Foecke, Stivrins

Mikaela Foecke, left, and Lauren Stivrins, center, were both named first-team All-America.

MINNEAPOLIS — When John Cook approached Lauren Stivrins on Wednesday morning asking for a sidebar, the sophomore middle blocker couldn’t help but fear the worst.

“I was like ‘Oh no. What did I do this time?’ ” she said.

Cook couldn’t keep up the facade for long, informing Stivrins that she was named a first-team All-American, joining senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke. Senior libero Kenzie Maloney was named to the third team while freshman setter Nicklin Hames was honorable mention.

“I was over the moon, obviously,” Stivrins said. “Then, he told me I was first team, and I was crying. I called my parents, and they’re crying. Everyone is just super happy.”

NU’s latest haul gives the Huskers a nation-leading 90 All-America honorees.

Stivrins earned the award after a torrid late-season stretch that saw her hit .500 or better eight times in her last 12 matches. On the year, Stivrins’ .409 hitting percentage ranks sixth in the country and gives her the highest hitting efficiency by a Husker since Tracy Stalls hit a school-best .473 in 2007.

Additionally, Foecke was named the winner of the Senior CLASS Award in volleyball. The honor, voted on by coaches, goes to a Division I senior who has notable achievements in four areas: classroom, community, character and competition.

She is the second NU player to earn the CLASS award after Gina Mancuso won it in 2012.

Aide eager to face former team

Chris Tamas has a warm rapport with several of the Huskers after being an assistant on Cook’s staff in 2015 and 2016, helping Nebraska reach the final four in both seasons.

After Illinois won in Lincoln in October, Tamas exchanged hugs with Husker players in an interview room and told reporters Wednesday he’d already exchanged good-natured texts with Foecke saying, “I was going to stop her.”

Tamas said the two years he and his wife, Illini volunteer assistant Jen Tamas, spent in Lincoln were formative.

“I try to learn a lot wherever I go,” Tamas said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be around a lot of good coaches. But John is really good, how he runs the program, how he approaches every day. No stone unturned with John. I do know that.”

Jordyn Poulter, Illinois’ All-America setter, said when Tamas arrived in Champaign in the spring of 2017, the program didn’t have enough players to scrimmage six on six. Making the final four as a senior is the end of a two-year process Tamas outlined to the incumbent group. This is Illinois’ first appearance in the final four since a runner-up finish in 2011.

“I think we’ve come into the gym every day, kind of had the expectation that we were there to get better,” Poulter said. “We’ve taken it one day at a time for the last two years basically. I think it’s led us to a good place.”

Cook encouraged Tamas to take the Illinois job when it became available after the 2016 season when Kevin Hambly left for Stanford. The Huskers are 2-1 against the Illini with Tamas at the helm.

“They remind me a lot of us,” Cook said. “I think it’s going to come down to which team can win the big points at the end of games, take the big swings, make a play, make the big plays that you guys will all write about.”

More familiar faces

As teams passed each other in the Target Center hallways during Wednesday’s media day, NU assistant Jaylen Reyes exchanged his share of hugs and fist-bumps with members of the BYU program.

Reyes was a starting libero for the BYU men’s team and served three seasons as an assistant. He knows the members of the Cougar women’s staff well.

Wednesday, Cook said his first-year assistant deserved a great share of credit for the Huskers leading the nation in opponent hitting percentage. Reyes is in charge of scouting and creating defensive plans, similar to the role Tamas held when he was at NU.

“I’m really proud of Jaylen for coming in and really not missing a beat, taking a young team to another defensive level than where we were last year,” Cook said. “It’s pretty impressive. I give him a lot of responsibility. I was in total teaching, mentoring mode a lot this year, which I love to do.”

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