Kate Cain

Nebraska’s Kate Cain (31) high fives fans as she takes the court before the match against Michigan on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska,

An 81-75 March 5 loss to Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament left the Nebraska women’s basketball team with a record of 17-13. 

A 7-11 record in conference play may not have been good enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but some form of postseason basketball should’ve been in the team’s future. Instead, COVID-19 shut down college athletics and kicked students off of campuses — a strong Nebraska team never had its postseason moment.

While such an ending to a season is disappointing, it didn’t deter one of the team’s best players from accomplishing something monumental off the court. Senior center Kate Cain is a dominating presence for the women’s basketball program. She holds the record for total blocks in a career and last year also made an appearance on the Big Ten All-Defensive Team. Equally impressive, Cain earned her bachelor's degree in business management before the fall semester started in 2020 after three years of college.  

With the 2020-21 women’s basketball still a go for the Big Ten, the center from Middletown, New York is entering her final year of basketball with a degree under her belt. Cain received her degree in management on Aug. 15 and is going for her master’s this year. Cain is the second women’s basketball player at UNL in three years to earn her degree before her senior year. The other being guard Emily Wood who also earned a business management degree in 2017.

It was Wood’s success at earning a degree in three years that gave Cain the idea that she could do the same. 

“Coming in, freshman year, I didn’t have a plan to graduate early,” Cain said. “But, I saw the credits that I brought in, along with seeing Emily graduating in three years. I saw it as a possibility. I talked with my parents and we thought it was a good idea.”

In her three years at Nebraska, Cain has proven to be not only a record breaker on the court, but a scholar in the classroom. Cain is a two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and was selected Academic All-Big Ten in 2019 and 2020. She is also a six-time member of the Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll along with being a three-time member of the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team.

“It’s definitely a good feeling to have records in athletics at a Power Five school while still making accomplishments academically,” Cain said. “It’s cool to still be involved and make the most of time all-around and not just in one area.”

It’s a significant accomplishment for an athlete to have, but it’s magnified further by everything that has happened this year. After returning home from the cancellation of the spring semester, Cain and her family contracted COVID-19. She then returned to Nebraska in mid-July for basketball where she knew she had a big role as the only senior on the team. 

“She’s made a huge investment to learn about leadership,” head coach Amy Williams said in an Omaha World-Herald article. “There’s a lot of new players this summer, and Kate is just a master of finding ways to connect to those new kids outside of basketball, off the court.” 

Cain knows the duties she needs to fill as the team’s leader, but she also knows that she needs to be just as committed to the classroom as she is to the court.

“I feel like for all student-athletes in general, it’s important to understand the term student-athlete,” Cain said. “It's a big deal to be a Husker and some people just see the athlete, but we’re students as well. We work just as hard in the classroom. It’s good to shed some light on that because it helps show that there are athletes who work hard.”

The 2020 fall semester is off to a rocky start with COVID-19 still lurking. For Cain, there’s more adjustments that need to be made.

“This year in general, has been crazy with everything going on,” Cain said. “Now, academically I have to get used to this layout with COVID changing everything up. But for what it has thrown at me, I think I’ll be able to adapt.”