LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska volleyball head coach John Cook has named former Husker libero Kayla Banwarth as the new assistant coach for the Huskers. Banwarth replaces another former Husker, Dani Busboom Kelly, who was named the head coach at Louisville in November.
“Whenever I have a chance to hire a former player to coach at Nebraska volleyball, it’s something I strongly consider because they understand what this program is about,” Cook said. “Kayla’s strengths are her journey to Nebraska as a walk-on, having a great career at Nebraska and going on to beat out all the other liberos in the United States to become one of the top liberos in the world. I know Kayla has limited coaching experience at the collegiate level, but her strengths will allow her to develop quickly and take over Dani’s role in recruiting and coaching our liberos and passers.”
Banwarth, 27, is relatively new to the coaching profession after finishing an illustrious playing career with the U.S. National Team at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016. A U.S. National Team libero since 2011, Banwarth also spent the last two years as a volunteer assistant coach for the Pepperdine men’s volleyball team. She will write the next chapter of her career back at Nebraska, where she concluded a decorated playing career in 2010.
“I am extremely honored to rejoin the Nebraska volleyball program as a coach,” Banwarth said. “I want to thank Coach Cook and the rest of the staff for this opportunity. I look forward to learning and growing both as a coach and a person. It’s great to be back in Lincoln.”
After walking on at Nebraska in 2007, Banwarth became the starting libero midway through her freshman season and remained in that role through 2010, receiving All-Big 12 honorable mention as a junior and senior. She led the Huskers to the NCAA Semifinals in 2008 and three Big 12 titles, and was Nebraska’s all-time career leader in digs until 2016, when Justine Wong-Orantes surpassed her. Banwarth was also a two-time Academic All-Big 12 selection and a three-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week.
Banwarth played professionally overseas in Azerbaijan but focused strictly on the U.S. National Team and coaching at Pepperdine in 2015 and 2016. She was named the Best Receiver at the 2015 NORCECA Championship and helped Team USA win gold there and at the FIVB World Grand Prix in 2016. In 2014 she aided Team USA to the FIVB World Championship, the first gold medal for the U.S. at a major tournament. In 2016, Banwarth anchored the squad at the Olympic Games in Rio, helping the U.S. to the bronze medal.
In 2013 Banwarth was named USA Volleyball’s Female Indoor Most Improved Player of the Year, and in 2012 and 2013 she led the team to gold medals in consecutive Pan American Cups. Also in 2013, she was the runner-up in the Best Digger category at the FIVB World Grand Champions Cup after posting 3.19 digs per set. In her first international competition in 2011, Banwarth helped USA to a bronze medal at the Pan American Games.
“I really like the fact that while Kayla was training with the U.S. National Team, she found the time to volunteer coach for the Pepperdine men’s volleyball team," Cook said. "So not only did she play at Nebraska and for Team USA, she gained experience under Karch Kiraly and Marv Dunphy, two of the best coaches in the United States.”
Banwarth joined the Pepperdine men’s volleyball staff as a volunteer assistant coach in December of 2015 and coached for two seasons. In her first season, Pepperdine went 13-11, and she helped lead the Waves’ back line to rank 36th nationally with 7.69 digs per set.
A native of Dubuque, Iowa, Banwarth attended Wahlert Catholic High School before her Husker career. She graduated from UNL in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in English.