It has been said several times that Gina Mancuso had a breakout year for the Nebraska volleyball team last season.
That may come with some mixed emotions for the senior outside hitter. After being the Gatorade National Player of the Year her senior year at Papillion-La Vista High School, Mancuso may have expected to make a bigger impact during her first two seasons in the Husker program.
Mancuso was a full-time starter for the first time last year, and provided both a lot of kills and a strong all-around game. She was a unanimous pick to the All-Big Ten team and was named to the 14-player first-team AVCA All-America team.
That label of a “breakthrough” year is a compliment, Mancuso said, but she’s not concerned with the recognition.
“As a team, we have one goal, and that’s what we’re all striving for,” Mancuso said.
“I was just honored and blessed to get the chance to play, and, obviously, I can’t do anything without my teammates,” she said. “I've got to give credit to everyone who helped me out there and supported me.”
The fourth-ranked Huskers begin the season Friday against St. Louis, the first of three straight matches this weekend to start the season.
Mancuso led the Huskers last year with 407 kills (3.60 per set) and was the team kills leader in 15 of 30 matches.
In addition, she ranked in the top five in the Big Ten at her position for each of the major statistical categories.
“Gina can do all the skills well, and those players are rare anymore,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “It’s going to be more rare with these (new) substitution rules. For example, UCLA, both their left sides don’t even pass. … Gina is a very good six-rotation player, and that’s what makes her special.
“There’s very few six-rotation players in the Big Ten. Ariel Turner at Purdue is one, Gina, (Nebraska outside hitter Hannah Werth), Deja McClendon at Penn State and one or two others. Most of them are getting subbed out of the back row.”
Since the end of last season, Mancuso has worked hard to improve all parts of her play, with extra attention paid to passing.
Cook said Mancuso’s meticulous offseason training has shown during the first two weeks of practice.
“I think defensively, Gina has gone up a level,” the coach said. “Obviously, she’s a very good attacker, good blocker. I think her defense is what she really focused on in the spring, and I see a big improvement there.”
Last year, Mancuso excelled in several of the team’s biggest matches — she had 22 kills in a win against Penn State that got Nebraska started on its way to winning the Big Ten championship — and she’ll have another chance to do that against top-ranked UCLA on Saturday.
“I get excited for big matches,” Mancuso said. “When there is a big match you've got to play big, and that’s what we all hope to do. Like I said, I can’t do anything without my teammates. I can’t get a kill if I don’t have a great set and we don’t have a great dig to get to that set.”