LINCOLN — Kate Cain saw the itinerary and immediately noticed a challenge.
The Nebraska women’s basketball team will enjoy two bike tours during its trip to Italy and Spain.
Cain, who grew up an hour from New York City, never learned how to ride a bike. Worse, once she gets going, stopping is a challenge. Things like putting her feet to the ground to slow down — a 6-foot-5 center can do that — don’t come naturally.
“I can go straight — really slowly,” Cain said, laughing. “I still can’t turn. But we’re working on it.”
The mood around the Husker program is energetic and light this summer. The European trip comes soon. Players are healthy. And, in a development that bucks the trend of men’s and women’s college basketball, not a single Husker left the team in the offseason. They like each other — and their collective situation — even if last season’s 14-16 campaign was a big disappointment.
Coach Amy Williams chalked it up as a “growth year.” A hard growth year. Especially when the season before resulted in a surprising NCAA tournament bid. Especially when NU lost 10 games, Williams said, by two possessions or fewer. Especially as players who had enjoyed more established roles two years ago had to re-earn those roles last season.
Cain was one of them. Her per-minute averages in points, rebounds and blocks didn’t decrease from her freshman year to her sophomore year. But her minutes per game decreased from 26 to 23. So did her confidence. Her season — and the team’s season — wasn’t going as planned.
“I was getting frustrated, especially after our team had such high expectations,” Cain said. “We all knew there were such high expectations. And the pressure kind of hit. It took a toll on us. Once we started falling apart a little bit, it was hard to get everything back together.”
Williams said Cain is smart and a little bit of a perfectionist.
“She’s really had to work on knowing even the best players in the country are going to miss as many as they make,” Williams said. “Working on that bounceback — on body language — has been a real focus for her. Moving on to the next play.”
And Cain has, Williams said, having a strong offseason and summer. NU’s entire frontcourt — Cain, Ashtyn Veerbeek and Kayla Mershon — has a better sense of how to work together. It took time to learn last season, Cain said. Not unlike riding a bike.
“It was just a lot to break in — all at once,” Cain said. “It was basically half of the team was brand new. We had to learn how to work together again and how to figure out how everyone plays. We got along really, really well — it was just getting everything, playing-wise, to line up.”
A fourth frontcourt player, Australian freshman Issie Bourne, will join the team in Europe after she finishes playing for the under-19 Australian national team in the FIBA World Cup. She won’t play with the Huskers in Europe but will start to bond with the team, Williams said.
Williams said she’s talked at length with new men’s coach Fred Hoiberg, who extended her an open invitation to watch practice.
“I cannot wait to soak all that in,” said Williams, who, as a former math and biology major, is a “numbers fan” who appreciates Hoiberg’s analytical approach to the sport.
“I’m curious to pick his brain some on the numbers and analytics,” Williams said. Her team is engaged with Nebraska’s analytics department, especially on defense, where Williams wants deflections tracked and tied to success in games.
Freshman guard Makenzie Helms isn’t cleared yet for routine practice after undergoing surgery for compartment syndrome after her senior season. Helms suffered the exercise-induced muscle syndrome in her legs. Williams said she had a similar surgery once herself.
“She had initial surgery, recovered perfect, had a great senior year, but toward the end of it, she had the pain come back, so they had to go in and do more invasive surgery,” Williams said. “We’re going to try to ease her back in the summer.”
The Huskers’ other on-campus freshman, Trinity Brady, has quickly picked up Nebraska’s system and, since she’s NU’s only on-court freshman, Williams hasn’t “slowed down” her teaching principles.
“I’ve thrown drills out there and she’ll stand back, watch the upperclassmen, and jump in,” Williams said. “She really processes quickly.”
Senior guard Hannah Whitish’s family will make the trip with her to Italy and Spain, Williams said.
It’ll be Williams’ first overseas trip as a coach, too. She didn’t take one as South Dakota’s coach. Williams convinced South Dakota’s administration to save for a trip to Australia — the Coyotes took a few extra buy games to add to the fund — but didn’t take the trip until three months after Williams took the Nebraska job.
“They went to Australia without me,” Williams said. “We had a couple Aussies on the team. I missed out, but it was a pretty good trade-off.”