Most college volleyball players will never get to experience what Nebraska’s Nicklin Hames did in 2018, playing in the national championship match in front of 18,000 fans.
Hames got to do it as a freshman as the starting setter for the Huskers. Nebraska came up just short of winning the national championship. After rallying against Stanford and winning the fourth set, the Cardinal won the fifth set 15-12. The Huskers had come up three points short of another title.
There's a chance Hames will never again get so close to winning a championship, but she’ll have three more opportunities to chase the ultimate prize, and the moment she calls addicting.
“I always say being in that moment, and making it that far, it’s kind of addicting, because now I just want to go back, and go back,” Hames said. “It was just an amazing experience for me. It was everything I imagined it was going to be, and I think I will really want to go back these next three years.”
Nebraska is back to work chasing its next chance to put itself in a championship moment during its four-week spring volleyball season.
It will be a new chapter after the graduation of major contributors Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney.
When the 2019 season begins, there will just be four players remaining from the 2017 national championship team — Lauren Stivrins, Jazz Sweet, Hayley Densberger and Anezka Szabo — so 12 players will be pursuing their first national title.
Nebraska coach John Cook thinks the way last year ended is motivating everybody.
“I think when you get really close, you know, three points away, I think there is deep motivation that comes out of that,” Cook said.
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“The analogy I use is Mount Everest is 29,029 feet, and we got to 29,000, and we couldn’t finish the 29 feet. And the 29 feet between 29,000 and 29,029 is called the death zone. And there is a reason that 29 feet is so hard. It would be like climbing Everest and you’re 29 feet from the peak and you don’t get there. How motivated are you going to be. That’s how we feel.”
Cook said he didn’t really need time to get over losing.
“I’m super-motivated to try and get another shot at winning a national championship,” he said.
He never was really that disappointed, Cook said.
“Maybe if we get blown out 3-0, then it’s different,” he said. “But we were that close. I just think there is hope and there is optimism and there is a really burning desire to get there again. And you better have that in the Big Ten or you’re going to get chewed up and spit out.”
For Hames, it was harder to get over losing in the finals.
“Losing by three points in the championship game, I think those three points will haunt me forever,” Hames said. “It’s still hard for me to think about it, or even to try and attempt and watch the game. I think we’re really taking those three points and bringing it into the gym.”
The best way to get over losing like that is to use it as motivation, Hames said.
“You got to understand that, hey, you just weren’t good enough in that moment, and you got to go back and work harder and you got to do more than you did the last season,” Hames said. “I think it brought us closer, too, because we went through that and it was hard and we leaned on each other.”
Cook has already seen that the players are motivated, and he’s got a specific example. During one of the first practices, Cook had planned a 1½-hour workout, but it went one hour longer.
“I’m like, ‘You guys, I just want to go 90 minutes,’ and they go, ‘No, we’re not finished,’” Cook said. “They wanted to stay and serve and pass. They wouldn’t leave. Those are the signs of great teams.”