The reviews were good for the Nebraska volleyball team Wednesday following the first two practices of the season.
That was the opinion of both the players and occasionally hard-to-please head coach John Cook.
“We had great energy and everyone is excited,” senior Hannah Werth said following the day's second practice. “We couldn’t wait to get in the gym. I think it’s going to be a good year. Everybody gets excited to go to practice. We get to (practice), we don’t have to, and I think that is a really good mentality to have.
“Coach Cook said it was a good practice. First day, you've got to work the kinks out. We haven’t played as a team for a while. We’ve been working all summer, but it’s not like structured practice.”
Several freshmen have been in Lincoln this summer training with the team and attending summer school, but Wednesday was their first time in the gym for a full workout under the eyes of the coaches.
The freshmen — each of whom Cook says could play this season — are:
* Meghan Haggerty, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker from Lisle, Ill., who switched her commitment from Wisconsin to Nebraska this summer.
* Kelsey Fien, a 6-3 outside hitter from Bakersfield, Calif., who Cook says may have initially been a step behind the other freshmen but has “blossomed in the last year, physically.”
* Alexa Strange, a 5-11 right-side hitter from San Clemente, Calif., who is also the backup setter, but could play in various situations.
* Sheridan Zarda, a walk-on libero from Shawnee, Kan., who impressed while playing a high school match last season against Husker recruits Amber and Kadie Rolfzen of Papillion-La Vista South.
“All the freshmen, honestly, did awesome,” Werth said. “We got Alexa, who is a great setter, she jumped in and did a great job. Zarda is just running down everything and hustling and owning the court like she had been here forever. Kelsey Fien was tearing it up and has a great swing and is a big block up there. (Haggerty) was just bouncing balls. That’s what we need from our middles. She came in here and went after it.
“When freshmen come in they’re a little timid and shy. Coach Cook said that it’s the best first day for the freshmen he’s seen since Gina (Mancuso) and I were freshmen. We looked at each other and said, ‘That’s cool.’”
The biggest position competition is at middle blocker, with junior Hayley Thramer, redshirt freshman Cecilia Hall, senior Allison McNeal and Haggerty in the mix.
Thramer started 21 matches last year. Hall impressed on the scout team last season, and spent time practicing with the top group Wednesday.
McNeal started 17 matches as a sophomore before missing last season with an injury. Haggerty comes with high-level club volleyball experience, and could find a role early.
“We have four able-bodied people (at middle blocker), so it’s really competitive,” Thramer said. “It’s going to be a fun atmosphere to compete in. It started this summer.”
Last year, Nebraska won the Big Ten Conference title before an earlier-than-expected end to the season in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
This season, Werth believes anything is possible. The preseason coaches’ poll will be released next week.
“We gauge our success by conference championships and national championships, and I think that is completely possible,” Werth said. “We’ve already decided as a team that’s our goal, to be on top at the end. This year there is no clear-cut team that stands out that people say, ‘Oh, they’re going to be national champions.’ It’s anybody’s game and we have to work hard.”