So what kind of summer vacation is in order when you've just graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, earned another AVCA All-America honor and can't help but remember the pinnacle achievement of your volleyball life – 42 assists, four digs and three blocks in the Huskers' 2015 NCAA Championship against Texas in Omaha?
That's a pertinent question for Nebraska setter Kelly Hunter (pictured below). “We have two new coaches – Tyler Hildebrand and Kayla Banwarth – and new techniques to learn from them,” Hunter said. “We also have Hunter Atherton, our new freshman setter (who earned a spot on the Big Ten Volleyball Foreign Tour Team).”
Bottom line, Hunter expects a grueling summer, especially since the Huskers lost four senior starters, including three who were All-Americans.
“We will be in the gym A LOT,” Hunter told me with extra emphasis on the last two words. “We will be in the gym constantly. I think we have something to prove this year. This team is hungry, and we want to prove that we're going to be just as good as we were last year.”
The Huskers are, after all, the defending Big Ten Conference Volleyball Champions. “We're going to have play our hardest every single game to get those wins,” Hunter said before acknowledging what could be the hidden force to help Nebraska volleyball clear high hurdles and reach for the stars again.
Kelly Hunter: Everyone is Excited about Tyler Hildebrand's New Techniques
New assistant Hildebrand was an All-America player who spent five seasons coaching men's volleyball at Long Beach State, his alma mater.
“Hunter (Atherton) and I have been introduced to a completely new setting technique, and it's already helped us so much this spring,” Kelly said. “I'll have to be in the gym every day working on this new technique and connecting with hitters now that we're running a faster offense. Preparation for this fall will be a lot of work but everyone is excited about the new techniques.”
Kiddingly, Hunter says her teammates “feel bad for us when we have to go do setter training because it's so intense,” Kelly said, pointing out how her new freshman teammate “always works hard and never settles for anything less than her best. That's the kind of player you want to be next to. We're both trying to embrace the new style as much as we can, and we're both growing so much. We think it's really cool to see how much we've improved already.”
Major kudos belong to the coaches. “I think we have a great staff right now,” Hunter said. “Both Kayla and Tyler are intense and bring a great vibe to the gym every day. Kayla makes sure we don't forget the little things and reminds us that we always need to shag before we get water. She brings a great high-level experience, plus some techniques from the National Team. Tyler is an awesome coach, too, because he's played and coached at the highest level.”
Kelly Hunter and Hunter Atherton (pictured below) have a standing joke when the rigor intensifies. “We think he's trying to get us to set like dudes but we love his style and his vibe,” Kelly said. “He's intense, but knows it's just as important to have the boys cheering us on and get pumped up after we make a great play.”
Hunter, Atherton Grateful to Compete for the Country's Most Decorated Staff
Nebraska's recent college graduate and her fellow freshman setter have reached another joint conclusion. “We easily have some of the most decorated staff in the country,” Kelly said, crediting John Cook for providing the vision to compete at the highest level and Lindsay Peterson for helping everyone – players, coaches and fans – move in the same direction.
Receiving her college diploma was exciting because it was Hunter's primary goal. “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 will be finishing her last year of volleyball eligibility at the same time she attends grad school.
There is no doubt about her favorite competitive memory – winning the 2015 national championship. “That's something every athlete at every level aims to accomplish when they come to college,” Hunter said. “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.
“I've learned that things don't always go the way you plan, but that doesn't mean you won't get to live out your dreams,” Hunter said. “The road to success may not be perfect or exactly what you planned, but you always need to be hopeful that everything will work out in the end.
“From our facilities to our staff, we have the best in the country,” Hunter said. “Our fans make this place so special. Whoever we play or wherever we're playing, Nebraska fans come out of the cracks to support us. Growing up in Nebraska and having the opportunity to play for the Huskers was always my dream, and I can honestly say that there really is no place like Nebraska.”
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