Kelly Hunter was named Nebraska Athletics' 2018 Best Female Athlete Award winner.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Kelly Hunter's Favorite National Championship? 2015

By Randy York

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Some believe that life is a game and true love is a trophy. Kelly Hunter, Nebraska’s 2018 Best Female Athlete Award winner, can stretch that definition.

The first time Hunter touched a National Championship volleyball trophy and held it over her head was 2015 in Omaha, right next to her hometown of Papillion, Neb. Talk about the penultimate experience. It was everything she imagined it would be.

The second time she held a National Championship volleyball trophy over her head was four months ago in Kansas City. Hunter was equally thrilled, but let’s be honest. Her heart was not beating as much as it did two years earlier. 

This time, the Nebraska native measured the pomp and circumstance from a bird’s eye view that included 26 of her own major individual awards, including National Player of the Year, first-team All-American and the NCAA Championship’s Most Outstanding Player Award winner (sharing that honor with teammate Mikaela Foecke).

Now you know why Hunter says this: “I would have to say the most magical moment of my experience at Nebraska was winning the National Championship in 2015. It was my first year contributing a lot on the team. I had a lot of fun that year.”

Talk about a wild and crazy roller coaster ride to that 2015 national title. “In the middle of the season, we lost two big matches at home and had some breakdowns in the locker room,” Hunter said. “But we ended up winning every single game from then on out, including the National Championship.”

Husker Nation may not understand. “Our 2017 team was amazing and we won our conference title as well as the National Championship,” Hunter pointed out, “but there was just something very special about winning it for the first time back in 2015.”

The Heartbeat of the Huskers Analyzes Everything Possible

The heartbeat of the Huskers helped spearhead both national volleyball titles. That’s why Hunter’s views parallel the way a quarterback sees the field and analyzes everything possible.     

“Being from Nebraska, I’ve always seen the traditions of excellence on the court, but what I didn’t know is how much happens behind the scenes that no one knows about,” Hunter told me.

“There are so many people behind every athlete helping them succeed,” Hunter said. “We have great academic advisors, life skills coordinators, sports psychologists, equipment managers, training table staff, and so much more.”

No wonder Nebraska excels. “Everyone at Nebraska is very invested in the athletes and cares so much about them,” Hunter said. “I feel like that’s not something you can find everywhere. Everyone at Nebraska truly is like one big giant family.”

      With so many young women and men earning so many honors, I can’t help but ask Hunter what motivated her successful journey.

John Cook Has Very High Expectations for All Athletes

“I’m pretty hard on myself and Coach (John) Cook has very high expectations for all of his athletes, so I was very motivated to be at my best every single day,” Hunter said. “Nebraska Volleyball has a tradition of hard work and excellence. That has been the mindset of this program long before I got here, and that motivates every girl who walks into the gym.”

Nebraska Volleyball’s national stature has been obvious for decades. “We work hard. The girls next to you are pushing you to be the best you can be every single day,” said Hunter, adding that “everyone does their best to push them back. There is never a moment when you can take a play off because the expectations are so high. You are virtually forced to get better every single day together.”

“When you’re surrounded by competitive teammates, you learn fast,” Hunter said. “I’ve learned that life is not always going to go your way. At Nebraska, I’ve battled a couple of serious injuries and a redshirt sophomore year that I would have never planned for myself.

“The most important thing I’ve learned is that adversity is going to hit you multiple times in life and because of this, there is no easy path to excellence,” Hunter said. “In the face of that adversity, you need to stay positive and take it one day at a time.”

Hunter is Ready to Move to California for Summer Training

Volleyball has been a big part of Kelly Hunter’s life. “As soon as I’m done with school this semester, I’m moving to California for the summer to train with the USA Women’s National team,” she said. “After that, I’ll be playing professionally overseas in the fall. I’m not exactly sure where I’ll be playing yet but I know that I want to keep playing volleyball.”

A Marketing major, Hunter already has achieved her primary goal, receiving her college diploma. “It's been a blessing to play for Nebraska and to impact people's lives the way I've been able to,” she said, pointing out how different it was to finish her last year of volleyball eligibility at the same time she attended grad school.

“There is no doubt about my favorite competitive memory – winning the 2015 National Championship,” Hunter said. “That's something every athlete at every level aims to accomplish when they come to college. Being able to play for the national title in my home state, in front of the best fans in the country, was really, really special.”

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