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By Randy York
One of five seniors on Nebraska’s 2012-13 volleyball team, Hannah Werth has enough accolades attached to her name that she fairly brims with confidence … 2010 Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year, 2011 First-Team All-Big Ten outside hitter as well as an American Volleyball Coaches Association honorable mention All-American. At this point in her career, what can possibly scare the daughter of a former major league baseball-playing dad and a University of Florida track star mom, let alone a brother who played on a World Series Championship baseball team and a sister who competed in track at UCLA? Well, would you believe the mere sight of a 30-foot-high cliff jutting out over the Pacific Ocean at Hawaii’s Sunset Beach on Oahu’s North Shore while teammates and even an assistant coach are urging her to take a leap of faith and jump?
“I was one of the very last ones to try it, but it ended up being my favorite highlight in a whirlwind week of fun things to do,” Werth said after Nebraska’s volleyball team returned from a spring break trip that included a four-set sweep of Hawaii at a packed War Memorial Stadium in Maui. “I was very nervous up there on that cliff and was talking through it when I decided to trust it and go for it. So I just ran off and jumped. I’m telling you, I’ve never been so scared in my entire life! I think the ocean was more than 30 feet down, but I think my stomach dropped more than 40 feet. The whole experience scared the daylights out of me, but it was just awesome.”
So awesome that Werth now considers her ability to go jump off a cliff on a whim as a bit of a metaphor for what she’s willing to do for the team in the upcoming season. Nebraska Head Coach John Cook and assistants Dan Connors and Dan Meske have spent 10 weeks on leadership training for a Husker team featuring five seniors – Werth, Lauren Cook, Paige Hubl, Gina Mancuso and Allison McNeal. “Going to Hawaii for a week has been really, really beneficial for this team,” Cook said. “Before we left Lincoln, we knew what we needed to do, knew what we needed to work on and knew what we needed to talk about.” The simple answers are 1) Learn how to compete together; 2) Work on teamwork and chemistry; and 3) Talk about unity and trust. “Before we left Nebraska, we wanted to maximize every opportunity we had,” Cook said, “and it could not have gone better.”
Werth loved every minute of the trip, especially playing in front of a packed house in Hawaii’s first match in 20 years in Maui. “It was an unbelievable experience,” she said. “Imagine 2,000 fans packed into a tiny gym and standing up the entire match and screaming as loud as they can for every play. In their culture, everyone is spirited. They show pride and appreciation for both teams. I must have talked to one lady for half an hour after the match. You could definitely feel the energy, the vibes and the love. They were asking all of us for pictures and autographs. Personally, I even found myself trading bracelets afterwards.”
John Cook was not surprised. “The two best places to play volleyball in the world are Hawaii and Nebraska,” he said. “We have great sportsmanship in Nebraska, but Hawaii cheers every player in every game. This match was a huge deal over there. We got there at 4:15 for a 6 o’clock match, and people were lined up all the way down the street, waiting to get in. The crowd was great, and the atmosphere was great. They were sold out inside a gym with a tin roof. It was loud and it was exciting.”
Exciting enough that Werth couldn’t help but think on the plane ride back to Nebraska about leadership and the role she might play in her final year as a Husker. “Personally, as a leader, I want to reinforce our individuality and really bring people out of their shells, so we can enjoy the experience and the positive vibes we create together,” she said. “I just really want to embrace people for who they are and not judge anyone. So often, there’s a lot of judging that goes beyond the sport itself. I just want to go back to our blue-collar kind of work, do what we need to do and make the team the best it can be by just letting everybody’s personality shine through. I want us to act like we’re supposed to act and be the role models we’re supposed to be.”
Even if it means doing something crazy like running and jumping off a cliff when every fiber in your body is telling you no.
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