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Madi Kubik and Kenzie Knuckles each graduated from high school early and joined the Nebraska volleyball team for the spring season. And they've each already spent time practicing on the "A" side of the net, the group in practice with the starters and other top players.

It helps a lot that Kubik and Knuckles play at the only two positions where Nebraska has to replace starters due to graduation in outside hitter Mikaela Foecke and libero Kenzie Maloney.

It also helps that Kubik and Knuckles seem to be pretty good players, looking the part and carrying a lot of confidence.

“They’re both pretty composed for freshmen,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “They’re not afraid, and acting like freshmen. You can’t tell they’re freshmen out there. That’s the first good thing. There are days where they have been really good, and there have also been days when they’ve struggled. But this is a tough gym right now.”

It’s a tough gym because the Huskers have a lot of good returning players. Nebraska has returning starters with setter Nicklin Hames, middle blockers Lauren Stivrins and Callie Schwarzenbach, outside hitter Lexi Sun and right-side hitter Jazz Sweet.

Kubik and Knuckles will each play, and maybe a lot, when Nebraska has its spring match at 1 p.m. Saturday against Colorado State at McCook Community College.

Kubik, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, was the No. 4 national recruit, the Iowa Gatorade player of the year as a senior and played with the U.S. youth national team.

“She’s just a really good volleyball player,” said Cook, who after watching Kubik play in club tournaments and at Husker volleyball camps for several years now gets to coach her.

“She does everything really well. She’s got a great serve, passes, digs, hits out of the back row, hits out of the front row. The one area where she’s got to get better is blocking, but all freshmen when they get here it’s a whole different level blocking. She’s just a really good volleyball player, and really even-keeled. Really easy to play with.”

Knuckles, a 5-8 libero, was the No. 37 national recruit. As an outside hitter, she helped her high school in Yorktown, Indiana, to a 34-0 record as a senior. She also spent time with the U.S. youth national team.

During practice, Cook has drills that match players who play the same position. So Sun, Kubik and Capri Davis compete at outside hitter. And Anezka Szabo, who is back from an injury and has had a good spring, and Sweet compete at right-side hitter. And Megan Miller, Hayley Densberger and Knuckles compete at libero.

At libero, Cook says the competition has been good, and that the player who is the best at serve receive will win the job in August.

When the Huskers have had position competitions, it’s been fierce.

“When you get to this level, hopefully you hate to lose, and like to win,” Cook said. “As we tell them, it pays to win in this (practice) gym.”

Defensive specialist Chen Abramovich is the only player who won’t be able to play Saturday, due to illness.

Colorado State connections: Colorado State has two players from Nebraska on its roster, including one who was born in McCook. The Rams’ Olivia Nicholson was born in McCook, but grew up and graduated from high school in North Platte. Nicholson played both outside hitter and libero last season as a junior. Gretna graduate Amanda Young is a senior defensive specialist for Colorado State. The Rams have a 2-0 record for the spring season.

Worth quoting: “I can’t wait. I’ve obviously never been to McCook, Nebraska, before.” — Lexi Sun, who is from Encinitas, a beach city in California.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.

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