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Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney not being on the Nebraska volleyball team for the 2019 season due to graduation won’t be easy for the Huskers to overcome.

They are two of the great players, winners and leaders in program history, and played important parts on two national championship teams.

But the program must go on, and the offseason schedule has set up pretty well for the Huskers to begin that process.

First, the two freshmen with the best chance to play in 2019, outside hitter Madi Kubik and libero Kenzie Knuckles, play the same positions Foecke and Maloney did.

Second, Kubik and Knuckles were each able to graduate from high school early and join the program in January. So they got to play during the beach volleyball season, when a big focus is learning how to compete and all-around skill development. Also, they got to know their teammates in a more relaxed setting than the fall season. Then they got to take part in the four-week spring season, which ended with a match against Colorado State last weekend.

Third, this summer the Huskers are going on their once-every-four-years international trip, so the freshmen will get about one month of practice that they wouldn’t during a typical summer.

Kubik and Knuckles each started during the spring match, and played pretty well. Kubik had the second-most kills for Nebraska with 15. She had just four hitting errors while taking 37 attempts, the most on the team, for a .297 hitting percentage. Kubik also had four ace serves.

“I think for their first time they act like they belong,” said Nebraska coach John Cook of the freshmen. “They both pass pretty well; at times they served really well. Madi got some big kills when we needed it. In game three she missed a couple opportunities and didn’t get it done, but she came back in game four really strong.

“Probably what I was most pleased with was how they interact and fit in with our team. It doesn’t feel like we got these freshmen out here that we’re trying to carry along. They feel like they belong.”

Huskers leave McCook impressed: This was the first trip to McCook for a spring match, and the team left impressed.

When the tickets went on sale earlier this spring, Cook heard a story about a pregnant woman who waited in line overnight to get tickets.

“You see that, and just how they interact and treat us and how big of deal this is for them,” Cook said. “I don’t know. It’s hard to describe it. Where else does this happen? Not in volleyball, and no other sports are traveling around the state like this from Nebraska. It’s pretty cool. I mean, we’re driving in and people are honking, they’re pulling over and waving at us."

Sweet leads Huskers: Right-side hitter Jazz Sweet led the Huskers with 17 kills on a .343 hitting percentage in the spring match.

“I think Jazz wants to be an All-American, so I think she’s pretty motivated,” Cook said.

Looking ahead: The team is done with spring practice, but Cook wishes they could keep going, because now he has a better idea of what to work on.

“At 3:30 (p.m.) I’m going to miss being down in the gym and training,” Cook said.

Cook is intrigued about the 2019 season.

“I just know the Big Ten is going to be tough, and we got a really tough schedule, so we’re looking forward to seeing how good we can get,” he said. “And I’m also looking forward to developing new leadership, because we graduated Kelly (Hunter) and Mikaela and Kenzie the last two years, so there is opportunities for new leaders to emerge, and we’ve been working really hard on that. We got a long way to go, but I’m excited for this group.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.

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Sports reporter

Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

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