Nebraska Volleyball: Way too early look at 2019 starting lineup

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 13: The Nebraska Cornhuskers bench celebrates a point against the Illinois Fighting Illini during the Division I Women's Volleyball Semifinals held at the Target Center on December 13, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 13: The Nebraska Cornhuskers bench celebrates a point against the Illinois Fighting Illini during the Division I Women's Volleyball Semifinals held at the Target Center on December 13, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images) /

While beach season is currently underway, Nebraska volleyball won’t begin the traditional season until late August. That gives us five more months to speculate who will be starting for the Huskers in 2019.

Husker fans might not be thinking about volleyball season right now, but that’s the best time to look ahead and think about what the 2019 season could look like for Nebraska volleyball. When we last saw our fearless Huskers, they lost in five sets to the Stanford Cardinal in the championship game.

That game left a sour taste in all of our mouths, but the good news for this program moving forward is that the team we see on the court this upcoming season will basically be the same team we watch in 2020. Of course there could be players transferring in and out of the program, as there usually is, but for the most part, we’ll have the same group of players these next two years.

While Nebraska is losing seniors Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney to graduation, they appear to be set up nicely when it comes to replacing those two on the court. My for sure starters for 2019, barring something unusual, are listed below  (player’s 2019 grade will be listed in parenthesis):

  • Nicklin Hames – Setter (Sophomore)
  • Lexi Sun – Outside Hitter (Junior)
  • Jazz Sweet – Outside Hitter (Junior)
  • Callie Schwarzenbach – Middle Blocker (Sophomore)
  • Lauren Stivrins – Middle Blocker (Junior)

These five will, without a doubt, be starters come the first match of the regular season. The biggest takeaway is that there aren’t any seniors in that group, so this unit will be leading the charge in 2020 as well.

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Hames and Sun, as of now anyway, are the only two six-rotation players for the 2019 season. Six-rotation players are just that; they play all six rotations and only come out if the coach needs to switch things up. Mikaela Foecke was a six-rotation player last year, which makes losing her another big void to fill.

Stivrins could be a candidate to be transitioned into an every rotation player in 2019. The Huskers have flirted with this in the past, letting her serve from time to time. It was obvious last season that the team looked a little more sluggish whenever Stivrins wasn’t on the court, so she hopefully will become a player we see on every single rotation moving forward.

Now, let’s dive into the players I didn’t list.

Obviously, Nebraska has to replace Foecke and Maloney, meaning there’s an open outside hitter position and libero is currently vacant as well. Both positions will have battles this summer as to who gets to fill them and it won’t be an easy decision to make.

Libero is probably the easier one to speculate about, as Megan Miller (who will be a sophomore in 2019) basically had her tryout during the tournament matches and passed with flying colors. Miller looked good in the defensive specialist role whenever she came on to patrol the back court with Maloney. She more than deserves the libero job, and if she gets it, she’ll be in that role for three whole years, which is critical.

Hayley Densberger might be the oldest of the three players vying for the libero job, but that means squat in college sports. Densberger, who is heading into her junior season in 2019, has been a nice defensive and serve specialist during her time at Nebraska. When asked to take on more responsibilities in the back court, however, she doesn’t look as sharp.

With Miller getting more playing time down the stretch last season, that makes her the future libero in my opinion. She also will provide three years as the future libero while Maloney took over as a junior and therefore only was in the role for two years.

There is one other player who could be the libero in 2019, but it’s unlikely, as she’ll be a freshman. That player is Kenzie Knuckles, who was an All-American in high school. Knuckles played outside hitter in high school, but at 5’8″, she’s too short to play the position at the collegiate level, which means she gets to play defense now. Yay!

Knuckles will pack a punch as a defensive specialist and we’ll see her in the same role that Miller played a season ago. She’ll play defense and (maybe) serve when her time in the rotation comes.

As for the outside hitter spot left vacant by Foecke’s graduation, filling that will be tougher. Not only do the Huskers have to replace arguably the greatest player in Nebraska volleyball history, but there’s some tough choices to pick from.

Capri Davis is the only returning option in 2019 and while her competition are both freshmen, neither is to be counted out of this race. Freshman Madi Kubik could become a Foecke-esque player and freshman Riley Zuhn is 6’5″, which makes her nearly impossible to defend.

Davis had a nice run last year, filling in for Jazz Sweet on one rotation, but being the oldest of the three main options doesn’t mean she’s a shoe-in for the position by any means. It’ll be interesting to see what route the Huskers go with the vacant outside hitter spot.

Next. Volleyball: Replacing Departed Players in 2019. dark

If I had to pick the two players who will win starting jobs, it’d be Megan Miller and Madi Kubik. Sure, I haven’t seen Kubik play, but the hype surrounding her and John Cook saying that she can play six rotations made her stand out to me.

Nebraska might be losing two of its most decorated players ever, but the team we’ll see on the court in 2019 is basically identical to the team we’ll see in 2020. That makes these Huskers a force to be reckoned with for the next two years. What else is new in that department though?