How Nebraska Volleyball Can Repeat As Champs Part 1: Roster

Dec 13, 2015; Lincoln, NE, USA; The Nebraska Cornhuskers fans celebrate from the stands after the Cornhuskers
Dec 13, 2015; Lincoln, NE, USA; The Nebraska Cornhuskers fans celebrate from the stands after the Cornhuskers /

It feels like it was just yesterday when the Nebraska volleyball team swept rival Texas 3-0 to win the team’s fourth national championship and first since 2006.

The win came on December 19, in front of an NCAA-record crowd of 17,561, probably over 90 percent of them wearing Husker red. The 2006 and 2015 Huskers won championships nine years apart but in the same building: CenturyLink Center Omaha (In 2006, it was named Qwest Center Omaha).

In 2016, Nebraska will attempt to accomplish what none of the three previous Husker volleyball champs could: win back-to-back national championships. Winning consecutive championships in volleyball certainly isn’t unprecedented, even recently. Since 2002, four teams have won consecutive championships (Penn State won four straight from 2007-10).

For the Huskers to hoist the trophy in Columbus, Ohio on December 17, the team must have depth, talent, elite coaching and an infusion of new talent to navigate a tough non-conference slate, compete in the nation’s premier volleyball conference and, lastly, defend its crown in the NCAA Tournament.

Here, in the first of a 3-part series detailing how Nebraska can repeat as national champions, we take an in-depth look at the roster.


Nebraska volleyball wasn’t expected to win the national championship in 2015. After the championship win over Texas, ESPN commentator Beth Mullins said, “They thought it might be a year too soon. They’ve got almost everybody coming back next season.”

Mullins is correct. After looking at Nebraska’s stellar 2013 freshman class, many in the Cornhusker State looked ahead and saw 2016 as the year John Cook’s team would again cut down the nets.

The 2015 team had just four seniors. Of the four, only Cecilia Hall and Kelsey Fien saw extended playing time. Meghan Haggerty and Alicia Ostrander (a team captain) provided much-needed senior leadership from the bench against Texas, as neither played a point.

Much like the 2015 team, Nebraska’s 2016 senior class has just four players. Unlike the 2015 team, these seniors look to play a much larger part of the team’s success on the court.

The Cornhuskers are, without a doubt, led by twin sisters Kadie and Amber Rolfzen. The seniors from Papillion, Nebraska committed to Nebraska before they’d played their first high school match, and their dominance has not gone unnoticed.

Kadie is the more highly-decorated of the two, garnering AVCA and first-team All-America honors in 2015 after earning third-team All-America honors in both 2014 and 2015. As a skilled outside hitter, she has been named to the All-Big Ten team all three seasons and last year led the Huskers with 3.3 kills per set. Kadie is one of five Huskers, all of whom return in 2016, to be named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team.

Amber might not have as many accolades as her sister, but she has been just as dominant while moving through multiple positions the past three seasons. Amber earned second-team All-America honors from AVCA while also earning a spot alongside her sister on the All-Big Ten and NCAA Championship All-Tournament Teams. After switching from outside hitter to middle blocker during the summer of 2015, Amber finished first in the Big Ten and fourth nationally with 1.58 blocks per set.

The Rolfzen twins aren’t the only well-decorated seniors. Libero Justine Wong-Orantes is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. In 2015, she was named a third-team All-American by the AVCA and first-team All-American by An integral part of Nebraska’s championship win over Texas, Justine was also named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team.

The graduation of Kelsey Fien looked to poke a large hole in Nebraska’s repeat chances, but that changed in May when the Huskers announced outside hitter Andie Malloy would transfer from Baylor to Nebraska. Malloy, who was a two-time All-Big 12 First Team selection and led Baylor in kills per set and service aces, will play as a graduate transfer in 2016 and add immediate depth.


The seniors aren’t the only elite players with substantial playing time, though.

Had it not been for her ability to act as the ultimate teammate and see the bigger picture, junior setter Kelly Hunter would be a senior. She graduated with the Rolfzen twins and joined them in Lincoln as part of Nebraska’s No. 1 ranked 2013 recruiting class. After playing in 16 matches in 2013, head coach John Cook approached her about redshirting in 2014, allowing senior Mary Pollmiller to finish her career and providing Hunter with an extra year of eligibility and more opportunities to perfect her craft.

When she took the reins in 2015, there was no doubt the former No. 13 player in the country was back where she belonged. Hunter was named an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American, a second-team All-American and was the fourth of five Huskers named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team. She had 1,501 assists in 2015, good for third in the nation.

The Huskers were able to overcome the loss of Kelsey Fien by bringing in Andie Malloy after the season, but head coach John Cook had apparently already had time to figure how the team would replace middle blocker Cecilia Hall. That replacement came in the form of LSU transfer Briana Holman, who chose Nebraska over Penn State. Holman enrolled in 2015 but had to sit out the season per NCAA transfer rules after LSU did not release her from her scholarship. Holman was an AVCA first-team All-American in 2014 and was honorable mention All-American in 2013 while garnering All-SEC honors both years.

Annika Albrecht is the serving specialist Nebraska fans had been pining for since Jordan Larson took her abilities to Team USA. After recording 36 service aces as a freshman, just off Jordan Larson’s Nebraska freshman record of 41, Albrecht led the team and the Big Ten in service aces with 41 in the 2015 campaign.

Sydney Townsend is a back-row defensive specialist and substitute libero who fills in quite well when Justine Wong-Orantes needs a breather or as Nebraska is putting the finishing touches on a 3-0 sweep of an overmatched opponent. Her back-to-back aces against in the championship match against Texas shows she also has the moxie to perform on the highest of stages.

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Nebraska certainly has more depth in the junior and senior ranks, but there is certainly talent in the freshman and sophomore classes. It all starts with an outside hitter from West Point, Iowa.

Mikaela Foecke came to Nebraska as the country’s No. 2 high school player and two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year.  All she did as a freshman was earn a few awards: AVCA All-America honorable mention, third-team All-America honors, National Freshman of the Year, Big Ten All-Freshman Team (unanimous selection), NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team and NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player. Mikaela was just the third freshman to be named the Championship MOP, and she earned it by recording 19 kills against Texas. She was also second on the team in service aces, with 26. She also did all this while switching from right to left outside hitter in September.

Mikaela isn’t alone as a sophomore outside hitter with elite talent. Olivia Boender played in just eight matched in 2015 but made the most of her opportunities, especially in the 5-set come-from-behind victory over No. 11 Oregon in September. In the match, Boender tallied 15 kills and eight digs. While she did not see much playing time after the match because of lineup changes from coach John Cook, her play against Oregon was needed in an incredible way after Nebraska had dropped a 5-set match to Texas the previous evening.

Kenzie Maloney joined the Huskers as the top libero in the country out of high school, and she looks to take the reins from Wong-Orantes in 2017. In 2016, Maloney will continue to start as a defensive specialist, a role she mastered in 2015 when she went eight straight matches without a reception error.

Brooke Smith will likely challenge for the top setter spot in the coming years, but right now she is a service specialist. Her brightest moment to date, much like Boender, happened against Oregon, when Smith recorded three service aces in the win over Ducks.


Nebraska’s freshman class is highlighted by two of the nation’s top high school players.

Lauren Stivrins will begin to learn immediately from Amber Rolfzen and Briana Holman, among others. The 6’4″ middle blocker comes to Lincoln as the No. 9 player in the country.

Lauren is joined by Hunter Atherton, the No. 41 player in the country and one of the highest-rated setters. Atherton graduated from high school in Ohio early in order to join the Huskers for the 2016 spring semester.

Alex Ratzlaff was rated as the best player in Kansas and was a MaxPreps Small Schools All-American. Her service ace percentage in high school: 26.7 percent. That stat alone should make Nebraska fans smile.

Tiani Reeves, from Gothenburg, Nebraska, redshirted her freshman season. The outside hitter is a multi-sport athlete, excelling in track as well as volleyball.

Final Analysis

Nebraska’s chances of a repeat rest squarely on the shoulders of the juniors and seniors who were, two years ago, part of the youngest team in Nebraska volleyball history. That team made it to the Seattle Regional Final. Last year, those same ladies won the national title “a year early.”

This year, with almost the entire roster returning, Nebraska is as deep as they were following the 2006 national championship. That team, with four seniors, including all-time greats Sarah Pavan and Christina Houghtelling, won in Omaha a year earlier than most thought they would. Then, with the weight to repeat on their shoulders, those Huskers ultimately faltered in the Madison Regional Final.

The 2016 Nebraska team will have expectations to repeat, but it won’t be the same weight as the “Destination: Omaha” moniker from 2015. The six All-Americans has to be intimidating if you’re looking at this roster from an opposing coach or player’s perspective, and Breana Holman’s transition won’t be nearly as rocky as it could have been had she been granted her scholarship from LSU a year earlier. She has practiced with this team, and she understands the coaching style of John Cook.

Next: Iowa Football Recruit Saga Shows Dangers Of Counting Class Before Signing Day

The Nebraska volleyball team will be tough to beat. The players are good enough to win a lot of matches, but the schedule is deadly. We’ll break that down in our next volleyball segment.