Published Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at 10:53 pm / Updated at 12:00 am
VOLLEYBALL
Building bond is key for newcomers on Husker squad

LINCOLN — With a crop of 10 new faces joining the Nebraska volleyball team, the Huskers spent much of the summer getting everyone on the same page.

Team traditions, program terminology, school work, workouts and player-to-player bonding made up an offseason program coach John Cook dubbed “BDR” for “Building Deeper Relationships.” The program was led by three “SEAL team leaders,” upperclassmen Cook designated to manage groups of four or five players.

When the team begins fall camp on Saturday, Cook believes it won't take very long to see if the program worked.

“August 10th is accountability day,” Cook said Tuesday. “Those SEAL team leaders will be held accountable for if everyone got their things done.

“The big thing is, are (the players) comfortable? Will they know what we're doing, or are we starting from square one trying to get stuff?”

Replacing five starters from a year ago means several newcomers will need to learn fast. Nebraska will have three weeks from the first day of practice until the season opener Aug. 30 to find an identity and develop roles, and Cook has said the competition for each starting position is wide open.

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Some of the key questions Nebraska will need to answer this preseason include:

Ľ Will either Tennessee transfer Mary Pollmiller, a junior, or true freshman Kelly Hunter establish themselves as the team's lone starting setter, or will NU rotate both in a 6-2 system?

Ľ Who will join senior Kelsey Robinson, another transfer from Tennessee, as a left-side attacker? Celebrated incoming freshman Kadie Rolfzen if healthy will compete with sophomore Kelsey Fien, but Cook said Tuesday that Rolfzen, the nation's No. 5 recruit according to PrepVolleyball.com, injured her arm tubing this summer and will not take swings during early workouts. Rolfzen also did not take swings during the team's spring exhibition season after recovering from effects of tendinitis.

Ľ Who will be the Huskers' primary passers? Departed All-America outside hitters Hannah Werth and Gina Mancuso excelled defensively as much as they did at the net, and Lara Dykstra, the team's starting libero the past two seasons, transferred to Pepperdine. A trio of freshmen likely will compete for the starting libero job, while Robinson and freshman outside hitter Amber Rolfzen have the potential to be high-quality passers. Robinson spent time this spring training at libero with the women's national team program.

Ľ Who will be the second starting middle blocker? Sophomore Meghan Haggerty appears to have one spot claimed after a highly successful freshman season, but with senior Hayley Thramer out all season with a knee injury, the second spot is up for grabs. Freshmen Kira Larson, an explosive athlete, and German-born Melanie Keil, who has extensive international experience, figure to compete with sophomore Cecilia Hall and converted outside hitter Alicia Ostrander.

“Just because there are so many new girls and new faces, having a long preseason this year is really beneficial to us,” senior opposite hitter Morgan Broekhuis said. “Learning new things, getting the systems in and then getting to know each other, which is huge for us.”

Broekhuis was one of the Nebraska's SEAL leaders this summer. In addition to coordinating off-court activities to let her teammates get to know one another, she organized mini-practices for her group, which included four of the team's eight freshmen and the transfer Pollmiller.

She said the activities are already paying dividends in getting the newcomers familiar with the program.

“Having a larger team with so many new people, having these smaller SEAL teams helped make sure everybody got what they needed and felt part of something,” Broekhuis said.

But will it help Nebraska come together in time to compete in the Big Ten conference that is expected to be the deepest league in the country this season?

Cook said ask him again after Saturday.

“It's like building a house,” he said. “You lay the foundation, and hopefully we dug the foundation this summer, and we start framing on Saturday.”

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