Amber Rolfzen took a little longer than she would have liked to take the floor this season with the U.S. Junior National volleyball team, but once she did, it didn’t take her long to make her mark.
Rolfzen, the Nebraska freshman outside hitter, shook off the effects of a hamstring injury to become the team’s primary starting opposite hitter during the Junior World Championships held in June in the Czech Republic.
The experience was an eye-opening one, Rolfzen said. The event featured the top national teams made up of players age 20 and under, many of whom already play professionally, and several of the U.S. opponents have been playing together as a team for several years. The U.S. team, which trained together for 10 days in Lake Placid, N.Y., before traveling overseas, struggled through pool play and did not advance into the final 16-team bracket. The team ended the tournament with three straight wins in the consolation bracket.
“We all learned what it takes to be great,” Rolfzen said. “Not just in the United States, but what it takes to be great around the world. We saw that it’s not our age that’s holding us back.”
It was Rolfzen’s second straight year on the U-20 national team after making the roster along with her twin sister Kadie in 2012. Kadie Rolfzen did not participate in tryouts this spring while recovering from shoulder soreness.
Amber Rolfzen sat out the U.S. team’s first three matches at the Junior World Championships after pulling a hamstring during practice in the days leading up to the tournament opener. But once she returned during a pool-play match against Mexico, she quickly delivered a moment to remember, said Rod Wilde, the Junior National Team coach.
“Up until then we hadn’t been able to get her on the court,” Wilde said. “She came in the third set and finished the set with a stuff block on their best hitter to clinch the set 25-23.”
That hitter was Southern Cal sophomore Samantha Bricio, who is a regular on Mexico’s Senior National Team and was named the 2012 national freshman of the year by Volleyball Magazine.
The tournament also allowed Rolfzen, who is expected to challenge senior Morgan Broekhuis for the Huskers’ starting opposite hitter position, to showcase her passing and defensive skills. International rules allow fewer substitutions than NCAA matches, which forces players to be multi-skilled to play in both the front and back row.
“One thing I really enjoy doing in practice is passing and defense,” Rolfzen said. “I love working on passing and digging. I’m not really used to doing that as an outside hitter.”
While the results were disappointing for the Junior National team, Rolfzen said, it made sure to soak in the experience. The team traveled to historic Prague and toured a large castle overlooking the city. The players also funneled their competitive spirit into a laser tag battle at a two-story facility.
“When I got back to Lincoln, the first thing I told the (Nebraska) team is, ‘We’ve got to play laser tag,’” Rolfzen said.
Rolfzen may have come away from the Czech Republic with a taste for combat sports, but also had an on-court to-do list. Wilde said the Husker freshman is working at becoming a more polished attacker and establishing a higher contact point on her attacks to better deal with the athletic blockers she will see in the Big Ten Conference.
Husker coach John Cook said the experience allowed Rolfzen to play in a high-tempo offense similar to what NU will attempt to run this fall.
So while the team’s final record may not have been much to write home about, it was obvious to Cook the trip led his freshman to set high goals for her first year in Lincoln.
“She got to see the best teams in the world play at her age level,” Cook said. “When we talked, I asked her: What did you learn watching these other teams? She talked to me about what they did well. They get a whole new perspective on what kids her age can do that are the best in the world. Hopefully she raises her expectations on what she can be as a player.”