In her one-and-done season as a Nebraska volleyball player, Kelsey Robinson still made a meaningful impact on the program.
Wednesday, Robinson picked up another award for her senior season, earning first-team All-America honors from the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
Robinson made NU's first season playing in front of 8,000-plus fans at the renovated Devaney Sports Center a fun one for players and fans. She led a young team to a second-place finish in the Big Ten Conference and a trip to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.
But this week, the gym is quiet, and the players are beginning to head home for Christmas break.
What Nebraska coach John Cook will remember about Robinson years from now will be what happened in a small interview room 15 minutes after the Huskers’ season ended with a loss to No. 1 Texas in the regional final.
Robinson had a match-high 21 kills with a .300 hitting percentage in that match, desperately trying to get the Huskers to the Final Four. During the news conference, she was drenched in sweat, and later tears, as she twice become emotional in talking about her one season at Nebraska.
“For me, Nebraska was a second chance,” Robinson said Saturday night. “I got a lot out of it, but I don’t think I was expecting the level of what I was going to get, just as far as the relationships and the things I’ve learned … that’s why this is so hard. I’m really proud of our girls, and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to do it with.”
Cook says Robinson is an example of how powerful the Nebraska program is, and that makes him excited about where the program can go.
This week, during the end-of-season interviews with each player, Cook has shown the video clip from Robinson’s news conference to all the current players. He’s also emailed the video to high school recruits.
“(Robinson) is going to be our poster girl,” Cook said.
“Here was a kid that was only here for a year. It’s a one-shot deal for her. She came from a place (Tennessee) where she didn’t put everything she could into it, and, obviously, there were some issues with the team. For her to make the statement that 'I came here and got way more than I ever thought I would,' I think that is what I want to share with recruits and players. Here is a kid who had an incredible year, but look at what she’s talking about.”
Robinson’s 530 kills this season rank fifth in program history in a single season. Her 4.45 kills-per-set average is the highest by a Husker since Sarah Pavan in 2007. She had a .318 hitting percentage, a remarkable number for an outside hitter.
Robinson also had the all-around game that will probably help her have a successful professional and international career. She led the team with 32 ace serves and was second with 396 digs.
Cook said it was one of the finest individual seasons in program history.
“She played in maybe the toughest conference ever for a given year in college volleyball," Cook said. "A lot of the former Nebraska players that had great years, that was in the Big Eight or Big 12. This is not those conferences. This Big Ten Conference is a brutally competitive conference.”
Robinson was named the Big Ten player of the year after leading the league in kills in conference matches (4.69 per set) with a .349 hitting percentage.
For Robinson, it feels odd that she only arrived in Lincoln in January, yet was able to accomplish so much. She’ll graduate Saturday with a degree in broadcast journalism.
Robinson said it was great to play somewhere where the fans care so much about volleyball, and she respected how Cook helped her improve.
“He’s in the gym with you,” Robinson said. “He’s not just coaching from the bench. He doesn’t do things from the sidelines or have other people run the show. And, obviously, he’s kind of a prima donna, and has people do things for him, but he’s a head coach; that’s expected. But he’s hitting the balls at us; he’s running 10 balls, 20 balls with us, and showing us shots. As a player you look at that and you’re like, ‘OK, I want to play for this man.'
“And then when you get into the matches and he purposely gets a yellow card so that the crowd gets into it, it’s like, ‘Hell, yeah, I’ll go as hard as I can for you.’ You don’t see that a lot, and you know that he’s fighting the way you’re fighting.”
Robinson has already signed to play professional indoor volleyball for a team in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, and will head there in January. She’ll play on the same team as former Nebraska All-America setter Lauren Cook.
Next summer, Robinson will probably be back in California training with the U.S. national team.
The AVCA national player of the year will be announced Friday as part of Final Four weekend. Robinson is in the mix for that honor, but it’s rare that the award has been given to a player on a team that did not reach the Final Four.