Sam Haiby and Ashtyn Veerbeek

Nebraska’s Sam Haiby, left, and Ashtyn Veerbeek play against Penn State at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

After a disappointing women’s basketball season last year, things could have gone one of two ways: Players could remain discouraged and hang their heads, or they could focus on finding ways to improve for the next season. 

Sophomore guard Sam Haiby and sophomore forward Ashtyn Veerbeek were two individuals who chose the latter option. 

“After the season we had last year, we knew some things had to change,” Haiby said. “So we tried to get in the gym as much as we could

After Nebraska’s win against Oral Roberts in mid-December, Haiby credited her skill improvement and confidence boost to the work she put in over the summer.

“This summer was definitely a point of emphasis for me to try to be more consistent,” she said. “Ashtyn [Veerbeek] and I got after it a lot this summer, whether it’s one-on-one or she’s rebounding for me or I’m rebounding for her.”

Veerbeek and Haiby playing one-on-one throughout the summer benefited both of them because the specific skills they each needed to work on were complementary to each other.

Haiby knew finishing shots over women in the Big Ten Conference is something she needed to work on. Veerbeek’s height challenged Haiby to continuously improve in that aspect.

Veerbeek’s focus was on bettering her ability to defend on the perimeter. 

“[Haiby’s] the quickest girl on our team,” Veerbeek said. “So playing one-on-one against her and trying to read where she's gonna jab and go, it just made me quicker and a better defender.” 

Although it wasn’t easy, both players knew they weren’t going to be able to play at the level they desired without doing the extra work.

“Someone once told me ‘What you put in is what you get out,’ so you can't expect to come out and make five threes if you've never put in the shots before that,” Veerbeek said. “You gotta get in the gym beforehand and know that it will pay off.”

With the Huskers losing five of their last six games, it can be tempting to doubt if the hard work has paid off. However, Haiby and Veerbeek are confident that the extra hours put in have also benefited their mental game. The training helps them know they’re capable of playing well even when shots aren’t falling.

“Confidence is a big part of the game, and everyone always says [that] in times of pressure, you're gonna fall back into your training,” Haiby said. “So, if you're putting in that work in the off-season, it's good to fall back on.”

Haiby and Veerbeek said it’s reassuring to know the talent is spread out throughout the team, so if one player isn’t performing well, they know someone else will step up.

Haiby said even if her shots aren’t going in, it’s important to focus on the things you can control, like bringing effort on defense and getting good, open looks for her teammates.

“It makes us special because we have that balance,” Veerbeek said, “and it's really hard to defend. Teams don't know who's going to go off that one night.”

Channeling the fight and motivation that they left last season with will be important for the entire team for the rest of the season. The players noted that it can be discouraging and frustrating when they’re not seeing the outcomes they’d hoped to see, but it’s important to stay motivated because the season isn’t over yet.

“We still do have more games that lie ahead and to play for our seniors because their last couple [of] games are coming down to the numbers,” Veerbeek said. “... We can do something special because it’s not done yet.”