The Nebraska volleyball team's Red-White scrimmage, an annual celebration to mark a new season, hit a somewhat sour note towards the end of the late-August evening.
Nicklin Hames, the Huskers' four-year starting setter, hobbled off the Devaney Sports Center court, favoring her ankle with tears in her eyes.
Before the season even started, Nebraska dodged its first injury test, as Hames missed only the opening week of the season.
But the Huskers felt the effects of her brief absence well into the regular season.
Two games into a rare three-matching losing streak in mid-September, the Huskers ranked 11th in the Big Ten in hitting percentage and 12th in kills per set. It should be noted NU's out-of-league slate boasted four nationally ranked teams.
Even so, the offensive struggles were enough for coach John Cook to bluntly declare, “We got to find a way to kill more balls" on Sept. 17.
Now, after a spotless six-game run to open their league schedule, the Huskers rank first in the Big Ten in hitting percentage in conference-only matches.
Cook says a key piece of the turnaround is getting Hames back into a groove. He pointed out the Huskers are starting two freshman hitters in Lindsay Krause and Ally Batenhorst and were without Lauren Stivrins, too.
"Her (Hames) getting hurt in the Red-White (scrimmage) threw a wrench into everything and really slowed us down," Cook said Tuesday. "We got three new hitters for her, so it's just taken time to develop that."
The grind of the season: After a weekend out east, the Huskers waste little time returning to action. When Nebraska takes the court at 8 p.m. Wednesday to host Indiana at the Devaney Sports Center, less than 80 hours will have passed since the Huskers closed out Rutgers on Sunday after beating Penn State on Friday.
"It's a grind," Cook said. "We just talk about recovery and getting sleep. I'm concerned tomorrow night about how much gas is in the tank emotionally. Physically, they're fine, it's emotionally. That was a long trip."
Caffey not at practice: Nebraska starting Nebraska middle blocker Kayla Caffey did not play Sunday due to illness, but she was in attendance after receiving a negative COVID-19 test.
Cook said she did not practice Tuesday and didn't have an update on her availability Wednesday or moving forward.
Callie Schwarzenbach stepped in for Caffey on Sunday and had five kills on .444 hitting.
"It's why we let them battle and rotate them all," Cook said. "Even Kalynn Meyer, she rotates in there as well, so we try to always have each position group have a group of players that are confident going in."
Hoosiers' serving wiz: Indiana brings a 2-4 conference record to Lincoln on Wednesday, but it has Cook's attention in part because it plays steady defense, which travels well in the league.
Also, the Hoosiers have a serving weapon in freshman Camryn Haworth, a left-handed setter who leads the Big Ten in ace serves per set (0.60) in conference matches, narrowly edging Nebraska's Hames and Keonilei Akana, who are both at 0.55.
Huskers taking advantage of NIL: Nebraska players Kenzie Knuckles, Lexi Rodriguez and Krause have personalized T-shirts for sale on RAYGUN, a T-shirt store based in Des Moines with a store in Omaha.
Lexi Rodriguez smiled when her T-shirt designs were mentioned Tuesday.
"Lincoln digs Lexi," reads one. "The Lex Big Thing," dots another.
It's the latest example of Nebraska student-athletes taking part in name, image, likeness. But Rodriguez isn't in a rush to capitalize on the new venture.
"Right now, I'm just taking a step back and looking at who comes at me and if I should do it or not," she said. "I'm just a freshman so I am looking at something I will do more in the future."