LINCOLN — One of Nebraska coach John Cook’s favorite analogies is comparing the setter in volleyball to the quarterback in football.
However, given her defensive prowess, NU sophomore Nicklin Hames might also need to add the title of cornerback to understand all her contributions to the volleyball team.
The 5-foot-10 setter has built a strong reputation on defense and is second on the team with 3.25 digs per set. She led the Huskers with 17 digs in a five-set win over San Diego last Saturday.
Hames and the Huskers start a three-match weekend Friday at noon against High Point as part of the Ameritas Players Challenge at the Devaney Center. Nebraska also plays Denver on Friday night and Loyola Marymount on Saturday.
Hames said setters have a reputation as being subpar passers, but she thrives when coaches set up the defense at the net to give her a one-on-one chance against hitters.
“I take pride in being able to dig all those balls and get that up and how many digs I am getting,” the Maryville, Tennessee, product said. “It is kind of a competition for me. It’s a competition against the hitters, and I always want to win, so I have a mindset of going after it.”
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Hames also ranked second on the team in digs last season with 3.32 digs per set. Previous setters have had an important role on defense, but not to the magnitude of Hames.
Kelly Hunter averaged 2.38 digs per game during her three years as a starter, while Mary Pollmiller finished with 1.81 digs in her two years as the Huskers’ setter. During each of those years, Hunter and Pollmiller finished third or fourth in the team on digs.
This year, Hames said she has improved her ability to read attackers’ tendencies and put herself in the right position on the floor. In addition, Hames said she’s better adjusted to the multiple shots hitters use as well as the speed of the college game.
Those improvements led to some lofty praise from Cook.
“Nicklin is an exceptional defensive player,” he said. “Maybe the best right-back defensive player Nebraska’s ever had.”
The only downside of Hames being such a proficient passer is it causes the NU offense to run out of system. As a result, the libero becomes the setter and the offensive options are more limited.
Cook said they are still developing freshman Kenzie Knuckles’ setting skills. Unlike the past few liberos who transitioned from playing setter in high school, Knuckles is a converted outside hitter. Cook said Knuckles has shown glimpses, but consistency is still needed.
“Your offense becomes very predictable, so we don’t try to fool anybody,” Cook said about what happens when the libero becomes the setter. “We don’t try to do anything. We just try to get the ball up in what we call the box and get a great swing.”
Even though the offensive efficiency takes a dip when Hames takes the first touch, Cook said he doesn’t care who is passing, just as long as the ball gets dug. However, he said, there is always room for improvement.
“I’m never happy with passing,” Cook said. “It’s always a work in progress. You can never be good enough passing.”