LINCOLN — Hayley Thramer knows what must be going through the minds of NU's opponents as the Huskers gear up to begin their first year of sand volleyball this week.
“Nobody is going to think we'll be good,” said Thramer, a Husker middle blocker. “They're going to think 'Oh, they've been playing indoors. They're from Nebraska. They've been playing in snow.' They have no idea we've all been working really hard at it and we've all improved so much in these last six weeks.”
The Huskers' preparations for the team's inaugural beach season likely bear little resemblance to their competitors, who are largely located in warmer climates with access to the natural environments where matches will take place.
But that doesn't mean the NU players and coaches haven't been having fun trying to get better acquainted with the beach game.
Besides a few outdoor practices at Spike's Beach Bar and Grille, Husker workouts have been inside the Alloy Strength Complex on a synthetic sand court flanked by a large mural that depicts a tropical scene. Coaches even took to piping in reggae music over the facility's speakers to accentuate the tropical vibe, and large fans make a partial substitute for the ocean breeze.
Coach John Cook said the players have visibly made strides in developing the all-around skills needed to excel in the 2-on-2 format, often being pulled out of their comfort zone from the familiar, specialized roles demanded of the indoor game.
Cook said once outdoors, the Huskers should be helped from playing on a shallower surface than in their indoor practice court. Plus, teaching new drills and examining new roles has been a refreshing challenge for the coaching staff.
“It's going to be fun to see how we stack up,” Cook said. “We really have no expectations. We just want to see how we stack up. We've tried to train them how we think we need to prepare them.
“We want to win, but we kind of have to feel our way through this. I want to see if we prepared them the right way, if we're doing the right strategies. Until we play matches, it's hard to tell. All those schools that played last year, they've got a feel for what it's like.”
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Over the weekend, Cook identified his lineup for when Nebraska, ranked No. 9 in the AVCA preseason poll, opens the season Thursday in Chula Vista, Calif., against No. 4 Florida State. The Huskers' top duo will be made up of junior Kelsey Robinson and freshman Alexa Strange. Robinson, who transferred from Tennessee in January, and Strange, a San Clemente, Calif., native, are the two Huskers with the most beach experience.
Thramer and freshman Amber Rolfzen will be the No. 2 pairing, with Rolfzen’s twin sister Kadie joining junior Morgan Broekhuis for Nebraska’s No. 3 team. Kelsey Fien and Cecilia Hall will be the No. 4 team, with the pairing of Sheridan Zarda and Alicia Ostrander rounding out the lineup. Megan Haggerty will be an alternate.
In match play, each pair will play a corresponding duo in a best-of-three format with the first two games played to 21 and a third game to 15. The first to take three matches wins the dual.
After opening with the Seminoles, Nebraska on Thursday will also play defending national champion and No. 1 Pepperdine. The Huskers will remain in Chula Vista on Friday and Saturday for a tournament that includes Florida State, Pepperdine, Cal State Bakersfield and Grand Canyon.
Cook said he had a choice of scheduling matches in Florida or California, but felt a trip out west would be a stiffer test. The Huskers' schedule, which wraps up next week in Irvine, Calif., and Los Angeles, could mean facing as many as six teams ranked in the top 10.
“We're going in as the underdogs,” Thramer said. “It's a good thing because if you're not putting yourself out there, you're not going to get better.”
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