Photo by Lincoln Journal Star

Going Deep: Larson, Team USA Return to Lincoln

By Brian Rosenthal

Nearly 10 years have passed since Jordan Larson played her final volleyball match in a Nebraska uniform, and the Hooper, Nebraska, native remains a popular draw for local fans of all ages.

Larson, a two-time Olympic medalist, is a big reason crowds of more than 6,000 will attend each of three mid-week, mid-May volleyball matches in the Midwest. Former Husker players Kelsey Robinson and Justine Wong-Orantes will join Larson, one of the most decorated, celebrated and popular former Nebraska athletes of any sport, for the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League at Devaney Sports Center beginning Tuesday.

“It is awesome playing close to home in Lincoln,” Larson said. “We had the 2016 Olympic Qualifier (in Lincoln), and it was such a great atmosphere. We are excited to come back and get another opportunity to play in front of the Husker fans.”

Larson, 31, played her collegiate career at the Nebraska Coliseum, which would routinely squeeze in crowds of more than 4,000 for each match. Now, of course, the Huskers draw twice that number in the reconstructed Devaney Sports Center, which has quickly established itself as a national mecca for volleyball.

“The University of Nebraska has always been known for volleyball, but I think over the years it’s just grown even more,” Larson said after Team USA’s practice Sunday at Devaney. “I think the move to Devaney has just helped it tremendously, as far as getting more people here and allowing people to witness kind of what happens and what we do.”

Larson is team captain of the 14-player roster for Team USA, ranked No. 2 in the world. The Americans will play No. 22 Poland on Tuesday, No. 12 Turkey on Wednesday and No. 7 Italy on Thursday. All three USA matches are scheduled for 7 p.m., or after the conclusion of the non-USA match, which begins at 5 p.m. 

This marks the fourth time in six years the national team has played in Nebraska.

“It’s going to be awesome,” Wong-Orantes said. “It’s going to be different just because I’m with USA, but also, I mean, this is just home for me.”

Wong-Orantes, from Cypress, California, helped Nebraska win the 2015 national championship. Robinson, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter from Elmhurst, Illinois, was the 2013 Big Ten player of the year and earned first team All-American honors.

The FIVB Volleyball Nations League is in its first year replacing the long-standing FIVB World Grand Prix. The Volleyball Nations League has five consecutive weeks of preliminary round matches where 16 teams play in one of four round-robin pools each week around the world. Following its stop in Lincoln, Team USA will continue league action in Japan (May 22-24), Thailand (May 29-31), China (June 5-7) and Argentina (June 12-14). 

Match tickets for this week are available through Huskers.com/usavolleyball. All session ticket prices are $36, $66 and $96. Single session tickets range from $15-$35 depending on the section. 

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The Nebraska softball team closes the season with 31-25 record after narrowly missing an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament.

After the 64-team field was announced Sunday night, Nebraska learned it was among the last four teams left out, joining Pittsburg, Florida Gulf Coast and Louisville. The Huskers’ RPI of 45 was third best of the four.

The last four teams included in the field were Houston, Notre Dame, South Florida and Wisconsin. The Badgers were among five Big Ten Conference schools to make the tournament.

“The teams that we put in had a better strength of schedule than the four teams we left out,” NCAA Committee chair Natalie Shock told ESPN.

Oregon is the overall No. 1 seed, and for the second straight season, 13 SEC teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

“They definitely earned their 13 spots,” Shock said. “They’ve done it, top to bottom.”

Nebraska finished with a 4-3 loss to Michigan State in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament last week. Minnesota won the tournament, its third straight. Joining the Gophers and Badgers from the Big Ten in the NCAA Tournament are Michigan, Northwestern and Ohio State.

 

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Nebraska came within a couple of feet of keeping its Big Ten Tournament baseball hopes alive on Sunday.

Oh, they’re still alive; just very, very much on life support.

The Huskers (23-26, 7-2 Big Ten) are a game-and-a-half behind two teams, Michigan State and Maryland, for the eighth and final spot in the Big Ten Tournament, May 23-27 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.

That means Nebraska must sweep fourth-place Illinois in the final regular season series, Thursday through Saturday in Champaign, Illinois, and count on help from other teams on top of that.

Nebraska dropped two of three games at home over the weekend to Indiana, including Sunday’s 8-6 loss, which ended when Jesse Wilkening (above) sent a screaming drive to deep right field, with two runners on base, that right fielder Logan Sowers caught at the top of the wall.

“Jesse, I mean, that’s a home run,” coach Darin Erstad said, “and the guy basically robs it.”

Nebraska had trailed 8-0 in the fifth inning before senior and Lincoln native Jake Hohensee, playing on Senior Day, provided stability on the mound with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. He struck out six.

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Coaching changes often mean roster changes, so football players who have announced their transfers since the end of spring practice should come as little surprise.

But note the overwhelming support players like fullback Ben Miles and receiver Keyan Williams (above) have received on social media – from fans, but most notably from teammates. Dozens of players responded kindly Monday to Williams’ Twitter announcement he’d been granted his transfer request.

“I have been agonizing over this for probably about a week, and it is without question the hardest decision I have ever made,” Williams said in his statement. “This decision in 100 percent about football and how I would like my senior season to play out if possible. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and this is what God has planned for me right now.”

Williams said he transferred to Lincoln, from Fresno State, to be with his family – his father is former receivers coach Keith Williams – but soon discovered how both the University of Nebraska and the city of Lincoln both are special places.

“Although I have only been here two years, I felt welcomed from day one,” Williams said. “There really is place like Nebraska and I will never forget that.”

Williams will graduate this summer.

Like Williams did, Miles thanked both former coach Mike Riley and new coach Scott Frost, and both staffs, in an equally classy statement on May 2 to announce he’s transferring. A fullback, Miles noted he was “no longer the right fit” schematically in an offense that doesn’t utilize a fullback but said the “program is in great hands.”

He also thanked his “brothers and teammates” for making his time here special.

“I love you guys, and apologize this did not work out as planned. However, the future is bright. I wish the best for this team. Go Big Red!”

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Amir Harris, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard from St. James School in Hagerstown, Maryland, has signed his national letter of intent to play basketball at Nebraska, coach Tim Miles announced Monday.

Harris visited Nebraska last week officially and committed soon thereafter.

“The addition of Amir is great for Nebraska basketball,” Miles said. “He's a first-class kid, an excellent student and an unbelievable athlete.  Amir has worked hard at his game and did a great job with St. James this season. He can play and guard multiple positions, and we love his versatility. We look forward to helping him develop into a complete player in our program.”

In addition to averaging 11.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per game as a senior, Harris, a three-star recruit, brings a 4.0 GPA to Lincoln.

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Former Nebraska women's basketball player Danielle Page is joining the Toledo women's basketball program as an assistant coach, head coach Tricia Cullop announced Monday.

Page, from Monument, Colorado, played at Nebraska from 2004-08 before embarking on a long professional and international career. She spent time overseas with teams in Turkey, France, Israel, Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary. Highlights from her professional career include being a member of Bourges' 2016 EuroCup Championship squad, along with earning eurobasket.com first-team All-France recognition on two occasions. She was also selected the 2014 Foreign Player of the Year in France and garnered first-team All-EuroCup accolades that same season.

Under the direction of former NBA player Keith Van Horn, Page served as the head coach of the U-14 Colorado Premier National Girls Team in Summer 2014 and worked as an assistant coach for the U-13 squad in 2013 and the U-15 team in 2015. Most recently, she assisted with the coordination and communication portion of the recruiting process for U-17 team members last summer.   

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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