How a basketball player could help propel Nebraska volleyball back to the top
Every athlete knows that day will come. That day without a 6 a.m. practice or 40-minute battle. It stings. For Allie Havers, a four-year basketball standout at Nebraska, that day came and went.
But she's back on the court now, this time playing volleyball. Never mind that Nebraska volleyball is Nebraska volleyball: the 2015 national champion, a 2016 national semifinalist, a haven for high flyers. Never mind that she hadn't played volleyball in four years. The 6-foot-5 middle blocker from Mattawan, Michigan, played high school volleyball, as an honorable mention Under Armour All-American and a first team all-state player, in addition to lettering in basketball and softball.
For Havers, who had one year of NCAA eligibility remaining, the decision to try volleyball again was pretty simple. "If you have two feet and you have two hands, and you can walk and run, I say go play as many sports as you can," Havers said.
Havers hasn't played yet for the No. 12 Huskers (3-2), who opened the season with losses to Oregon and Florida, but her energy could help ignite the Huskers back to their usual lofty spot. The mission continues this weekend with back-to-back games against No. 11 UCLA (5-0).
If you have two feet and you have two hands, and you can walk and run, I say go play as many sports as you can.Allie Havers
"She knows she's not going to be a star on our team or necessarily have a major role, but you'd never know that by how hard she works and how much she gives," Nebraska coach John Cook, said. "She loves competing, and those are really the kids that are fun to coach. They play for the love of the game and not all the other outside things, like awards, all that stuff."
She goes all-out for team rituals, like when someone hits the ball and it shanks off the other team's arms or hands, the bench pretends to play baseball. One player pretends to pitch and another hits, while the rest points to the sky as if she hit a home run.
Don't even try to battle her in lip sync. Teaming up with fellow hooper Esther Ramacieri, Havers is a two-time winner (the Huskers' halftime crowd picks), lip-syncing the likes of "I Want It That Way" by the Backstreet Boys and "Wannabe" by The Spice Girls.
She's that player every locker room needs.
When the women's basketball team endured a coaching change her senior year, Havers didn't keep to herself. The post player, who finished her hoops career ranked among Nebraska's top 50 career scorers (720 points) and top 25 career rebounders (541), could have just kept hitting those short corner shots -- her sweet spot -- but she made the effort to rally the troops each practice. If she sensed the mood was down, she'd blurt out something funny to keep everyone loose.
"I value how hard she worked in the locker room, behind the scenes, to keep things together and be the glue as we went through that coaching change," Nebraska basketball coach Amy Williams said. "There's no way that our coaching staff would have been able to transition quite so smoothly if it hadn't been for Allie and her leadership."
Havers can't help but stand out. She's always been tall and lanky -- "as soon as she came out of the womb," said her father, Mike Havers. "But she was never a kid that wanted the spotlight on her. She was a lot more interested in the attention the team got versus the individual attention that came her way."
Nebraska volleyball could rely on her veteran leadership as the team struggles with youth, inexperience and multiple players adapting to new roles after the graduation of superstar twins Amber and Kadie Rolfzen. Setter Kelly Hunter is just recently back from injury, and senior Annika Albrecht and junior Mikaela Foecke are taking over leadership roles.
The team, like Havers, is reinventing itself; constantly learning, constantly pushing.
"We have a lot of young players and a lot of players in new roles so we're in total teaching mode right now," Cook said. "We're working to be good right now. We want to try to be great in the Big Ten, and then try to be unstoppable by the end of the year."
With three middles ahead of her, Havers is focused on giving each rep her all. There are private moments of joy in practice that fans don't see. When she gets a block or a big kill, she realizes she can hang. She earned her spot.
"I've fallen right back in love with it," Havers said. "There's always in the back of my head like, 'You haven't played in four years. Do you think you're going to get playing time?' But I'm just trying to play the game like I haven't stopped. I'm going to really challenge my teammates as much as I can at practice to make them better players, and if I play or I don't play, I'm going to be supportive of the team and try to lead our team to success and get another natty."