LINCOLN, Neb. — Sam Haiby isn’t the loudest voice in the room. She has more of a reserved nature, and has had to step outside of her comfort zone to take on a vocal leadership role at the University of Nebraska this season.
The 5-foot-9 junior guard is one of only two returning starters from last year’s roster. The Cornhuskers (3-0) returned five total players from last season.
“It’s been fun. It’s been a challenge for sure, but I'm definitely enjoying the process,” said Haiby, a Moorhead High School graduate. “My coaches have a lot of faith and trust in me and I feel like I can help out in this position somewhat. I’m glad they put me where I am right now.”
Haiby has quickly emerged as a veteran leader while blossoming into one of Nebraska’s most dominant forces on the women’s basketball team.
“I think me, (Isabelle Bourne) and Kate (Cain) have all done a good job of taking on that leadership role and making sure we’re able to help our teammates and the coaching staff wherever and whenever we can,” Haiby said. “It’s still a little bit of an adjustment, but I think we’re settling into things now. It’s becoming a little bit more comfortable.”
Haiby has put together two career-high performances in three games this season. She may be laid back away from the court, though as a competitor, she’s anything but.
Haiby erupted for a career-high 33 points in Nebraska’s 78-72 win over Illinois on Thursday. The fuel may have come from the McDonald’s hotcakes and waffle — the same breakfast she eats every game day. She shot 9 of 17 from the field (53%) and 14 of 16 (88%) at the free-throw line, while also adding nine rebounds against the Illini.
“This has always been a goal and dream of mine to play at a high level like this,” Haiby said. “I couldn’t be happier where I’m at now at Nebraska.”
Haiby admits being a vocal leader doesn’t come naturally to her, but when she talks, people listen.
Haiby was one of several Nebraska athletes who started a social media campaign in early August that asked for change so the athletic department is "a place where all student-athletes can be successful and comfortable." The letter requested the university create more diversity in athletic positions.
“With all the social and racial injustice going on in our nation, I think it's really important to use my platform to speak out against that,” Haiby said. “I know personally for my team, the African American community is represented very well with my coaching staff, support staff and my teammates, but that’s not always the case at Nebraska. So if I can use my voice and stand up for other student-athletes, who maybe are experiencing that injustice, I’ll definitely do that.”
The women’s basketball team has had multiple discussions about police brutality and racial injustices, Haiby said. Cornhuskers head coach Amy Williams spoke at a Minority Student-Athlete Collective rally in September, at the request of Haiby.
Like her coach showed up for her off the court, Haiby has returned the favor with a willingness to improve and lead-by-example mentality.
Haiby has been a consistent scoring threat for Nebraska, but she’s also someone the Cornhuskers can rely on for rebounding, which was a point of emphasis entering this season. Haiby had a career-high 11 rebounds in a Dec. 6 game against Idaho State.
“I really took that to heart this year. I know my coach believes in me that I can do it,” Haiby said. “Seeing that after those first couple games, I just have to keep it up and know that I can accomplish that goal of mine. It was really great to see.”
Haiby’s strong junior showing comes at the heels of a physically painful sophomore season, much of which was spent battling shin splints. The lull brought on by the pandemic was a “blessing in disguise,” Haiby said. It allowed her to get a break to heal her legs up, which are feeling great right now, she said.
Haiby, who finished her high school career with more than 2,000 points for the Spuds, hasn’t seen her family in-person in a few months, but that may change in the near future. The team was notified a couple days ago that there was talk some family might be able to attend the women’s games at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“It’s tough right now not being able to go home because of the coronavirus and everything,” Haiby said. “I think being able to allow, even if it's just immediate family, to come to a few games here and there is gonna be great for everyone.”
For now, her family is tuned into every game, watching Haiby set new collegiate bests.