When it's beach season, the players on the Nebraska volleyball team get a little taste of what it’s often like for Nebraska’s opponents during the indoor season, when the Huskers have some of the best players in the country and operate at a very high level.
During beach season, it’s sometimes Nebraska’s opponent who is superior at that sport, with players who grew up playing beach volleyball in California or Hawaii, earned a college scholarship for that sport, and are trying to dominate, just like Nebraska does indoors.
In beach volleyball, Nebraska gets to experience life as the underdog.
“It’s a blow to the ego, for sure, when you’re getting beat by these little 5-foot-6 girls that can just shoot it right around you,” said Nebraska’s Lauren Stivrins.
Nebraska beach volleyball playing Park University (Missouri) today. Lauren Stivrins drops in the kill. pic.twitter.com/fV4kNLwngR— Brent Wagner (@LJSSportsWagner) March 11, 2019
In beach volleyball you play on two-player teams, with your pair matching up with the corresponding one from your opponent.
Last year, Nebraska had a 4-14 record in beach volleyball, and at one point lost eight consecutive matches.
This year Nebraska already has a school-record 10 wins and just one loss. But now they’re getting ready for the tough part of the schedule when they play matches in Hawaii and California during spring break.
“Hopefully we can get challenged a little bit and get uncomfortable, and the girls can learn how to thrive in that sort of adversity,” said Kayla Banwarth, who coaches the beach team with Jaylen Reyes.
Nebraska is not one of the 20 ranked teams in the AVCA beach poll.
On Monday, Nebraska beat Park University (Missouri) 5-0 on the indoor court at the Hawks Championship Center.
In beach volleyball this is a long rally (Madi Kubik kill): pic.twitter.com/dbcm6uH1EP— Brent Wagner (@LJSSportsWagner) March 11, 2019
So far this season Nebraska has played several schools that normally compete at the NAIA or junior college level. But this weekend and next week Nebraska will play No. 5 Hawaii, No. 9 Long Beach State, No. 11 California and No. 14 Stanford.
Banwarth says it’s a different experience for the Huskers on the beach.
“Toward the end of the trip the girls always end up getting frustrated, just because beach is so different from indoor. They’re not the best in the country at it,” Banwarth said.
“And so when we get to play the best teams in the country at beach maybe we’re going to lose some matches, and maybe we’re going to get challenged.”
Some of Nebraska's opponents practice five or six days a week for many months, while Nebraska trains about three days per week for two months.
“It’s clear that they do train a lot more than us,” Stivrins said. “Their shots are a lot crisper, and they somehow manage to tag the lines each time, and make a lot less errors than we do. But we go out there and give it all we got, and we have fun doing it.”
Hawaii has 22 players on its beach team, while Nebraska has the 13 remaining players from the indoor team.
Nebraska may be a better overall team than last season, meaning they can win some of those matches at the four or five spot and maybe pull off an upset.
Sophomores Anezka Szabo and Hayley Densberger have played more now. Also, Madi Kubik and Kenzie Knuckles each graduated from high school early, joined the team and earned a spot on one of Nebraska's top three teams.
“I think everyone is seeing a lot of improvement, and we’re excited to take our little team over to Hawaii and see what damage we can do,” Stivrins said.
Early arriving freshman Kenzie Knuckles blasts the kill. pic.twitter.com/rDfIHP6imp— Brent Wagner (@LJSSportsWagner) March 11, 2019
Nicklin Hames and Stivrins won 21-12, 21-16 at the No. 1 spot on Monday. Their opponent for Park University, Nada Meawad, played beach volleyball for Egypt in the 2016 Olympics.