By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Other collegiate volleyball coaches ask Rick Squiers about it all the time.
“What’s with your crazy bench?”
“Why is that happening?”
“How did you start that?”
His team’s over-the-top sideline antics have “definitely caught some attention,” according to Squiers, the longtime head coach at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
But he’s not the mastermind behind the loud, vivacious and completely unapologetic crew bringing extra excitement to every Loper volleyball match.
“I really didn’t have anything to do with it,” Squiers said. “I try to stay out of it.”
The tradition was started by his players a few years ago, and it continues to grow and evolve over time.
This year’s team has chants for kills, blocks, serve-receive and just about every UNK player who steps on the court. They do the can-can for freshman outside hitter Kamryn Schuler, cheer for Annnnaaaaa Squiers and break into the chicken dance when they’ve recorded enough kills to earn free Raising Cane’s for the home crowd.
“It makes matches more fun for everyone,” said Bailee Sterling, a redshirt freshman from Kearney. “If the bench is loud, it’s going to give our team more energy. It gives the fans more energy.”
Sterling and sophomore Gracie Stienike, an outside hitter/middle blocker from Gothenburg, are two of the leaders in a lively group of Loper reserves.
“Gracie is the one who starts the cheers most of the time,” said Sterling, an outside hitter/middle blocker who transferred to UNK in January.
“But anyone can hop in,” added Stienike, who described the celebrations as “organized chaos.”
When junior Mary Katherine Wolfe steps to the service line, it’s Stienike who forms a moon shape with her arms while two teammates howl from the gym floor.
“I think our fans find it hilarious,” Stienike said of the animation.
“But other teams … I don’t think they like how obnoxious we are,” Sterling injected.
The creative celebrations serve a purpose beyond annoying an opponent.
“They help us relax, too,” said Emma Benton, a senior outside hitter from Grand Island.
The Lopers tie the cheers to their team motto – “run as one” – and credit the silliness for relieving some of the pressure during a season when they’re 33-0 and ranked second in NCAA Division II.
“We’re all supporting each other,” Stienike said. “It doesn’t matter what position you play. We do everything as a team.”
Outside hitter Julianne Jackson, a senior from Bonner Springs, Kansas, said the boisterous bench creates “a whole different atmosphere” for UNK matches.
“It’s nice having that boost of energy,” said Jackson, the co-player of the year in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
Plus, she noted, it’s pretty entertaining.
“We’ve had people steal our cheers, so we know they’re good,” Jackson said.
Even the usually stone-faced coach Squiers can admit that.
“Some of them are clever and I kind of smile,” he said, “and some of them I cringe a little.”
Guess who's serving! Hint: MK #ServeItUp @UNKvolleyball aggressive serving is a difference maker. @GoLopers pic.twitter.com/PUBcwWdSLT
— Marc Bauer (@CoachMarcBauer) November 16, 2019
CENTRAL REGIONAL BEGINS THURSDAY
UNK is hosting the NCAA Division II Central Regional for the second consecutive year.
The second-ranked Lopers (33-0) are the top seed in the eight-team tournament. They face Oklahoma Baptist University (28-5) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Health and Sports Center.
Thursday’s other first-round matches are:
Noon – Concordia-St. Paul vs. Washburn
2:30 p.m. – Minnesota-Duluth vs. Central Missouri
5 p.m. – Northern State vs. St. Cloud State
For ticket information, visit www.lopertickets.com.
The winner of the Central Regional advances to the Elite Eight in Denver.