GRAD STUDENT GUARD
Mi’Cole Cayton is looking forward to another season as a Husker after spending her first year in a Nebraska women’s basketball uniform in 2021-22.
Cayton, a 23-year-old graduate student from California, appeared in 14 games off the bench for the Big Red and capped 2020-21 with a season-high 10 points in a Postseason WNIT win over UT Martin (March 19), before adding a pair of three-pointers against Colorado (March 20) in the round of 16.
Cayton’s performances against the Skyhawks and Buffaloes provided an inspiring end to a rewarding season for the 5-9 guard who missed all but four total games over the three previous seasons as a player at California.
“It meant the world. Nebraska is a special place to me - very special. With the help of the coaching staff, strength training staff and athletic trainer I was able to reach goals that I had set for myself three injuries ago. I just had to trust in the process and the ones around me.”
Cayton said the connections she formed with her fellow Huskers in her first season in Lincoln helped her compete at a high level in the postseason.
“I just remember being as confident as ever because every move, every shot, every deflection I had my teammates right there to pump me up,” Cayton said. “It was like they knew I could do it, and it finally came to life. They have been by my side through it all, so to see them happy for me meant the world to me - even more than the season high against UT Martin. After the game, I wasn’t really worried about my personal accomplishments. I was more ecstatic because Whitney Brown had one of her best games in a Husker jersey, and I was more excited for her than I was for myself.”
Nebraska Coach Amy Williams said Cayton’s love of the game and her teammates creates an electricity on and off the court.
“Mi’Cole has an intensity and passion with the way she plays the game that is an incredible asset to our program,” Williams said. “We are looking forward to a full season with a healthy Mi’Cole.”
Cayton’s energy and eagerness to connect with her teammates have always been strengths for the former high school star out of St. Mary’s High School in Stockton. But right leg injuries that included an ACL tear in the first game of her sophomore season (2017-18) and surgery to repair cartilage damage the following year (2018-19) kept her off the floor for nearly three full seasons at Cal. In her one healthy season in Berkeley, she averaged 5.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists while making 13 starts in 34 games to earn honorable-mention Pac-12 All-Freshman accolades.
After four seasons at Cal, Cayton chose to come to Nebraska as a graduate transfer prior to the 2020-21 season. She had originally signed with the Huskers in November of 2015, before an unexpected coaching change at Nebraska caused her to stay closer to home.
“You know, after my injury, some people said I’d never be able to play this sport again,” Cayton said. “People had doubted me and whenever I get doubted I rise to the occasion. I knew I had to do it for my teammates and coaches who trusted in me and most importantly myself. I owed it to myself.”
Even after making the decision to transfer to Nebraska in the summer of 2020, Cayton still had to put in overtime to try to overcome the lingering effects of her leg injury. She was unable to return to full participation in practice until January, while trying to strengthen her right leg.
“I had to put in another seven months of extra work just to play 14 games of basketball, but I would do it all over again. It was just a part of a process God had for me. They say he gives his challenges to his toughest soldiers, and I happened to be one of them,” Cayton said. “Being invested in the process and not the results is something I live day by day. At the end of the season it paid off, which not only showed me but a lot of other people out there that you have to work for what you want in life, even if it takes time. Be patient, be nice to your body, trust in yourself and over time watch how you grow not only as an athlete but a person as well.”
Cayton made her Husker competitive debut in a key Big Ten regular-season game at Illinois on Jan. 25. She played 19 minutes and played a key role in a Nebraska victory by making a crucial steal with 11 seconds left to seal the win.
It had been 26 months between games for Cayton, but the result was worth the wait.
“I honestly wasn’t sure if I was even going to play. I was a bit nervous, first game back and I hadn’t really been training much, just a lot of rehab and practice. I was thinking how off my shot was going to be or even how many layups I was going to miss, but as soon as coach called my name I was ready to go. I told myself it’s your time, and it ended up more perfectly than I would’ve ever imagined.”
Cayton continued to contribute for the Big Red the rest of the season, appearing in 14 games while averaging 2.7 points and just under one rebound and one assist per game.
Williams said Cayton’s contributions during 2020-21 were an inspiration to the Huskers and shining examples of her work ethic and commitment.
“It was incredibly rewarding for everyone involved to see Mi’Cole back on the court and competing this past season,” Williams said. “She has overcome a lot of adversity that injuries brought her way, and I think it was a testament to her determination and grit.”
At the end of the year, she was recognized for her efforts in making her long-awaited return to the court by being named the Nebraska women’s basketball Lifter of the Year. She also earned spots on the Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll in both the fall and spring semesters and was a member of the 2021 Tom Osborne Citizenship Team for her contributions in the community.
Although she was slowed by an ankle injury late in the summer, Cayton said she continues to commit herself to contributing by connecting and competing with a talented group of Huskers in 2021-22.
“It has been a great summer with my teammates. We’ve been getting after it on the court. Practice has been faster for sure. It’s more competitive and it’s really just an opportunity for us to get to it. Compete, get after it and show what each one of us brings to the table. When it’s all said and done, make sure that we are connecting and make sure every link is right off the court. If one link is broken, we are going to come up short in the goals that we want to reach, so everyone has to be interconnected, locked in and ready to compete and connect every practice.”
Nebraska Gatorade and MaxPreps High School Player of the Year Alexis Markowski brings passion and competitiveness to the court every day.
Her passion for basketball exuded in her actions the past two seasons at Lincoln Pius X, where she led the Thunderbolts to back-to-back Class A state championships. Not only did the 6-3 forward/center average 23.3 points and 13.0 rebounds per game in leading Pius to a 25-0 record as a senior, her fiery fist pumps, constant high fives and consistent vocal communication served as connecting forces with her teammates and intimidating factors to her opponents.
Now in her first summer on campus in preparation for her freshman season at Nebraska, Markowski is bringing that energy to the Huskers at the Hendricks Training Complex each day.
“I am a very passionate and competitive player. I have a desire in me to win,” Markowski said. “My first few weeks in terms of training and practicing have been challenging and fun. I am learning a lot of new things and getting better each day.”
Nebraska Head Coach Amy Williams said Markowski’s work ethic and competitive fire have emerged in summer practices and helping drive the energy level of the Huskers.
“As we watched Alexis compete the last few years for her Lincoln Pius and Lasers teams, we saw she was a winner who will lay everything on the line for her team,” Williams said. “That has been confirmed already this summer. She approaches each training opportunity as a chance to compete and improve.”
Markowski’s defining characteristics on and off the court are a perfect fit for Nebraska’s Connect and Compete mantra entering the 2021-22 season.
“I love the Connect and Compete philosophy,” Markowski said. “I feel that every girl on the team has bought into this philosophy and they compete hard at practice and connect after practice. I have been able to connect with every player and coach in this program. Everyone has been very helpful and welcoming, and it really is one big family.”
Markowski’s real life family has helped lay the foundation for her love of basketball and spread that love and connectedness to her teammates on every team she has been a contributor.
“I am so excited that I get to play in front of my home state, friends and family,” Markowski said. “My family has been at the center of my basketball life, and I can’t wait to see them all cheering me on in the stands.”
Her father, Andy, was a 6-8 forward on the Nebraska men’s basketball team from 1994-95 to 1998-99 and was a member of four postseason tournament teams as a Husker. A team captain in 1998 and 1999, he helped the Big Red to the 1998 NCAA Tournament. He was also a member of NU’s WNIT Championship team in 1996.
Andy served as the coach of her Nebraska Lasers teams from her earliest days of competitive basketball and was also an assistant coach at Lincoln Pius X. Alexis, the oldest of Andy and Jaime Markowski’s four children, also played alongside her sister, Adison, the past two years for the Thunderbolts, while sister Ava and brother Jake were always in the gym cheering for them.
“It was very important for me to stay close to home for my younger siblings,” Alexis said. “Not only do I get to see them grow up, but I get to see their games improve. I love that I get to hang with them whenever I want. I love being independent, but I still feel very close with my family.”
Now that her basketball family has grown to include the Huskers, Markowski is embracing the leaders of the Nebraska program.
“I feel that the leadership on this team is amazing,” Markowski said. “I have felt very welcomed and involved on this team. I just want to be the best teammate I can be and make everybody better every day.”
Coach Williams said Markowski’s work ethic is driving her improvement and a higher level of play for the Huskers.
“She is a worker who does not take possessions off, and that makes her a tough guard each day in practice,” Williams said. “We are loving her hunger to get better and her desire to win.”
Growth and improvement were cornerstones of Markowski’s high school career. As a freshman, Markowski missed the entire basketball season with a foot injury. Being forced to sit out the entire 2017-18 season had a major impact on Markowski’s approach to the game.
“I learned a lot during my injury. I realized that every day on the court is a gift and can be taken at any time,” Markowski said. “I also realized how much love I have for the game of basketball. Before my injury I took the game for granted.”
In her first high school season on the court in 2018-19, Markowski led Pius X to the Class A state semifinals by averaging 13.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. The sophomore also notched a Pius X single-season record 47 blocks to earn third-team Nebraska Super-State honors from the Lincoln Journal Star. She also earned the first of three straight appearances on the Class A All-Tournament team.
“My passion for the game grew tremendously after I sat out a year,” Markowski said. “After the injury, I had the mindset that you never know when your last game could be, so leave it all out on the court.”
After a strong offseason, Markowski took her game to another level as a junior in 2019-20, averaging 21.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game while powering the Thunderbolts to a 26-1 record and a Class A state championship. She tied the Nebraska Class A state tournament scoring record with 80 points over three games, matching the total of Nebraska Athletics Hall of Famer and the women’s basketball program’s first 2,000-point scorer, Maurtice Ivy.
But perhaps Markowski’s greatest improvements as a junior came on the defensive end, where she displayed the ability to challenge shots from corner to corner and at the top of the key while continuing to protect the rim.
She continued to provide a dominant presence at both ends of the court as a high school senior in 2020-21, despite the disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During quarantine I really focused on improving my lateral movements and getting in better shape,” Markowski said. “My senior season, I felt that my defense was much improved compared to my junior year.”
While continuing to show defensive improvements as a senior, Markowski also broke her own school scoring and rebounding records in her final season. In fact, she scored 22 more total points (582) and grabbed 10 more rebounds (325) in two fewer games (25) as a senior compared to her junior season (27). She earned her second straight appearances on the All-Nebraska and Super-State first teams, and her third consecutive spot on the Class A All-Tournament Team. She was voted the captain of the Class A All-Tournament team for the second time while leading the Thunderbolts to a second straight title by averaging 23.7 points and 19.3 rebounds over three tournament games. In a 47-38 state semifinal win over Omaha Central, Markowski erupted for 30 points and a season-high 27 rebounds, before adding 27 points and 19 boards against Fremont in the title game.
Her championship performance against Fremont, followed a career-high 42-point effort against Fremont on Jan. 2, 2021.
In just three high school seasons, Markowski amassed 1,484 points and 867 rebounds over 76 games.
True to her passion and urgency for the game and her overall competitive drive, Markowski is approaching her first collegiate season with her focus on getting better each day.
“I need to improve in every area of my game, but the biggest adjustment I will need to make is on defense,” Markowski said. “I also need to expand my post moves and use them to my advantage.”
Wise words for a hometown hero who just turned 18 years old and is hungry to play in front of family, friends and Husker fans for the first time as a collegian at Pinnacle Bank Arena in 2021-22.
“I cannot wait to play in front of all the Husker fans,” Markowski said. “We have the best fans in the country, and I have already felt the love from them.”
The adversity Ashley Scoggin faced to reach NCAA Division I women’s basketball for the first time at age 22 is remarkable and worth retelling. She played only six games over a span of five full seasons before having an NJCAA All-Region campaign at Salt Lake City Community College in 2019-20.
The 5-7 guard from Dallas, Oregon suffered a torn ACL in her left knee in July of 2015, near the end of her summer AAU season prior to her senior year at Westview High School. Without playing her 2015-16 high school senior season, all of Scoggin’s NCAA Division I scholarship offers were pulled. She chose to delay her college enrollment and did not compete in 2016-17.
Scoggin enrolled at Salt Lake City Community College in 2017-18. She played six games for SLC before suffering a torn ACL in her right knee in November of 2017. After surgery in January of 2018, Scoggin was making her way back, but her knee was not responding normally. Pursuit of an answer to continued problems with the knee revealed an abnormality in the original surgery, which required another major ACL surgery on the right knee that forced her out of the entire 2018-19 season.
Many, many athletes would have allowed their dreams to derail during five years of being forced to the sideline. Scoggin saw the whole experience as a blessing and found a sense of purpose and belonging after a remarkably successful first season at Nebraska in 2020-21.
“I experienced a lot physically, mentally and emotionally, that has made me who I am today,” the 23-year-old redshirt sophomore said. “I know I was meant to be a Division I athlete. Even though my journey was not normal, I never gave up on playing at the highest level. My first year at Nebraska was all I wanted and more, on and off the court. I tell the coaching staff and my family all the time, ‘I was meant to be here.’ Of course, I had some ups and downs, but nothing is easy. In my opinion, all of life’s experiences allow you the chance to grow. I have always wanted to choose the path of growth, and see the positive in each experience, rather than looking at the negative. I don’t think you can ever grow too much. Growth is endless, and without a doubt I know I will keep growing and improving as a Husker.”
In her first season as a Husker, Scoggin joined All-Big Ten teammates Sam Haiby and Kate Cain in the starting lineup for all 26 games. Scoggin played big minutes for the Big Red in 2020-21. She averaged 31.6 minutes per game, trailing only Haiby (34.1 mpg) among the Huskers.
“Last season I was not surprised at all with how many minutes I played,” Scoggin said. “I put thousands and thousands of hours into improving myself as a player. I have always had great stamina. Once I am in basketball shape, I can run for days. In many games last season, I wasn’t really winded at all. I also have a motor, so when I might feel a little tired, I keep going and push myself. I like to see how far I can really push and test my limits. Not once did I feel the minutes were stacking up on me. I love every second I am on the floor. I will never take it for granted. I pride myself on staying healthy, so I can be out there as much as I can.”
Nebraska Head Coach Amy Williams said Scoggin’s attention to detail and diligence in taking care of her body after experiencing multiple season-ending injuries, has helped Scoggin mature as a player and set an outstanding example for her younger Husker teammates.
"Ashley is extremely diligent in her approach to everything she does, particularly her approach to taking care of her body and doing what she needs to do to stay healthy," Williams said. "Having to miss so much time in her career due to injury has made this a big priority for Ashley, and it has paid off for our team."
Scoggin said strength training, stretching and recovery are the keys to her success, especially as a player who loves to spend as much time as possible in the gym honing her skills.
“Taking care of my body and doing regular treatment is very important for me to be able to play at my best,” Scoggin said. “Each day I have a stretching routine. I also get treatment every day and depending on how I am feeling, it can be a variety of things. Lately, I have been doing a version of laser-light therapy that can help my cells rejuvenate and recover properly, as well as using ultrasound. Taking ice baths also helps my muscles and legs recover, and I do those almost every day.”
She also knows that nutrition is a huge component to her growth and health as a college basketball player.
“I am very in tune with the way I fuel my body. Last year, we didn’t have a normal Training Table because of COVID, but coming from JUCO, I thought it was amazing. Now the Training Table is back to what it would normally be, and I love it. I really enjoy cooking, so being able to make my own food at the Training Table has been awesome. I always make sure to get protein and a complex carbohydrate in each meal and after workouts, and my favorite thing is a chocolate-peanut butter protein shake. For me being able to take care of my body nutritionally is just as important as physically. In order for me to play at my best I have to have both aspects, which is why I take it very seriously.”
Scoggin’s focus on preparation paid off in a big way as a first-year Husker in 2020-21. She led Nebraska with 43 made three-pointers and shot 37.1 percent from long range. She ranked fourth on the team in scoring at 8.5 points per game and second among the Huskers with 2.3 assists. She also helped the Big Red to five wins over top-25 Big Ten teams.
“Being able to be fully healthy and playing all last season in the Big Ten was an amazing feeling, and in some ways indescribable,” Scoggin said. “I was very happy to be doing what I love most, at the level I have always dreamed of playing. It really made me reflect on everyone who helped me get to that point and thank those who help me stay healthy. Without those people, I wouldn’t be able to be on the court. It makes me smile every time I think about it. It’s beyond gratifying to say the least.”
While it was gratifying for Scoggin to be on the court full-time at the Power Five Conference level last year, she was not always satisfied with her own level of play. That hunger and desire to keep growing and improving is serving her and the Huskers well during the offseason.
“There were times last year I got frustrated with how I shot and played since I knew I could do so much better,” Scoggin said. “The way I shot the ball against Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament is how I expect to shoot every game. I know I can do that.”
Against the No. 7 Terrapins, Scoggin hit 4-of-8 threes and finished with 14 points in 35 minutes, to help keep the Huskers within striking distance down to the wire. In fact, the Big Red led 68-67 with just over six minutes left before the Terps escaped with the victory.
Scoggin finished the season with 13 double-figure scoring performances and her consistency improved throughout the season, including eight double-figure efforts in the final 12 games. She scored a career-high 18 points and added a career-best five assists in a win over Penn State (Feb. 21), and produced a 17-point, four-assist effort in a career-high 39 minutes at Iowa (March 6). She also had 16-point performances against Minnesota (Jan. 19), Purdue (Dec. 23) and Idaho State (Dec. 6).
“Coming into this year, I know what I do really well and who I am as a player, which helps my confidence,” Scoggin said. “Last year was a great learning and growing experience for me, and it will definitely help me this season. I now know what to expect game to game and that knowledge will transfer to the upcoming season.”
Scoggin has been focused on putting in the work in the gym to grow off the knowledge and experience she gained on the court last season.
“This summer I have spent a lot of time working on my ball handling and shooting off the dribble. I have added new moves to my arsenal and have been working on them every day. I am also focused on getting stronger in the weight room. Spending time on my craft is what I love to do, so being in the gym as much as I can during the summer is crucial in order for me to be able to use those skills in season.”
Scoggin is also applying her work ethic, maturity and team-first attitude to help lead Nebraska’s collective efforts to connect and compete before and during the 2021-22 campaign.
“This summer our goal as a team is to compete and connect. The returners have all been helping out the newcomers and our communication has been great. As a team we have made a lot of progress this summer, but we still have a long way to go,” Scoggin said. “I want to bring leadership and a sense of camaraderie to our team. I also bring a positive and encouraging attitude to the table. That’s just who I am as a person. Helping my teammates believe in themselves, being there when they need me is very important. It helps our team connect. I also love the fact that we are competing against each other, and I love to compete. Personally, I think bringing the best version of myself each day helps us in pursuit of our goals of connecting and competing. When you bring your best self each day not only does it help you, but also those around you.”
A child, youth and family studies major with plans of being a coach, Scoggin is required to complete a 150-hour internship program. Her internship is coming under Coach Williams, who is providing Scoggin with an in-depth look at the daily working of the basketball program from a new perspective.
"Ashley is going to be a great coach someday," Williams said. "Her motivation to learn as much as she can has led to an internship this summer giving her a peak into all aspects behind the scenes in a basketball program. Her creativity and work ethic has shown through in this experience as well."
Scoggin's internship is also giving her an opportunity to relate Nebraska's on-court goals to the followers of the Husker program through social media engagement.
“This summer has been so exciting for me. One of the biggest things Coach Williams wanted me to do for my internship was to come up with new ideas for all platforms,” Scoggin said. “I love seeing my ideas come to life, but a lot of work goes into social media. With so many moving parts, you have to be able to communicate with multiple people to get the job done. The feedback I have received has all been great. Finding time to get all of it done and actually put it out there for the audience is a challenge, but I have loved every second of it. The aspect that has been eye-opening for me is the number of people involved in making all of the ideas come to life. So far, this has experience has been special and one I will never forget.”
While Scoggin has spent significant time this summer helping the program reach out to Husker fans in the digital realm, she is really looking forward to seeing the Big Red faithful in person at Pinnacle Bank Arena this season.
“One thing I am looking forward to the most this season is getting to play with this team in front of fans. I haven’t ever really played in front of fans. Last year without fans was actually normal for me, as crazy as that sounds. I am beyond excited to play in front of our Husker fans for the first time. I really love being at Nebraska. I can’t wait for this year.”
Last season was a special one for Whitney Brown. The 5-8 true freshman out of Grand Island Northwest High School was a difference-maker in her first year on the Nebraska women’s basketball team.
A recruited walk-on, Brown was hoping to compete for some time on the court, but knew the odds were against her when she chose to join the Huskers. The hard-working, fearlessly competitive guard didn’t worry about the odds, she only focused on the opportunity.
With multiple injuries ending the seasons of a trio of Nebraska guards prior to December, Brown stepped squarely into the backcourt mix. The Huskers were without Taylor Kissinger, Nailah Dillard, Trinity Brady and Makenzie Helms (transfer) by the end of Nebraska’s opening weekend of the season, and the Big Red was also waiting for graduate transfer Mi’Cole Cayton to be cleared to play while recovering from offseason surgery.
Not only were the Huskers down five guards from the summer roster, early in the first half of NU’s fourth game of the season at Creighton (Dec. 14) freshman guard Ruby Porter was knocked out of action with an ankle injury.
All of the early season backcourt bad luck for the Big Red left Nebraska with just three true active guards – Sam Haiby, Ashley Scoggin and Brown – for the rest of the game against Creighton and NU’s first Big Ten Conference road trip to No. 15 Indiana (Dec. 20) and Purdue (Dec. 23).
Although the numbers swung in Brown’s favor to gain significant playing time in mid-December, she had already proven herself in preseason camp and Nebraska’s first games of the season. In an opening-game win over Oral Roberts, Brown made her Husker debut with five points, four steals and an assist with no turnovers in 15 minutes of action.
After playing five turnover-free minutes in a win over NCAA Tournament-bound Idaho State in Game 2, Brown contributed five points, including her first career three-pointer, to go along with two rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes of a Big Ten Conference-opening win over Illinois (Dec. 10).
“Looking back on last season, I think an opportunity arose to give me a shot to play and I knew that I had to just go out there every game and give it the best I could,” Brown said. “A big reason I started to gain some confidence on the court was because of my teammates and coaches. Each game, I knew they had my back and I couldn’t have done any of it without them.”
After playing 19 minutes at Creighton, Brown stepped up to score six points and grab three rebounds without committing a turnover in 26 minutes on the road at No. 15 Indiana. The Hoosiers went on to advance to the NCAA Elite Eight.
By the time the Christmas holiday break arrived, Brown had already spent nearly 100 minutes on the floor for the Big Red through six games.
“In her first season as a Husker, Whit established herself as a dependable worker and contributor,” Nebraska Coach Amy Williams said. “Her work ethic and determined approach to getting better ensured that she was prepared when opportunities arose, and Whit made the most of those opportunities.”
Although Porter returned from her ankle injury and power forward Isabelle Bourne was spending time on the wing for the Huskers, Brown had proven herself as a reliable player in the rotation. With 2021 on the doorstep, she planned to keep contributing.
On her 19th birthday, Brown helped Nebraska to a 65-63 upset of No. 15 Northwestern at Pinnacle Bank Arena by burying a pair of three-pointers and grabbing three rebounds in 16 minutes against the defending Big Ten champion Wildcats. Brown’s threes came on back-to-back shots in a 32-second span in the second quarter that erased a six-point Northwestern lead.
“I 100 percent feel I gained more confidence as the season went on,” Brown said. “A lot of the strengths I have in basketball all stem from my siblings and parents over the years teaching me things. My sister was a fierce competitor who taught me to never give up no matter what, and my brothers always made me stronger and more competitive and fearless from just playing with them and them not taking it easy on me.”
After celebrating her birthday and New Year’s with a win over No. 15 Northwestern, the youngest of Mick and Lori Brown’s six children (Jamie, McKenzie, Bobby, Brock, Brook) opened 2021 with three points, two assists, a steal and no turnovers in a hard-fought 53-50 win over NCAA Tournament-bound Rutgers (Jan. 3).
A week later, she added three points, three assists and a steal in 22 minutes in a 68-64 road win at No. 23 Michigan State (Jan. 10).
Brown then erupted for her biggest performance of the season, pumping in a career-high 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-8 three-pointers, in a career-high 28 minutes in a rousing 63-55 Husker win over No. 15 Ohio State at Pinnacle Bank Arena (Jan. 16). Brown’s effort against the Buckeyes came as one of just seven active Huskers, after Bourne was injured in the closing seconds of the win at Michigan State.
Brown’s play against the Buckeyes capped a 4-1 record over a five-game stretch for the Huskers against nationally ranked teams in which she averaged 5.2 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 17.8 minutes per game. She also totaled four steals while committing just two turnovers against the most aggressive defenses in the Big Ten.
“I definitely grew as the season went on, really getting a feel for college ball, making me less nervous to have the ball in my hands and more confident to make those right decisions and passes,” Brown said. “Something I’ve worked on over the years is to have that sort of calmness with the ball and to not become frazzled when the game becomes intense.”
While Brown was achieving her dream of playing for her home-state team and contributing in big ways to Husker victories, the COVID-19 pandemic did limit the full experience of her success by keeping her friends and family out of Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“It was very weird to not have family and friends supporting from the stands every game, but I know they were cheering from their homes,” Brown said. “I think that also made it special though, knowing they still found ways to support me, even in weird times like last year. Basketball is a big thing in my family, and my siblings and parents are my ‘why’. They are the reason I am even able to wear ‘Huskers’ across my chest and to have them sitting in the stands will be the best feeling.”
Brown continued to provide steady contributions for the Huskers throughout her first season. She appeared in all 26 games, and after Porter was injured in the Big Ten Tournament, Brown earned her first college start in Nebraska’s first-round Postseason WNIT victory over UT Martin in Memphis (March 19). Brown tied her career high with four three-pointers to finish with 12 points against the Skyhawks and tied another career best with five boards in a career-high-matching 28 minutes.
Brown finished her freshman season with Nebraska’s best assist-to-turnover ratio (27-12) and second-best three-point percentage (.377, 20-53).
“Whit has been, and will continue to be very important to our culture and the team-first mentality we celebrate in our program,” Williams said. “She is an incredibly valued member of Husker women’s basketball.”
As surprising as the success of Brown’s debut season may have been, she immediately turned her focus to improving for her second season while helping the Huskers climb the Big Ten ladder in 2021-22. With Nebraska carrying a full roster of 16 players, Brown knows she is going to have to earn every second of playing time this coming season.
“It is definitely a big change to have a full roster, but that’s something I’m glad to have as more motivation,” Brown said. “It has made me work harder, and I’m willing to do whatever I can to improve to try and earn a spot on the court.”
Brown has never been one to shy away from a challenge or the hard work it takes to succeed.
“I definitely grew up in the gym either practicing on teams, traveling to my siblings’ games, or just going in for fun to get some shots up. I was always there, always watching and picking up on things that I could learn,” Brown said. “I believe the reason I am able to play at this level is because of all the hours I got to practice. I am very thankful for that.”
Brown’s love for the gym, her teammates and Nebraska basketball will make her an essential ingredient in the success of the Huskers in 2021-22, regardless of her playing time.
“As long as I keep working hard and learning from my teammates and coaches, I hope I can play a crucial role in our team’s success this year,” Brown said. “Chemistry will be a huge thing. I am looking forward to competing and growing closer to these girls. I can tell already it’s going to be a great season filled with lots of special memories. I personally will do my best to get the team to keep growing stronger together in any way I can.”
And she will be ready to play in front of her family, friends and all of Nebraska’s fans back at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“This year will be awesome just to have my family sitting in the stands. I cannot wait to have a normal season with all the great Husker fans. It will be a surreal feeling because there truly are no fans like Husker fans,” Brown said. “The amount of support I received from fans all over Nebraska was so amazing. I can’t wait for the excitement of each game and the roaring crowds.”
Sam Haiby stepped into the spotlight last season in her third year in the Nebraska women's basketball program.
The 5-9 guard from Moorhead, Minnesota, captured second-team All-Big Ten honors by averaging team highs of 16.8 points, 4.4 assists and 1.2 steals while also ranking third among the Huskers with 6.8 rebounds per game.
Haiby's versatility allowed her to be the only Big Ten player to rank among the top 15 in the conference in scoring (11th), rebounding (15th) and assists (8th).
While Haiby's statistics reached All-Big Ten levels, she believes she made her greatest gains in the areas of leadership and consistency. She also believes those same areas provide her with the biggest opportunities for individual and team growth in 2021-22.
"I think it is most important for me to continue to grow as a leader," Haiby said. "There's always ways I can improve on the stat sheet, but with five new teammates it is going to be important to keep practices competitive and make sure everyone has the same goals in mind."
Entering a 2020-21 season clouded by the uncertainty of the pandemic, Haiby, Isabelle Bourne and Kate Cain became summer "leadership interns" for Head Coach Amy Williams and the Huskers.
"We are really proud of the strides Sam made last season, as she stepped up in big moments and led our team in many areas," Williams said. "Sammi's growth as a leader for our program was instrumental as we navigated the challenges of COVID. She was intentional about her approach to leadership and has really embraced the importance of providing strong leadership and high expectations of herself and her teammates."
Nebraska's trio of "leadership interns" eventually became captains and led the Huskers to the postseason despite being forced to replace three starters and several other significant contributors from a 2019-20 team that finished 17-13.
"Sam was a huge part of our success last season. She's the type of player you want on your team," Bourne said. "She's someone that leads by example and takes the team under her wing in times of pressure. She is a calming presence, which I thought was extremely necessary for us on the court last year."
The captains and all the Huskers were challenged even more by the restrictive and unpredictable environment of the pandemic.
"COVID presented a lot of challenges for every team. We didn't know if we would play our next game, or if we were going to be able to finish our season," Haiby said. "Not knowing what was ahead for us made it hard. But it also made us realize how important it is to stay focused and continue to get better every day."
In her second season as a full-time starter for the Big Red in 2020-21, Haiby played big in Nebraska's biggest games. In NU's Big Ten-opening win over Illinois, she erupted for a career-high 33 points to go along with nine rebounds and four assists in a win over the Fighting Illini.
Three weeks later, Haiby came up with 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists in a 65-63 upset of No. 15 Northwestern. Her final two points and rebound came in the closing second, when she grabbed her own miss and immediately put it back up for the winning basket as time expired against the Wildcats. Her circus shot was named ESPN SportsCenter's Top Play on New Year's Eve.
Just three days later, Haiby was back at it with 16 points, five rebounds and five assists in a low-scoring 53-50 win over Rutgers. She was named the College Sports Madness Big Ten Player of the Week for those two performances.
"Sam is the type of leader who will want nothing but for the team to succeed. Whatever it was that we needed to do to win, she would be the one to lead the way," Bourne said. "Both Sam and I pushed each other to be better leaders in different categories on and off the court last season. We feel comfortable enough to tell each other what we can do better and share the load in that sense, and that kind of constructive criticism is something really special that we share."
Haiby added 27 points, nine rebounds and three assists in a narrow loss at No. 15 Michigan (Jan. 7), before recording the first double-double of her career with 11 points and a career-high 12 rebounds in a 68-64 win at No. 23 Michigan State (Jan. 10).
"We spent a lot of time discussing Sam's ability to improve her rebounding production, and she went on to be not only one of the top rebounders on our team, but one of the best rebounding guards in our league," Williams said. "When she puts her mind to something, she is more than capable of making it happen."
Bourne was injured late in the win at Michigan State, forcing Haiby to carry even more responsibilities in the next game against No. 15 Ohio State. Haiby notched another double-double with 11 points and a career-high 10 assists to go with eight rebounds in a 63-55 win over the Buckeyes (Jan. 16).
As the season progressed, Haiby poured in 28 points at Iowa (Feb. 11), before producing 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a narrow loss to No. 7 Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals (March 11).
Against the Terrapins, Haiby became the 35th Husker in history to achieve 1,000 career points. She ended the season ranked No. 32 in the Nebraska record book with 1,039 points.
Haiby, who finished the year with 10 20-point performances among her 21 games scoring in double figures, helped lead Nebraska to five wins over top-25 teams last season – the second-highest total among the 14 Big Ten Conference schools.
"We showed great toughness and perseverance last season, and we were rewarded with some huge upsets and wins throughout the year," Haiby said. "I can see us winning games in the same way we did this past season. We will have a few more scoring options, but we're going to have to continue to be solid on defense to keep scores in our favor."
Haiby's production and leadership helped Nebraska earn a trip to the 2021 Postseason WNIT, where the Big Red advanced to the round of 16 in Memphis. The taste of the postseason for the young Huskers has made them even hungrier to reach the next level with an NCAA Tournament berth in 2022.
"We know what we can accomplish as a team, and it is going to be important to continue to press forward," Haiby said. "Making the NCAA Tournament is the ultimate goal. We are proud of what we accomplished last season, but we know now that we are capable of much more. We need to continue to get better and play as a team, and special things can happen."
Nebraska returns everyone from its 2020-21 roster except three-time Big Ten All-Defensive selection Kate Cain. The 6-5 center was one of 15 candidates for the Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year award and anchored NU's defense at the rim for four seasons, shattering the school record with 352 blocks. Cain also averaged 9.2 points and 6.6 rebounds over her 118-game Husker career as a four-year starter.
The new scoring options for the Huskers could come from several 2021-22 newcomers, starting with 2021 Nebraska Gatorade High School Player of the Year Alexis Markowski. The 6-3 forward out of Lincoln Pius X averaged 23.3 points and 13.0 rebounds as a senior to lead the Thunderbolts to their second straight Class A state championship and a final top-25 national ranking from MaxPreps.
The Big Red add another Nebraska high school star in 5-10 guard Allison Weidner. A two-time first-team Super-Stater alongside Markowski, Weidner finished No. 3 in state history with 2,282 points. A remarkable all-around athlete, she added 7.0 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 6.4 steals per game for the Class D2 state champion Humphrey St. Francis Flyers in 2021. She was also an eight-time gold medalist at the Nebraska state track and field meet in her career.
Sophomore Jaz Shelley could provide another potent scoring threat as well. The 5-9 Oregon transfer hit 10-of-14 three-pointers for the Ducks on her way to 32 points in a win over UC Riverside as a freshman (Dec. 16, 2019). She joins fellow Australians Isabelle Bourne and Ruby Porter on the Husker roster this season.
Kendall Coley, Nebraska's highest ranked recruit in the 2021-22 freshman class, will also have the advantage of a semester of collegiate experience after joining the Huskers in January of 2021.
Kendall Moriarty and Tatiana Popa round out Nebraska's incoming freshmen, while the Huskers also hope to benefit from potentially healthy returns for guards Nailah Dillard and Trinity Brady after being sidelined by injuries in 2020-21.
Perhaps most importantly, Haiby will be rejoined by returning All-Big Ten sophomore Isabelle Bourne, and returning starters Ashley Scoggin and Bella Cravens, along with significant 2020-21 contributors Annika Stewart, Whitney Brown and Mi'Cole Cayton.
Williams believes the challenge for Haiby in 2021-22 will be continuing to grow as a player and a leader while helping to create great connections with her Husker teammates.
"Heading into the upcoming season, we are excited for Sam to take another leap forward and approach her growth as a leader and player with a similar or greater sense of urgency as last season," Williams said. "She is a competitor, and her ability to infuse competition into our daily training, while leading our team's connectivity will be an important factor in our success."
Haiby said she is looking forward to the challenge of leading a larger group of Huskers while also pushing herself to be her best as a player and a leader.
"I think this group is extremely motivated," Haiby said. "It will be a competitive atmosphere and a fun environment to be around. As a leader, it will be important for me to have everyone on the same page and continue to lead by example and experience as much as I can."