LINCOLN — The departure of a five-member senior class that includes three All-Americans leaves quite a gap in the Nebraska volleyball team for next season. That gap got even bigger this week when coach John Cook announced an unexpected departure.
Sophomore libero Lara Dykstra, who played in 60 matches during the last two years, will leave the program and seek to continue a beach volleyball career at a California school, Cook said.
Cook said Dykstra informed him Monday of her desire to transition from the indoor game to beach volleyball. He added that the move took him by surprise.
“Lara Dykstra informed me this week that she has lost her passion to play indoor volleyball and is moving back to California to be closer to her family and play collegiate beach volleyball,” Cook said. “Lara started every match for us over the last two years and did a great job. She will be missed, and we wish her the best.”
Dykstra is originally from Redondo Beach, Calif., and set the program’s freshman record for digs with 399 in 2011. She added 371 digs this year and was one of the team’s top servers.
Her departure, along with the loss of seniors Gina Mancuso, Hannah Werth and defensive specialist Paige Hubl, means Nebraska must replace all of its primary passers from last season along with setter Lauren Cook.
Freshman walk-on Sheridan Zarda played in 19 matches as a defensive specialist in 2012.
“We have to figure out how we’re going to pass the ball,” Cook said, referring to priorities for the 2013 Huskers. “That’s the number one thing. Serving and passing will be a major, major focus.”
With four starters gone from the 2012 team, next year’s club will be the youngest in Cook’s coaching career.
“It’s going to be a whole new team. There will be a lot of great opportunities for young kids next year. Hopefully, we can have a team like Stanford,” Cook said, referring to a Cardinal team that spent much of the year ranked No. 1 despite regularly playing four freshmen.
Like Stanford a year ago, Nebraska will be bringing in a large, highly ranked recruiting class that Cook will have to integrate with a number of returners.
Opposite hitter Morgan Broekhuis and middle blocker Hayley Thramer will be seniors on next year’s team, returning as multi-year starters. Thramer will be joined in the middle by Meghan Haggerty, who was named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team after hitting a team-high .333 in her first year.
Cook said the 6-foot-5 Broekhuis had a solid finish to the season, averaging 3.5 kills per set and hitting .470 in the Huskers’ final three matches. He is looking for the Colorado Springs, Colo., native to get stronger and improve her blocking going into her senior season.
Last month, Nebraska signed what may turn out to be the nation’s top-rated recruiting class featuring a number of players who will get their chances for early playing time.
The class is headlined by 6-foot-2 twin outside hitters Amber and Kadie Rolfzen from Papillion-La Vista South. Both were ranked among the top 10 recruits in the country by PrepVolleyball.com and will graduate from Papio South a semester early to enroll at Nebraska in January.
In the summer, the Rolfzens will be joined by setter Kelly Hunter, their prep teammate. Hunter will finish her final semester at Papio South and play one more season for the Nebraska Juniors club team, where Cook said she’ll have the chance to get more experience setting a 5-1 system. The three Papio South players were named honorary captains of the World-Herald’s All-Nebraska volleyball team.
Cook said he has never started a true freshman setter in a 5-1 in his coaching career, but Hunter, ranked the No. 13 recruit by PrepVolleyball, could be the first.
Freshman Alexa Strange from San Clemente, Calif., was the backup setter behind Lauren Cook this season, and is expected to compete for the starting job next fall with Hunter.
The Huskers will also add two more middle blockers — 6-3 Kira Larson of Fargo, N.D., another top 25 recruit according to PrepVolleyball, who Cook said could play a number of positions, and 6-foot Melanie Keil from Berlin. Keil’s high school plays against teams from Germany’s professional league, making her more experienced than a typical freshman, Cook said.
Also joining the team will be Justine Wong-Orantes, a 5-6 defensive specialist from Cypress, Calif., who also has an extensive beach volleyball background.
Cook said with Dykstra’s departure, Zarda and Wong-Orantes could compete to be NU’s libero next year. The coach also didn’t rule out playing a system without a libero, something the team hasn’t done since 2005.
“We’ll certainly be talented, but the question is how fast can we put it all together?” Cook said.
“I’m never going to lower my expectations at Nebraska. But this group will be on a journey to figure out how to win and how to be successful.”
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