For several reasons — the piles of snow in Lincoln this week being one of them — the Nebraska athletic department hasn’t gone all in on its beach volleyball team, but it continues to expand what is done with the program.
Nebraska wants to win the matches it plays, but still uses the beach program as a good cross-training activity, to help with team building and in recruiting for its nationally ranked indoor volleyball team.
Unlike some of the schools Nebraska goes against in beach volleyball, Nebraska doesn’t offer beach volleyball scholarships or have players who are year-round beach players. Nebraska uses the same players as the indoor team, just playing in groups of two and without their shoes on.
But Nebraska keeps adding matches to its schedule and is scheduled to play about 25 matches this season, which will be the most in the seven years since the program began.
The Huskers played their first match of the season on Tuesday and beat Missouri Baptist 5-0 on the indoor court at Hawks Championship Center.
It’s beach volleyball season in Nebraska. Rookie Madi Kubik with the kill at the No. 2 pair. pic.twitter.com/Tm7mGFoVyZ— Brent Wagner (@LJSSportsWagner) February 26, 2019
There were several years when Nebraska played most of its beach season during a weeklong road trip to Hawaii and Arizona during the university spring break.
But now the Huskers will be making two separate trips to the West Coast and also play four matches in Lincoln. This weekend, Nebraska will travel to San Diego and play seven matches over three days against some smaller schools.
There were some years when Nebraska’s first matches outside were on the beach in Hawaii against the best teams in the country.
“We thought we needed to go and play some other teams before we go and play USC or Hawaii or Florida State,” said coach John Cook, who oversees the beach program but assigns the coaching to assistant coaches Jaylen Reyes and Kayla Banwarth.
In the years since Nebraska added a beach program, it’s become an official NCAA sport, with this year being the fourth NCAA championship season.
There are about 100 beach programs. Nebraska is still the only Big Ten Conference school that has a beach team, which probably doesn’t make some of the teams happy because Nebraska’s players get more practice time. But those schools could also play beach.
“I just know we have the opportunity to play beach and our girls really like it, so we do it,” Cook said.
Nebraska beach volleyball: Jazz Sweet takes the set from rookie Kenzie Knuckles and crushes the kill. pic.twitter.com/TeBMsJs5uM— Brent Wagner (@LJSSportsWagner) February 26, 2019
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All college volleyball teams do get six weeks of practice in the spring. Nebraska doesn’t use all of its allowed time for indoor spring practice, and in recent years has played just one spring match.
This year, Nebraska's spring match will be against Colorado State in McCook in April, Cook said. The ticket information for that match hasn't been announced.
A look at the Huskers’ beach volleyball lineup gives you one of the first major realizations that Nebraska’s indoor team will be young in 2019. As of now, the only senior will be backup setter Mari Kurkova.
On Nebraska's top three teams are two players, Madi Kubik and Kenzie Knuckles, who graduated from high school early and joined the Huskers in January.
Lauren Stivrins and Nicklin Hames play at the No. 1 spot. The No. 2 pair is Kurkova and Kubik, and at the No. 3 spot is Jazz Sweet and Knuckles.
Last year, Nebraska had a 4-14 record.
“I think we’re better than last year because last year’s freshmen are all way better, and then Madi and Kenzie are both very good beach players,” Cook said.
Nebraska beach volleyball. Playing at the No. 3 spot, rookie Kenzie Knuckles with the kill. pic.twitter.com/cCbhrSr9Rv— Brent Wagner (@LJSSportsWagner) February 26, 2019
Lexi Sun is resting a previous back injury, but should play later in the season.
All three seniors from last season — Mikaela Foecke, Kenzie Maloney and Brooke Smith — chose not to play beach.