A lot was asked of Nebraska women’s basketball freshman class when they arrived to campus. The team lost six players at the end of the 2017-2018 season and has a roster of just 11 players this season.
All of them have stepped up to the challenge.
Forward Leigha Brown leads the Huskers women’s basketball team in scoring, averaging 10.2 points per game. Forward Ashtyn Veerbeek is scoring 7.4 points per game and is second on the team in rebounds and blocks this season. Guard Sam Haiby is third on the team in scoring with 9.8 points per game.
None of these three have started a game this season.
“It didn’t take too long to realize what they would bring,” senior forward Maddie Simon said. “Right away in the summer they started to make an impact. None of them came in timid at all.”
After her 30-point performance against Purdue on Sunday, Brown has scored double-digits in nine games this year and has led the Huskers in scoring on six occasions.
The Indiana native started the season reaching double figures just once in the team’s first seven games. Then on Dec. 8, Brown turned in an 18-point scoring effort against San Jose State.
That game kicked off a string of eight games where Brown scored in double-digits seven times. Of the seven double-figure scoring efforts, Brown finished with at least 17 points in five of the contests.
Brown was also named Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Jan. 7, after putting up 19- and 20-point efforts against Ohio State and Iowa during that seven-game span.
“We feel like she’s very capable of scoring on three levels and being a dangerous threat,” head coach Amy Williams said of Brown at a press conference in January. “She’s been showing us a lot in practice what she’s capable of.”
Brown fell back into a slump from mid-January to the beginning of February, failing to reach 10 points in six straight contests. Brown remained undeterred and put in extra work to get her numbers back up. Before Sunday’s contest against Purdue, Brown arrived an hour early to work on her shooting and it paid off with a career-best 30-point performance.
“I think that she knows where confidence comes from, and it’s hard work,” Williams said. “She’s not afraid of that.”
Much like Brown, Veerbeek had a standout performance against San Jose State back in December. She posted her first career double-double versus the Spartans, finishing with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Veerbeek followed that performance up with two more 14-point games against Denver on Dec. 15 and Arkansas on Dec. 18. The Iowa native also showed up against Illinois on Jan. 17, posting a career-high 19 points and a team-high eight rebounds in that contest.
Williams said Veerbeek is a nice complement to sophomore center Kate Cain, who is the only Husker with more rebounds or blocks than Veerbeek this season.
“They’re both dangerous post players and can come at you in a lot of different ways,” Williams said. “[Cain] is real tough and a force down inside, but [Veerbeek] can face you up and come at you off the dribble. It’s a good combination.”
Haiby has put up 10 double-digit scoring efforts this season and has led the Huskers in scoring in seven contests. Her season-best came in a 20-point effort against Washington State on Nov. 16.
The Minnesota native also likes to distribute the ball and is second on the team in assists, trailing only junior guard Hannah Whitish. She is also third on the team in steals with 21 and has recorded three steals in a game on three occasions.
Haiby earned Co-Big Ten Freshman of the Week Honors on Feb. 4, after scoring 13 points versus Purdue on Jan. 31 and 17 against Indiana on Feb. 3.
The fourth member of Nebraska’s top-20 recruiting class from a year ago, freshman forward Kayla Mershon, has found her way into the starting lineup.
Mershon has started the last eight games for the Huskers and has played in all 24 of Nebraska’s contests this season. Mershon is averaging 2.9 points and 2.8 rebounds this season, but has performed best against tough opponents.
Her career-high eight points came against No. 9 Maryland on Jan. 13, and her best rebounding performance came in an upset victory over Kansas on Dec. 5, when she recorded seven boards. She also grabbed seven rebounds against Northwestern on Jan. 24.
Sophomore guard Taylor Kissinger said all the freshmen have found their own ways to leave their mark.
“They impact the game in so many different ways,” Kissinger said after defeating Kansas. “They all have different roles on our team, but they all find ways to contribute.”
In total, the four freshmen are posting over 30 points and 14 rebounds per game. They have all spent most of their young careers contributing from a Husker bench that has scored more points than opponents’ benches in all but one game this season. Nebraska’s bench has outscored opponents’ non-starters 764 to 384 — an average of 15.8 points per game — this season.
The Huskers’ next contest is on the road against the Maryland Terrapins on Thursday, Feb. 14. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and the game will air on BTN.