Freshman Sheridan Zarda isn't shaking in her sneakers when Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook calls her name to serve for Hannah Werth or play back row for Morgan Broekhuis.
Quite the opposite.
“I don't get nervous. I'm used to playing at a high level,” Zarda said. “I just find it exciting.”
Husker coaches like that attitude from the 5-foot-5 libero/defensive specialist. She's one of the loudest players on the court, they say, and is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win.
“Sheridan's confidence is probably her best asset,” NU assistant Dani Busboom said.
Zarda got plenty of experience in high school. One of the top recruits out of Kansas her senior year, she led St. James Academy in Lenexa to four state titles and a national championship. Her team lost just seven of 181 matches in her four seasons.
At Nebraska, Zarda needs to be ready to go at any time, Busboom said. Coaches could call on her to serve, be a defensive specialist or pass — any type of back-row skill.
Zarda says it isn't a shock when it happens. Cook talks with players before each contest about their roles.
Zarda has appeared in 10 matches, averaging 0.91 digs per set, and likely will get called on this weekend. Nebraska travels to No. 12 Purdue at 7 p.m. Friday and will attempt to avenge last year's 3-0 loss in West Lafayette, Ind. The No. 4 Huskers (11-2, 3-1 Big Ten) then take on Indiana at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Zarda has started using a jump float serve since arriving in Lincoln. She's missed a few, but said Cook frequently reminds his players to trust in their ability and the work they've done in practice.
Busboom said it's rare for a freshman to jump in to serve without hesitation. She's been surprised at how much Zarda's serve has improved in the past few weeks.
“I have a lot of confidence in her ability to serve,” Busboom said. “She's been serving great in games and more often than not, we score a few points when she's back there.”
Practicing against some of the top hitters in Division I has also helped her handle how quickly the ball arrives in the back row at the college level. There's nothing like having Werth, Broekhuis or Gina Mancuso hitting at you every day, she said.
“As a digger, I'm ready for it,” she said. “I want it to come to me.”
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Zarda says she still has a lot to work on, like serve receive and reading attackers better.
“Sometimes you get it wrong and you have to react to that,” she said.
As much as she's loved being a part of Husker tradition and playing before big crowds at the NU Coliseum, Zarda's favorite part of college has come away from the court.
She cherishes the bond she's building with her teammates. The older players have made a point to include the newcomers, asking them to hang out or offering help with their homework.
“She earns a lot of respect in practice because her presence is consistent and she works very hard,” Busboom said.
One of her best moments came between matches on the road at Penn State and Ohio State.
The team stayed at a facility near State College, Pa., called Camp Woodward, where youngsters can participate in activities such as gymnastics, cheer, skateboarding and BMX. They toured the facility, saw some people perform on the BMX ramps and, after a study hall, got to have a campfire. They even cooked s'mores.
“It was just different, seeing each other hanging out,” Zarda said. “We'll hang out at Nebraska, but we're always so busy with the activities we're doing back at home. I got to relax and be a normal girl.”
There won't be much time for relaxing Friday. The Boilermakers are 13-2 and 4-0 in the Big Ten.
“It's pretty big,” Zarda said.
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