LINCOLN — There was a moment during Nebraska’s spring volleyball exhibition opener against South Dakota last Saturday when Hayley Thramer may have wondered if she was on the right side of the net.
At one point in the match, the senior was the only Husker who had played significant time for Nebraska. The moment drove home that this fall will be Thramer’s last year in Lincoln.
A year to make a final statement. A year to lead.
“In that aspect, I realize wow, I’m a senior now, and these are my little babies,” Thramer said. “I’ve got to take care of them.”
Thramer and her fellow middle blocker, sophomore-to-be Meghan Haggerty, form the only proven returning unit after the Huskers graduated four seniors and saw another starter transfer in the offseason.
It has left coach John Cook with the challenge of rebuilding Nebraska with some athletic but somewhat untested parts during the spring exhibition season, which continues Saturday with a 6 p.m. match against Iowa State in the NU Coliseum.
“We’ve got a lot of people trying to figure out, first of all, what we want them to do, and then trying to play within a team,” Cook said. “It makes me realize how hard it is to develop great teamwork and great team chemistry in just a short amount of time. We’ve got a long way to go to get there.”
The teamwork is a work in progress, but last Saturday showed Nebraska will roll out a talented roster in the fall.
Tennessee transfer Kelsey Robinson, who has one season of eligibility remaining, put together an impressive debut with 20 kills on a .452 hitting percentage against South Dakota.
Freshman twins Amber and Kadie Rolfzen, who completed their senior years at Papillion-La Vista South a semester early to join the NU program in January, showed their athleticism against the Coyotes. Amber Rolfzen had 13 kills and hit .476 starting at opposite hitter. Kadie Rolfzen, who will play outside hitter this fall, came up with 10 digs as the team’s libero.
Alexa Strange, who starred with Robinson as the Huskers’ top duo during the sand volleyball season in March, handed out 48 assists and guided Nebraska to a .380 hitting mark in her first match running a 5-1 system. The sophomore-to-be ran a 6-2 system in high school and club volleyball and played as a backup opposite hitter last season. She is expected to compete with incoming freshman Kelly Hunter, a national top 15 recruit who, with the Rolfzens, led Papio South to a 119-1 record the last three seasons.
This year’s Huskers will have talent, but Thramer knows NU’s Big Ten rivals will as well. Which is why these spring matches are so important for fine-tuning team chemistry with a group of newcomers.
“The whole team is practically brand new,” Thramer said. “It’s just taking those steps to find out how to mesh with each other on and off the court.”
Saturday’s match with Iowa State provides another chance to gauge the Huskers’ progress.
Last week’s opener came after three days of indoor practice following the team’s return from the sand season in California. And the Cyclones are a step up in competition from South Dakota.
Iowa State opened its exhibition season last week with a five-set win against Creighton, a team the Huskers will face next Friday. The Cyclones are replacing three starters from last year’s Sweet 16 squad that beat Nebraska in four games in Ames on Sept. 15. But ISU returns the Big 12 defensive player of the year in libero Kristen Hahn, as well as middle blocker Tenisha Matlock, a North Platte graduate who had a team-high 13 kills against NU last year.
Thramer’s “babies” are being asked to grow up in a hurry, but Cook said this spring is a chance for the Husker senior from Ewing, Neb., to emerge as one of the leaders on the 2013 club.
“She has an opportunity, and I’ve seen glimpses of it, but she’s got more work to do if she wants to be a leader,” Cook said. “These are the days she’s got an opportunity to do that. She pointed out how we did to the team today in practice. She did a very good job.
“She’s been around the longest. She knows what it takes, and we need to continue to have her give input and feedback and lead these guys. To show them what it takes to be great.”
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