LINCOLN — Somewhere on a river in Argentina, Jason Hames is blissfully unaware of the chaos and excitement he created for his daughter, Husker setter Nicklin Hames.
After breaking the news that she would be returning for a fifth season on the "If You Can’t Handle the Heat" podcast, which was recorded more than a week ago, Jason Hames left on a fly fishing vacation.
By the time the podcast dropped last weekend, he was out of the country and oblivious to the news he dropped in the Nebraska volleyball community, which prompted his daughter to send social media posts to indicate she would be back.
“He has no idea that any of this happened,” Nicklin Hames said. “He has no idea that from his podcast, he leaked it. He has no clue.”
On Sunday morning, Hames posted on social media, poking fun at the way her news was leaked and referenced the Michael Jordan comeback fax by simply saying, “I’m back.” However, Hames added that she would also be playing a different position this fall and would become a graduate assistant in 2023.
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For immediate release. ❤️🔥 pic.twitter.com/CHcZR7uJk0— nicklin hames (@HamesNicklin) January 9, 2022
The posts were still light on details because there is still a lot to work out before next fall. One certainty is that Hames will not be the full-time setter. After finishing her fourth season as NU's rally-scoring career leader with 4,518 assists, Hames is ready to hand over the keys to the offense to sophomore Kennedi Orr.
Hames said this past year, she grew a lot and came to terms that her full-time setting days are behind her. She knew that as part of her return she would need to find new ways to contribute, which could mean playing back row, being a serving specialist or just helping off the court. Hames said she also wanted to come back after the Huskers came up three points short in the national title match for the second time in four years. She’s eager for another shot at a championship, especially with the Final Four in Omaha.
“I've had my time and I've done it for four years,” Hames said. “Coming back, I knew that was how it was going to be. I'm in all the way and I just want to help this team. That's what's best for the future of this program. I just want to help get this program a national championship this next year.
"If that means I'm cheering on the bench, that’s great.”
While she hasn’t talked to Orr about the decision, Hames said they will start working together once classes start next week. She said she hopes Orr will be able to look to her for help with her transition into the full-time starting job.
“I'm just gonna be there and help anyway I can,” Hames said. “I'm hoping that I can be someone who Kennedi can look to because I started my freshman year, and a lot goes into it and it's stressful.”
After serving as a captain for the past three seasons, Hames said providing leadership for the Huskers, who will have nine sophomores and freshmen on the roster, will be a key part of her responsibilities.
“I don't have any expectations to have this huge role,” Hames said. “I think my role will be more off the court and just helping people and just being a leader on this team again.”
Focusing on off-court duties while working with Orr and junior setter Anni Evans will begin to give Hames a glimpse of her future in coaching. Once she finishes her eligibility this fall, Hames will transition to a graduate manager for the 2023 season.
Coaching has long been part of Hames’ post-volleyball plans.
She grew up with parents who both coached volleyball and worked at various camps and clinics over the years. Her mother, Chris, was her high school coach and they won five state championships together. She’s seen the difference her parents have made in the community, especially in girls sports, and wants to do the same.
“The impact that coaches can have on young athletes, it's pretty special,” Hames said. “I have had coaches like that, and I want to be able to do that. I've been blessed to be able to play and I've gained so much knowledge that I want to be able to give it to other people.”
Hames talked with coach John Cook about starting her coaching career with the Huskers long before the NCAA granted a fifth season due to COVID-19. She pointed out the success of Nebraska’s past graduate managers, who have gone on to full-time coaching positions.
That includes three-time All-America setter Kelly Hunter, who returned to Nebraska after a short professional career as a graduate manager. She then was the volunteer coach for two seasons before becoming a full-time assistant last month.
On court, Hames’s path could mimic Dani Busboom Kelly, NU's setter her first three years before transitioning to libero her senior season on the 2006 national championship team. Busboom Kelly was an assistant at several schools, including Nebraska, before taking over at Louisville, where she was named national coach of the year last month.
“I strive to do something like she did,” Hames said.
In the end, Hames, who will finish her undergraduate degree in May, said leaving Lincoln didn’t make much sense with all the connections she has at Nebraska.
“I love this place. I love this program. I love this team,” Hames said. “When I looked at it, it was really hard for me to even think about transferring or leaving or going somewhere else to play, especially for just six months, and you have to move your whole life. I’ve really built roots here.”