Nebraska Volleyball Using Beach to Contend for an NCAA Title…Indoors
It was on the biggest point of one of the biggest matches of Lauren Stivrins’ career that she had to do something that, had she a background exclusively in indoor volleyball, she should not have been able to do.
Tied two sets to two in the NCAA semifinals against Illinois – this after trailing two sets to none – outside hitter Mikaela Foecke dropped a step off the net on a broken play, making an awkward dig, shoving it straight to Stivrins, a middle blocker. Middles typically don’t pass. Or use their platforms. And middles definitely don’t bump set perfectly on top of their heads, as Stivrins did. Middles don’t typically make the set that would set Nebraska up to win that semifinal over Illinois, a win that would place them in the National Championship against Stanford two days later.
Yet that’s exactly what Stivrins did. She made that perfect bump set, straight on top of her head, giving Foecke the opportunity to make the kill that put them in the finals.
“Once I saw that,” Nebraska beach volleyball coach Jaylen Reyes said, “I thought ‘Wow, Lauren probably learned that in beach.’”
Nebraska’s beach volleyball team will not win a national championship this year. The Huskers’ season is finished. They went 12-12. It’s also not necessarily the point.
Nebraska has a beach program but its progress is not measured by wins and losses, as national championship contenders UCLA, USC, Florida State, LSU, Pepperdine and others of that ilk are.
“We’re not out here counting record-wise whether we’re winning or losing,” Reyes said. “We get disappointed as a coaching staff not because we won or lost but because we’re not applying or using the things we’re learning. For us, it’s just ‘Are we getting better? Are we learning?’”
It’s a strange dynamic for the Huskers to adopt. Historically, Nebraska is one of the greatest volleyball programs in the sport’s history, having won more matches than any other school, boasting five NCAA titles.
Since 1982, when the national polling began ranking teams, Nebraska has never fallen outside of the top 25.
Losing is a rarity, an abnormality, an exception to the rule.
“None of us really know how to handle losing,” Stivrins admitted. She admitted this in Long Beach, no more than five minutes after losing her final match of the day. And therein lies the difference: The Huskers’ beach volleyball program is not expected to win. In the spring, no longer are they the big, bad Cornhuskers, the Goliaths of their sport. They’re the tall, pale ones who haven’t yet practiced outside, whose beach court is tucked in the back of the weight room, who can’t practice in the wind but, hey, they do have a fan!
“It’s so much different from indoor because we’re pretty good and our ego is there,” Stivrins said. “But this is a total ego check. It really keeps us humble and grounded. It teaches us to embrace adversity.”
The adversity, for now, is over. While the majority of beach teams are preparing for their conference tournaments and championships, Nebraska’s season is over, for it is the only school in the Big 10 to have a beach program. Penn State may add one soon, but again: The Big 10 is an indoor conference, and for good reason. Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota – well, they’re not exactly known for balmy weather, good tans, and breathtaking beaches.
“We’re all so pale,” Nicklin Hames, Stivrins’ court one partner, said, laughing. “Then we play all these tan people and we’re like ‘We’ve been in the gym way too long.’”
So no, Nebraska will not win a national championship on the beach this year. But come this fall, its indoor program just might, and a large portion of that could be attributed to the gains and skills cultivated on the beach.
“Basically, we play beach to develop our all-around skills,” Hames said. “Everyone has to play, pass, so we use it mainly for our indoor game.”
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