LINCOLN — Nebraska fans are used to seeing the letters GBR, a truncated version of the mantra “Go Big Red.”
But with a record number of new faces arriving for next season, the NU volleyball team is unveiling a program titled “BDR” — Building Deeper Relationships.
The Huskers will have 10 new players this fall, prompting the team to put its offseason focus on team building, acclimatization and chemistry.
“It's like 'challenge accepted,'” senior Hayley Thramer said. “It's not like it's a bad thing at all. It's just different from what our old players are used to. It's fun. It's like we have a new slate and we can get on the same page right away.”
Thramer's involvement in the team's offseason activities may well shape the Huskers this fall. The middle blocker would have been one of the most experienced returning Huskers, but Thramer suffered a career-ending knee injury in Nebraska's final spring exhibition match in April.
So coach John Cook placed Thramer at the top of the team's leadership infrastructure for the summer's BDR program. Under Thramer, seniors Kelsey Robinson and Morgan Broekhuis and sophomore Meghan Haggerty each are “SEAL team leaders” in charge of groups of four to five players.
Each team leader will be held accountable in making sure her group meets a number of criteria in areas such as academics, work ethic and getting to know their teammates, then they report back to Thramer on their group's progress.
“I said as soon as I got hurt I was still going to be a part of this team,” Thramer said. “I could graduate in August, but I made a commitment to them. I want to do what I can to get this team to the final four and the national championship. You have to dream big no matter what the circumstances are.”
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Those big dreams come despite an unprecedented roster turnover. NU graduated three All-Americans and had two other players transfer following last season. The Huskers bring in the nation's top-ranked recruiting class as well as two decorated transfers from Tennessee in Robinson and setter Mary Pollmiller, but the number of new faces makes this team Cook's largest-ever rebuilding project.
“I kind of like it because nobody thinks we're going to be any good. It's a completely different feel,” Cook said. “I asked our team, the players working our camp, 'How many think we're going to be preseason top 10?' There's only been one or two years we've never been top 10. Nobody raised their hand. I said, 'Yeah, you're right. Nobody thinks we're any good.' We have very high expectations here.”
Cook isn't backing off his own expectations and anticipates the first two weeks of fall practice in August to be full of competitive fireworks. Most notably, Nebraska will need to settle its starting setter position between Pollmiller, the Southeastern Conference's top setter as a freshman in 2011, and true freshman Kelly Hunter, a high school All-American from Papillion-La Vista South.
The coach hopes to decide on that battle, plus competitions at outside hitter, middle blocker and libero, following the team's Red-White scrimmage on Aug. 24. That's when the program will christen its new home at a renovated Devaney Center.
“Red-White will be a big night for a lot of kids,” Cook said. “That's why I hope we have a big crowd. That will be about as much pressure as they can feel in one night.”
Cook said the buildup to this season reminds him of the 2008 campaign, when Nebraska had to replace graduated All-Americans Sarah Pavan, Christina Houghtelling and Tracy Stalls while also coping with the loss of All-America setter Rachel Holloway, who unexpectedly transferred in the offseason.
That team regrouped around Jordan Larson, Lindsay Licht, Tara Mueller and setter Sydney Anderson, who transferred from Utah just before the start of fall practice. Nebraska eventually reached the final four before losing to eventual national champion Penn State in a match considered one of the best in program history.
But blending in 10 new faces presents a different level of challenge. One the Huskers hope to make headway on during a summer designed to quickly bring them closer together.
“We've got a lot of work to do,” Cook said.
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