LINCOLN — Nicklin Hames starting seemed to one certainty for Nebraska entering the 2021 season.
But now even that is up in the air after she hurt her right ankle during the Red-White scrimmage Saturday night.
NU coach John Cook said Monday he doesn’t expect the three-year starter to be available for this weekend's opening matches, but he views the injury as short-term.
“The Phoenix will rise,” Cook said, referring to Hames by her nickname. “Nothing torn. Nothing broken. So that’s good news.”
Hames was injured when she went up to put away an overpass on a serve receive. Her legs collided with freshman Kennedi Orr, who was attempting to track the ball down to set it, and their feet landed on top of each other. Hames underwent an X-ray Saturday night and got the final diagnosis Sunday.
“You don't ever like to see anybody get hurt, especially her. She's such a warrior,” Cook said. “I've never seen that happen to her. She's always really in good control and she'll crash around and stuff, but I was kind of in shock. I'm just glad it's not worse.”
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With Hames out, the setting duties will go to Orr, sophomore Anni Evans or perhaps both. Cook said they could play a 5-1 or 6-2 system for the opening weekend.
Both played well in the scrimmage running a 5-2 system for the White team. Evans, who played in the back row, finished with 26 assists and eight digs. Orr, in the front row, tallied 25 assists and three blocks.
Orr was still practicing at 90% last week, according to Cook, as she recovers from a knee injury she suffered last fall. Though she’s mentally ready, Cook was unsure if she could physically handle setting three matches over 36 hours.
“She’s a little bit behind, but she’s really talented,” Cook said. “She’s getting better every week, but you can only go set-to-target so much. You got to get in there when everything is going and that’s the next big adjustment — speed.”
Tapping the depth
While the starting lineup is still in flux, Cook said he is evaluating players who play with an edge in practice this week as well as the best servers and passers.
He praised all the players for their level of play during the scrimmage, and some players stepped up under the spotlight. Now with school starting, finding a balance and maintaining focus will be more of a challenge, especially for the freshmen.
In years past Cook has allowed players to work through struggles, but with their depth this season, he won’t be afraid to have a quick hook.
“We got a lot of people who can play and we will have to tap into that,” Cook said. “Eventually we will have to get into a group, but early on I’m very open to exploring.”
The Big Ten announced Monday that if a team cannot play because of a COVID outbreak it would forfeit any lost matches. Cook said even though his team is 100% vaccinated, they aren’t taking any chances with such serious consequences.
Volunteer assistant coach Kelly Hunter is quarantining away from the team after a close contact with someone who had COVID. If she continues to test negative, she will rejoin the team by Wednesday.
“I just know we're going to continue to mask up until the county health (department) tells us that things are quieted down,” Cook said.