The 2019 volleyball season has come to an end with the Stanford Cardinal reigning supreme for the third time in the past four years.
For the first time since 2014, the Huskers did not play into the final week of the season, falling just short in the regional final to eventual runner-up Wisconsin. The Huskers finished 28-5 overall including 17-3 in Big Ten play.
This week, Hail Varsity is looking back and looking ahead with a position-by-position breakdown of the 2019 Huskers and the reinforcements on the way. Let’s start with the outside hitters.
Junior OH Lexi Sun
Mikaela Foecke’s graduation left some massive shoes to fill at outside hitter, and Lexi Sun was the one tasked with stepping into her role.
The 6-foot-2 junior from Encinitas, California, had an up-and-down first season in Lincoln after transferring from Texas. She averaged 3.11 kills per set but only hit .195 as the L2 playing alongside Foecke. In her first season playing a full six-rotation role, she averaged 2.69 digs as well and served up 30 aces to 32 errors.
This season, Sun took a big step forward as an attacker. She improved both her average (3.57) and her percentage (.270), though her volume didn’t see much of an increase at all. She recorded double-digit kills in 27 or her 33 matches with three 20-plus-kill performances. She hit over .300 17 times after doing so on just eight occurrences in 2018.
She took a step back statistically in other areas, however. Her digs average was down to 2.45 per set with 12 double-digit matches. She also had 29 serve receive errors. As a server, Sun was down to 20 ace this season and her errors were up to 48.
Sun said she had a better understanding of what it means to play Nebraska volleyball this season, and a fully healthy offseason played a big part in her improvement. She was named an All-Big Ten first-teamer, an AVCA All-North Region team member and an AVCA third-team All-American.
Sun is poised for a big senior season, and if she can continue to improve her consistency the Huskers will have a shot to go all the way in 2020.
Freshman OH Madi Kubik
Kubik arrived in Lincoln with big expectations as the fourth-ranked recruit in the 2019 class, and she went about living up to those expectations from the start. She earned the starting L2 spot before the season and played six rotations from day one.
Kubik’s list off awards this season is extensive: All-Big Ten Second Team, Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Big Ten All-Freshman Team, AVCA All-North Region Team, AVCA North Region Freshman of the Year and VolleyballMag.com’s National Freshman of the Year. Overall, she averaged 2.73 kills per set on .218 hitting and 2.52 digs per set with six double-doubles.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. Kubik got off to a rough start offensively to the point where she was splitting time with Capri Davis as detailed above. However, she got better and better as the season played out. In the first 11 matches, she averaged 2.20 kills per set on .168 hitting. In the second 11, those numbers jumped to .285 kills per set and .233 hitting. In the last 11, they improved even more to 3.18 kills per set on .252, and that includes a pair of rough outings in her last two NCAA Tournament matches.
Teams targeted Kubik from the service line all season long as she received a team-high 645 serves, almost as much as Sun and sophomore defensive specialist Megan Miller combined, and Kubik’s reception percentage was higher than both of them at .941. She had a lot more trouble serving herself, however, as she only managed to record 14 aces while missing 42 times.
Kubik was the first freshman outside hitter to play six rotations at Nebraska since Kadie Rolfzen. If she can polish a few things up and make a leap as a sophomore, Kubik and Sun should form a fierce one-two punch of pin0hitters for Nebraska in 2020.
Junior RS Jazz Sweet
Sun wasn’t the only hitter who saw a big spike in efficiency. Her counterpart on the other side of the floor made a big leap as well. After an impressive freshman season, the southpaw took a step-back as a sophomore as she only hit .205 with 2.24 kills per set.
This season, Sweet regained her freshman form wile seeing her volume increase. She averaged a career-high 2.77 kills per set while hitting a career-high .278, a few points better than in 2017. She had double-digit kills 17 times with a high of 18, set twice.
Sweet’s back-row defense and serving are still a work in progress as she only played in the front row again this season, though playing six rotations is still her ultimate goal. She was an important part of Nebraska’s blocking defense, however, averaging 0.69 blocks per set while cutting her blocking errors down from 11 last year to six this season.
Coach John Cook said Sweet was on a mission at times this season, and Nebraska is going to need that version of her all year long in 2020.
Sophomore OH Capri Davis
As a freshman, Capri Davis played a lot early in the season while Sun was recovering from an offseason injury and she provided a spark off the bench at times after Sun joined the lineup. Sun and Kubik locked down the starting left side spots during the preseason and Davis continued in the spark plug role.
With Kubik struggling at times offensively, Cook often subbed Davis in to play for Kubik in the front row. She averaged 1.41 kills per set on .174 hitting.
The native of Mansfield, Texas, missed some time with injury and illness early in the year, then in October Nebraska announced that she was taking an indefinite medical leave of absence from the team. Davis never rejoined the team and at the end of the semester she announced that she was transferring to Texas. She played in nine matches and 27 sets as a sophomore.
Davis finished her Nebraska career with 117 kills in 96 sets, hitting .172.
Sophomore RS Anezka Szabo
Anezka Szabo’s second season in Lincoln was cut short by injury, and seeing as she only played in nine matches she got the year of eligibility back, making her a redshirt sophomore in 2018.
She played in 29 matches and 49 sets, more than her first two years combined, as Cook regularly used the double-substitution that saw the 6-foot-3 Szabo replace 5-foot-10 setter Nicklin Hames in the front row to provide more blocking. She recorded four blocks including one solo stuff and she also chipped in five kills on 12 attempts.
Freshman OH/MB Riley Zuhn
At 6-foot-5, Riley Zuhn initially split her practice time between middle blocker and outside hitter, and se even made a couple of early appearances spelling Callie Schwarzenbach in the middle. However, after Davis took her leave of absence, Zuhn was the only reserve outside hitter left on the roster and Cook said she would focus on that position moving forward.
Cook said more than once that he thought Zuhn could help them, but both Sun and Kubik remained healthy all season, limiting the freshman’s opportunities. She played in 17 matches and 25 sets, recording seven kills and seven errors on 26 swings, six block assists and three digs.
With no seniors on the roster in 2019, Cook went pretty light with his 2020 recruiting class which includes just three players, two of whom are walk-ons.
Abby Johnson, a 6-foot-4 outside hitter/middle blocker from Breese Central in Aviston, Illinois, is one of those walk-ons who impressed the coaching staff with her performance during a couple of camps.
"Abby worked extremely hard to become a Husker,” Cook said in a release. “After attending two camps this summer, her talent could not be denied. We knew we had to get her to Nebraska. She is without a doubt going to raise the level of competition and hard work in our gym, and her outstanding character will fit right into the Nebraska culture.”
She averaged 3.3 kills per set and hit .358 in 74 sets as a senior as Breese Central went 27-11.
Johnson’s arrival will help make up for Davis’ departure, giving Nebraska strong depth at outside hitter behind the entrenched starters in Sun and Kubik. Add in Sweet and the Huskers will have a strong group hitters again next season.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.