Hannah Werth has experienced lots of memorable moments on the volleyball court, many of which Nebraska fans have been a part of, namely her big kills and even larger celebrations.
In four seasons at NU, the outside hitter has won two conference championships, helped Nebraska reach the No. 1 ranking in two different seasons, earned first-team all-conference honors three times and was a second-team All-American in 2010.
Werth is also the best athlete in program history, a title that comes not only from watching her fly around the court, but also the physical testing results the team does twice a year following its most extensive strength and conditioning periods.
Similar to the decathlon in track, players earn points based on their combined results in four events — 10-yard dash, pro agility run, vertical jump and step approach (similar to jumping and hitting a volleyball).
Werth has blown away the field, with her highest total of 3,299 points coming March 8. The next closest is 3,204 points. Werth’s 10-yard dash time of 1.45 seconds is well ahead of the second-best time. Werth has a 29½-inch vertical jump.
A special athletic moment came for Werth away from the volleyball court. It happened the day some of the Nebraska football players learned she had been electronically timed at 1.45 seconds in the 10-yard dash. There are some differences in how the football and volleyball teams test the event, but Werth’s time was faster than some of the football players.
Werth tells the story so well — with emotion and a hint of pride, even rising from her chair to demonstrate the technique — that we’ll let her take the story from here:
“It’s funny,” she begins. “The football players start a little different when they test. They have a three-point stance. We do a little rock and a lean into the start, but we can’t take our feet off the ground.
“I ran a 1.45. When I ran that, (Lauren Cook) was talking to some of the football guys at dinner and saying, ‘Oh, how was your testing?’ She said that I had a 1.45. I was across the way getting my food, and I saw at least three of the football players throw their hands up; they’re like, ‘There is no way.’ They were mad.
“They were like, ‘Hannah, get over here.’ I don’t remember who it was, but they were fast kids. They said, ‘Oh, you got a rock and a lean into it.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but still as a female athlete, and you’re a big strong man.’ They were so mad at me, because they just couldn't believe that I did that. It’s pretty funny, because they are these football guys and they’re seen as the fastest and the quickest. I know there is a difference in our sports; we’re not a running sport, more of a jumping and explosive sport. For my body weight and size, one of the football strength coaches said pound-for-pound I’m probably one of the strongest kids, boy or girl. To hear that compliment, that’s out of this world.”
Werth has gained a large fan following — both girls and boys, young and old – because of her athleticism and intensity.
She’s tried to use her platform as one of the most-recognized athletes at Nebraska to share a message with young people to be yourself and work hard for what you want.
“When I came here as a freshman, I had already lifted more weight than anybody had ever lifted as seniors in the program,” Werth said. “I look at that and know that I’ve been naturally blessed with strength ability. My mom and dad were both very strong athletes. But to actually go for it, especially as girls, I think with girls it’s kind of been a notion that girls don’t want to lift because they’ll get big and heavier or whatever, but what I’ve found is that it’s OK to be like that. If that’s the way your body is, then you should embrace it, because you can do amazing things with it.”
Being athletic does not automatically mean you’re a great player, but you’ll notice several All-Americans on the Huskers’ all-time testing chart.
Nebraska coach John Cook says Werth’s athleticism has allowed her to do things on the court others can’t.
“When you notice it is when she just takes off after a ball. She’s running past people,” he said.
“I think she should be a soccer goalie. She’d blow Hope Solo out of the water. Seriously. She’s so athletic, and she’s used to tracking balls. I think Hannah could be a big-time soccer goalie. That would be the next sport for her.”
Werth laughed when told that Cook thought she should be a goalie. She played soccer as a kid, playing for both the girls and boys teams. As the story goes, Werth kept getting penalized for slide tackling, and some parents screamed that she should be tested for steroids.
Werth had considered trying another sport at Nebraska once volleyball is done -- maybe soccer or track and field -- but will probably attempt to play professional volleyball overseas instead. She may delay a pro career until she’s graduated, and is also eager to have more time to support worthy causes in the Lincoln community.
Werth comes from a family of athletes. Her mom, Kim, ran track at Florida, and her sister, Hillary, did the same at UCLA. Her dad played four seasons with the New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals and her brother, Jayson, won a World Series while playing for the Phillies.
While Hannah was not always crazy about playing sports -- she said making bracelets and playing in corn fields back in Illinois were more her thing -- she went to all her siblings' events and watched the mechanics of the athletes closely.
Some of her favorite athletes are the shorter ones, like herself. Werth is listed as 6-foot-1, but says she’s 5-10½.
“People don’t know how much harder you have to work for those couple inches in your vertical,” she said. “You have to work so hard off the court for it to translate on the court.
“Athleticism is something that people say is in the genes, but I think it’s in the genes of your work ethic and what you grew up around and what kind of person you decided to be, instead of what God has blessed you with, which you also have to turn into a skill. People can just sit around and be lazy and all that goes to waste.”