Published Tuesday, December 17, 2013 at 9:12 pm / Updated at 9:28 pm
Sheldon: Future looks bright for young Huskers

LINCOLN — The blistering loss to Texas in last Saturday's regional final abruptly ended one of the more feel-good seasons in the recent history of the Nebraska volleyball program.

Ten players new to Lincoln became part of a team that finished second in the Big Ten — the nation's toughest league in 2013 — and made a run to the elite eight, where the Huskers lost to the most formidable collection of athletes on one college volleyball team this year.

Taken as a whole, the season has to be considered a success, even if some fans, watching only the bitter finale against the Longhorns, left grumbling about whether Nebraska has the talent to end its final four drought. Texas' sweep at the Devaney Center leaves the Huskers out of the season's final weekend for the fifth straight year, the longest stretch since NU went from 1991-95 without reaching the national semifinals.

But the Texas roster has the ability to make almost any team look like it's jumping in quicksand. Bailey Webster, the Longhorns' dynamic outside hitter, may have just a handful of athletic peers in the college game. Nebraska coach John Cook suggested she may be in a class by herself.

“Webster is the X-factor that nobody else has,” Cook said after Saturday's loss.

Webster's All-American teammate, Haley Eckerman, a Waterloo, Iowa, native who Nebraska highly coveted in the recruiting process, joined Webster to give the Longhorns perhaps the country's most dynamic outside hitter duo. And the rest of the Texas lineup wasn't exactly lacking height, length and explosiveness.

Would Nebraska like to have an elite terminator like Webster or Penn State's Ariel Scott? Of course. But if that kind of firepower is your measuring stick, nearly every roster in the country is going to come up wanting.

That said, the nucleus Nebraska is expected to return in 2014 gives the Huskers an excellent foundation from which to challenge the nation's elite programs the next several years.

You can't minimize the departure of Kelsey Robinson, who staked a spot in the program's record book despite only one season in Lincoln. The Tennessee transfer earned Big Ten player of the year honors in a season where she had 530 kills, the fifth-best single-season mark in school history, while being the team's best passer and emotional sparkplug.

Join the conversation on the Big Red Today Facebook page.

However, Robinson is the only expected loss from the starting lineup, and Nebraska is better positioned to fill that void going into the offseason than a year ago, when NU was faced with replacing four starters.

Barring postseason defections — which hasn't been a sure thing for the program recently with Nebraska having players transfer after each of the last four seasons — the Huskers will return a bulk of their production.

“I think this team, knowing we were able to gel together all being new, is definitely a bonus and a positive we can take away from this season,” freshman outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen said. “Although, yeah, we lose Robo next year, (we know) that we can gel, we have the team chemistry, and know we can only go up from here.”

The Huskers will bring back players that accounted for 67 percent of the team's kills, 76 percent of digs and 73 percent of blocks. Five starters figure to return, led by Rolfzen, who was named All-Big Ten after averaging 3.46 kills per set, tops among conference freshmen. Her twin sister, Amber Rolfzen, was named the league's freshman of the week twice this season and started all but one match at opposite hitter.

Starting setter Mary Pollmiller will be back as the team's lone senior and will be looked to for leadership just as much as skill running the offense, and freshman Kelly Hunter figures to push Pollmiller after Hunter recovers from a foot injury.

Freshman libero Justine Wong-Orantes was one of the most improved Huskers by season's end and should be the rock of Nebraska's floor defense next season. Two other freshmen, Brenna Lyles and Alexa Ethridge, made their marks as serving specialists, but could challenge for playing time in more rotations next season.

Additionally, Nebraska will return four middle blockers with starting experience and add to the mix the very athletic Kira Larson, who was the only freshman to redshirt this year. The 6-3 Larson was recruited as a middle but could be moved to opposite hitter to spell Amber Rolfzen or free Rolfzen up for a move to the left.

The recruiting class that will join the team in 2014 lacks the star power of last year's No. 1-ranked class, but should add depth right away. Outside hitters Olivia Boender of Waverly, Neb., and Maddie Haggerty, sister of middle blocker Meghan Haggerty, will come to Lincoln with reputations as physical talents with live arms. Lincoln Pius X libero Sydney Townsend, who joined Boender on The World-Herald's All-Nebraska team, will add to the mix in the back row.

With just one senior returning next year, Nebraska will be young again in 2014. But in her emotional final remarks as a Husker on Saturday, Robinson hinted that the seasoning her young teammates received this year will eventually lead the program to reach the lofty goals by which it defines itself.

“These freshmen are going to be amazing when they're seniors,” Robinson said, “so everybody better watch out when they're seniors because they're going to win it all.”

Jeff Sheldon covers Husker volleyball for The World-Herald.

Contact the writer:




< >
2013 college football preview
View our 2013 college football preview, a 26-page, three-part section filled with coverage of the Huskers, Big Ten conference and more.
Big Red Bowl Retrospective
See complete historical results, game recaps and photo coverage from the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football bowl game appearances, from the 1941 Rose Bowl up to today.
Big Ten football recruits
The World-Herald's Big Ten recruiting database contains every football recruit that signed with a Big Ten school from 2002 to 2011, complete with color-coded interactive map representations, player information, high-concentrations recruiting clusters and more.
Devaney Center timeline
Check out a World-Herald timeline to see the evolution of memorable moments at the Devaney Center, complete with photos, videos, memorable quotes and more.
Follow OWHbigred on Twitter
Looking for the latest Husker sports news from The Omaha World-Herald and Follow us on Twitter!
Husker scholarship distribution chart
Want to see how many scholarships NU has invested at each position? Wondering how the Huskers have appropriated their offers by class? Check out our handy chart to look further into how Bo Pelini has built his team.
Husker Signing Day 2013
The World-Herald's top-notch coverage of the Nebraska football's class of 2013, complete with videos, photos, articles, live recruit interviews, interactive components and more.
Husker turnovers: A slippery slope
Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NUís turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, theyíre 13-18. Why hasnít Nebraska joined the nationís elite? More than anything, itís turnovers.
Interactive: Bo Pelini's contract
View an interactive PDF of Pelini's revised contract signed by the NU football coach, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Darin Erstad's contract (2012)
View an interactive PDF of NU baseball coach Darin Erstad's contract released in August 2012, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Tim Miles' contract
View an interactive PDF of Tim Miles' contract signed by the Nebraska men's basketball coach on May 4, 2012, complete with brief legal explanations, comparisons to other Big Ten coaches and more.'s Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from and other top news outlets from around country.
Husker Recruiting: Changes shrink NU's sphere of influence
For decades, the Great Plains represented fertile recruiting ground for Tom Osborne's football program. Restoring that lost tradition won't be easy.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
7M Grill
Half Off Delicious Comfort Fusion Food & Drinks!
Buy Now
< >