To say Nebraska coach John Cook was happy when former Husker All-American Kelly Hunter told him she was interested in joining his staff would be an understatement.
“I was doing jumping jacks when she called me and said she wanted to come back,” Cook said. “I’ve been telling Kelly her whole career she’d be a great coach. She’s thinking about it now.”
For now, Hunter is working on her master’s degree at UNL while also functioning as a graduate assistant for the Huskers.
As a grad assistant, Hunter won’t be doing hands-on coaching. But she’s still around the team and will be able to give advice to players when they’re not on the court.
“As a grad manager she’s limited in what she can do, but just having her there, we still have two very young setters,” Cook said. “We’re going to use her in every way we can. Kelly has a presence about her. You either have it or you don’t. Obviously she has it. I really hope she goes into coaching. I hope this year she really enjoys it because I think she can be great.”
Hunter was one of the top setters ever to go through the Nebraska program. She led the Huskers to national titles in both 2015 and 2017. That came after she teamed up with Kadie and Amber Rolfzen to win three Class A state titles at Papillion-La Vista South High School.
Hunter had helped Cook in camps over the years. She enjoyed the feeling she got when coaching younger girls.
“It kind of came naturally to me, the same way playing did,” Hunter said. “Volleyball is what I know more so than anything in the world, so I just knew that if there was any route I wanted to take with volleyball, then it would be good for me.”
Hunter returns to Lincoln after a year of playing professional volleyball in Turkey. She played for Beylikduzu in Turkey and helped the team to a fifth-place finish in the Turkish League.
She played with former U.S. college players Simone Lee from Penn State and Annie Drews from Purdue. She also played against Husker All-American’s Jordan Larson and Kelsey Robinson as well.
But after a year playing professional volleyball in Turkey, Hunter decided to follow her heart.
And her heart led her back to Nebraska and the Husker volleyball team.
“I think I wanted to try it and get the experience and say that I gave it a go and was a professional volleyball player, but I think I have passions outside of playing volleyball, like I really enjoy coaching,” Hunter said. “We always coached camps every summer and I just always loved that, and Coach Cook always thought I did a pretty good job with those.”
As a setter who led the Huskers to two national championships and three straight Final Four appearances, Hunter can be invaluable to the setters, sophomore Nicklin Hames and freshman Nicole Drewnick.
“Kelly is one of the greatest setters to ever play here,” Hames said. “She’s an awesome person and a great leader here as well. Having her in the gym, she’s going to help tremendously with setter and the mental part of being a setter and with our leadership. She’s going to be very useful for the program.”
Cook named Hames and junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins as the two captains for the 2019 season. He said Hunter will be able to help them develop their leadership abilities as the season goes along.
“She was one of the best captains we ever had, and now after her experience away from the program and playing professionally, she’ll have a lot of wisdom to share with our players,” Cook said.
Cook is delighted to have her back with the program.
“One of the greatest joys in coaching is having a former player come back and coach in your program,” he said. “Nicklin and Nicole are two of the luckiest setters in the country, as they’ll be able to train with her.”
Hunter has an idea about the talent returning from the 2018 national runner-up team. She watched them play as much as she could.
“With the time difference it was hard,” Hunter said. “For the national championship match I was up at like four or five or something. It was cool to see them go as far as they did and to see Nicklin take over that role as a freshman is awesome.”
Now Hunter will get a taste of coaching. That could help her decide if it’s the right career path for her.
“I know whenever I am in the gym and coaching and getting the chance to work with younger girls and helping them out, it’s always a really gratifying feeling, and I just felt like I had some strengths there,” Hunter said.