
• Holman was a first-team AVCA All-American at LSU in 2014 with 3.94 kills and 1.47 blocks per set. She was a two-time All-SEC performer for the Tigers and represented the U.S. Collegiate National Team at the World University Games in South Korea in July 2015.
Huskers Get Depth From Former Husker Women’s Basketball Player Allie Havers
• The Huskers gained some depth at middle blocker when former Husker women’s basketball player Allie Havers joined the team in the spring.
• Havers, a 6-5 native of Mattawan, Michigan, has one season of eligibility to play volleyball, a sport she excelled at in high school. Havers was a first-team Class A all-state player in Michigan in 2012 and a finalist for Michigan’s Miss Volleyball in 2013.
• On the Nebraska women’s basketball team, Havers closed her career having played in 125 games with 50 starts. She ranked among the top 50 career scorers (720 points) and top 25 career rebounders (541) in Husker history.
Huskers Ranked No. 12 in AVCA Coaches Poll
• Nebraska is ranked No. 12 in this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll.
• The Huskers have been ranked No. 1 in 98 all-time polls, the most in NCAA history.
• The Huskers have been ranked in the top 10 a total of 458 times, which is also the most in NCAA history.
• Nebraska has appeared in all 512 AVCA Coaches Polls since it was established in 1982. Nebraska and Stanford are the only two programs to be ranked in every poll all-time.
Husker Fans Set Attendance Standard Once Again
• Nebraska fans led the nation in attendance for a fourth straight season as their 8,210 average per match in 2016 established a new NCAA attendance record, topping its 2015 average of 8,206.
• The Huskers’ total attendance of 155,986 in 19 home matches also set a school record.
• In 2013, the Huskers led the nation in attendance (8,175) for the first time since 1992, ending Hawaii’s 21-year reign as the national leader.
• The Huskers repeated as attendance champions in 2014 with 8,083 fans per match, which included a school-record 8,585 fans at the Oct. 3 win against Penn State.
• Nebraska has ranked in the top three nationally in attendance every season since 1990 (27 straight seasons).
• The Huskers have sold out every regular-season match since 2001, a streak of 219 consecutive matches, the longest sellout streak in the history of NCAA women’s athletics.
• The Devaney Center has hosted the three largest regular-season crowds in NCAA history and seven of the 10 largest.
Cook’s Coaching Tree Continues to Grow
• Nebraska head coach John Cook’s assistant coaches have a great track record of moving on to become head coaches.
• After the 2016 season, Nebraska assistants Chris Tamas and Dani Busboom Kelly both accepted high-level Division I head coaching jobs. Busboom Kelly became the head coach at Louisville, while Tamas accepted the head coaching job at Big Ten foe Illinois.
• Seven assistants under Cook have become head coaches following their time on Cook’s Nebraska staff: Craig Skinner (Kentucky), Lee Maes (Virginia), Lizzy Stemke (Georgia), Dan Conners (UC Davis), Dan Meske (Augustana, Associate Head Coach at Louisville), Busboom Kelly and Tamas.
• In the last seven years, five of Cook’s Husker assistants have become head coaches.
New Players, New Coaches
• Not only are six of the 15 Husker players new to the program, so are the two Husker assistant coaches. Former Husker and U.S. Olympic libero Kayla Banwarth, and former Long Beach State men’s associate head coach Tyler Hildebrand are on the Husker bench this year.
• Hildebrand joined the Nebraska coaching staff as an assistant in February of 2017. Hildebrand came to Nebraska after five seasons on the coaching staff of the Long Beach State men’s volleyball program, including two seasons as associate head coach. In 2017, he was the AVCA Division I-II Men’s National Assistant Coach of the Year. A former All-American at Long Beach State, Hildebrand was the top assistant there from 2013-15 after a decorated playing career on the U.S. Men’s National Team. He is a former setter who coordinated both the offense and the blocking defense at Long Beach State at one point in his career.
• Banwarth joined the Nebraska volleyball coaching staff as an assistant in January of 2017. Banwarth completed an illustrious playing career for the Huskers in 2010 before embarking on a professional playing career that saw her win an Olympic bronze medal with the U.S. National Team, as well as an FIVB World Championship. Banwarth is relatively new to the coaching profession after finishing her professional career with the U.S. National Team at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. A U.S. National Team libero since 2011, Banwarth spent two years as a volunteer assistant coach for the Pepperdine men’s volleyball team.