LINCOLN — For three seasons at Tennessee, Kelsey Robinson was on the receiving end of nearly every set in every moment when the Volunteers needed a point.
She racked up accolades, led her teammates and was recognized as one of the best players in the Southeastern Conference. Still, she wondered if there was more.
It didn’t take long after she transferred to Nebraska for her to find out.
“I spent three years at Tennessee wondering why we never got to beat a Big Ten team, and then after one day of practice here I understood why,” Robinson said. “The training is different. The atmosphere is different.”
But her addition has kept expectations high at a program that perpetually shoots for the stars. The Tennessee transfer has become the primary attacking option in Nebraska’s spring exhibition season, and has taken on a leadership role on a young team that is longer on talent than experience.
“I was a leader for three years at Tennessee, and the go-to player,” said Robinson, who was named a second-team All-American and the SEC player of the year in 2011. “I got 500 more sets than everybody else. It’s hard to go to a program and know I might not have a shot to play, but I’m going to be fighting for that position. That’s the mindset I went with being here.”
Without Robinson, the Huskers were likely going to rely on three young players to replace departed seniors Gina Mancuso and Hannah Werth, a pair of All-Americans who accounted for nearly half of NU’s kills and total attacks in 2012.
But the 6-foot-2 Robinson has been quick to acclimate. Heading into Friday’s 7 p.m. exhibition match with Creighton at the NU Coliseum, Robinson has taken twice as many swings as any other teammate. Her 30 kills in NU’s first two spring matches are a team high. That has taken the pressure off sophomore outside Kelsey Fien and freshmen twins Kadie and Amber Rolfzen, who won’t be counted on to carry the offense right away this fall.
“She’s like a blessing from the heavens for Amber and Kadie because they need to learn from her how you play this game and how you go about your business and how hard you work,” NU coach John Cook said. “Robinson is an undersized outside hitter that has had to learn how to work hard to be great, while Kadie and Amber, and even a Kelsey Fien, they dominate in high school and dominated in club. Then they come here and they’re not going to dominate, and they don’t know how to handle that. While Kelsey Robinson has had to learn how to grind to be a smallish-type outside hitter.”
Robinson also has shown off her all-around skills as a six-rotation player. Her wicked jump serve may remind NU fans of former Husker All-American and U.S. Olympian Jordan Larson. She has also led the team in digs in both spring matches and figures to be one of the team’s primary passers this fall.
While some groups might have been frosty to the idea of an incoming player jumping in to such a role, Cook said Robinson’s work ethic and intensity quickly garnered her new teammates’ respect.
“She doesn’t even have to say anything,” Kadie Rolfzen said. “Just her play, just how hard she works is what’s helped us. She brings the fire and the passion. Us freshmen, we’re just beginning. I just watch her and watch what she does.”
If the younger Huskers can follow her lead, Nebraska might not take as big a step back as expected after losing so much firepower from a year ago. And Robinson’s final college season may end up on the stage she had been working so hard to reach.
“I didn’t want to think I would be handed a spot, and that I had to fight for it,” Robinson said. “That’s good for me. That’s raised my level of play on the court.”
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