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Freshmen Pierce, Mauch Highlight of Spring Volleyball Practice

by Apr 8, 2024Nebraska Volleyball

Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Coach John Cook is bringing the majority of his lineup back from the 2023 national runner-up Huskers, but it’s been two newcomers who have stood out the most so far this spring.

Between the beach season and start of indoor spring training, freshmen Skyler Pierce and Olivia Mauch have already made an impact on the Husker program.

“They have been the highlight of the spring … We had probably the best beach season we’ve ever had, best wins, most wins, and I credit those two for elevating our beach team,” Cook said. “Those guys had a legit shot of winning every time they played. We had five teams, but that really elevated another team to a higher level and I give them a lot of credit. They’re doing awesome in here. That’s those two are special and they’ve come in and are doing a great job.”

Pierce is an outside hitter from the Kansas City area. In-state product Mauch is a defensive specialist from Bennington. Cook called the duo special and said their transition to college has been smooth.

“I think they’re special kids, they’re competitors, they’re talented,” Cook said. “Both have been in the USA program, which I think really helps them at this level. They’ve transitioned great. Olivia is in Bennington, so it’s not like there’s a big homesickness thing from there. And Skyler, I think she has been ready to come here for a couple of years. So it’s been a really smooth transition and those guys, I’ve been really pleased with them. At the end of week one last week, that was the first thing on our whiteboard was how well those freshmen did the first week. So I’m very pleased and those guys are getting after it really well.”

The class of 2023 went through the spring transition a year ago as all five of them enrolled early, but newcomers made up nearly half the team at that point which impacted the way Cook structured practices. With so many returners this year and just two freshmen (incoming transfer commits Taylor Landfair and Leyla Blackwell are finishing the semester at their current schools), Cook has taken a different approach.

“I think they’ve been doing an amazing job,” Bergen Reilly said. “They’ve been thrown into a lot of situations. I think last year with us, there were six new people, and so we took it really slow. And this year, there are just two, so they just were kind of thrown in. They’ve been doing really well with that and they’ve been holding their own. It’s really fun to see them grow literally every single day and I’m just so proud of them.”

Lindsay Krause said while the freshmen have fit in great, they’re a little on the quiet side. She said the team has tried to pull Mauch and Pierce outside of their comfort zones a bit, one of many benefits of enrolling early. Cook spoke to some of the others.

“We can play anytime, six-on-six,” Cook said. “We have a lot of bodies. I know there are teams right now that can’t scrimmage because they don’t have enough players. What it also does it gets those guys in our program, gets them in our lifting program, so we jump-start them nine months ahead of when we start. So it’s a huge advantage going into the fall, having gone through an offseason. Then they get to be here in the summer, they’re acclimated, they’re over adjustments, they get to work camps. Of course, Olivia will be going with the USA team, and so if she was doing that she wouldn’t be here until July, middle of July, if she hadn’t already been here. So there are a lot of advantages to it.”

The freshmen are getting an early chance to play with and against and learn from some of the best players in the country, including All-Americans Merritt Beason and Lexi Rodriguez.

“Look who Olivia gets to train next to: Lexi and Laney [Choboy],” Cook said. “That’s pretty cool, and she can hold her own. Skyler, we’re playing all the outsides at all the positions, so they’re all rotating. Merritt’s the mom and really takes care of those guys.”

On a team with a lot of knowns, the two freshmen have been the biggest pleasant surprise of the spring for Cook as the Huskers look to build towards another title run in 2024.

“I’ll put them at the top of the list every time right now,” Cook said. “They’ve really surprised me … Skyler’s already taken three players in left front’s heads off on left-side attack; we’ve got girls that have never done that. So for a freshman, you’re just kind of like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’”

One of the veterans who has been on the wrong end of a big Skyler Pierce swing is Krause, who is full-go after the ankle injury that ended her 2023 season prematurely.

“She hit me in the stomach the other day at practice,” Krause said. “It was like an off-blocker ball. She got me right in the gut; it was a good one. I had to take a breather for a second and then I was all good. But she’s got some great swings.”

Nebraska fans will get their first look at Pierce and Mauch in Nebraska jerseys on May 4 when the Huskers travel to Kearney to take on Denver in the program’s annual spring exhibition. Tickets for the match at the Health and Sports Center on the campus of UNK sold out in roughly 45 minutes.

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