Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

2020-21 Nebraska Volleyball Position Reviews: Outside Hitter

May 06, 2021

The offseason has arrived for Nebraska volleyball — four months later than normal. Before we turn the page and start thinking about the true 2021 season, it’s time to look back at the 2020-21 Huskers.

We’re going position-by-position to break things down. We’ve already taken a look at the setters, defensive specialists and opposite hitters. The outside hitters are next.

Senior Lexi Sun

When Lexi Sun has been at her best, she’s been a nearly unstoppable force for the Huskers, terminating at a high rate, tracking down balls in the back row and bringing some heat from the service line. She earned All-Big Ten First Team and third-team All-America honors in each of the past two seasons, showing the respect those in the sport have for her talent and accomplishments.

Unfortunately, consistency is something she hasn’t quite been able to achieve, and her senior season was no different. Sun got off to something of a slow start, averaging 2.63 kills per set on .199 hitting in her first seven matches despite two terrific performances during that stretch.

Then Sun settled in, putting up 4.32 kills per set on .314 hitting over her next seven while hitting .250 or better in all seven matches.

She totaled 19 kills on .167 hitting in two matches against Michigan to close out the regular season, put up seven kills on .250 hitting in Nebraska’s first NCAA Tournament win against Texas State and then was phenomenal in the regional semifinal win over Baylor, dropping 12 kills on .345 hitting and five aces.

Then she faced her former team in Texas in the regional final and had her worst performance of the season, recording seven errors to cancel out her seven kills as the Huskers bowed out in four sets.

Overall, Sun led the Huskers at 3.64 kills per set on .242 hitting. She averaged career highs in blocks per set (0.65) and aces per set (0.39), leading the team in the latter. She posted her lowest digs average as a Huskers at 2.20 and passed at a .946 percentage in serve receive. She recorded five double-doubles including two against Minnesota, and she totaled 39 kills in Nebraska’s two matches against Ohio State.

Sun came to Nebraska to develop her all-around game after an effective freshman year as a pin-hitter at Texas. She played the L2 role next to Mikaela Foecke in her first season in Lincoln and played all six rotations after recovering from an offseason injury. She started 28 matches and averaged 3.11 kills per set on .199 hitting with a career-high 2.69 digs per set and a .946 reception percentage. She stepped into the L1 role as a junior, improving her kills average to 3.57 on a .270 hitting percentage, her best as a Husker. However, her digs average dropped to 2.45 and her reception percentage dropped to .918.

This year, her offensive efficiency dropped and she wasn’t able to make a big leap — at least statistically — as a defensive player or passer, but she did take a big step forward as a server.

Now, Sun faces a big decision. Does she return to Lincoln to take advantage of her extra year of eligibility, or does she move on to the next phase of her life?

Sophomore Madi Kubik

Madi Kubik, the No. 4 overall recruit in her class, stepped into Nebraska’s rotation as a six-rotation player from day one. She earned Big Ten and AVCA North Region freshman of the year honors, and VolleyballMag.com named her the national freshman of the year as well.

As a freshman, she showed her defensive prowess with 2.52 digs per set and a .941 reception percentage while leading the Huskers in targets. She also contributed .273 kills per set but hit just .218. She struggled mightily from the service line with 14 aces and 42 errors in 119 sets.

This season, she averaged 2.38 digs per set and upped her reception percentage to .971 (just 10 errors on 350 serves sent her way). She improved slightly as a server with 13 aces and 20 errors in 53 fewer sets. However, Kubik was not able to make a big leap offensively, averaging 2.85 kills per set on .220 hitting.

She recorded six double-doubles but only hit .300 or better in six of her 19 matches. In Nebraska’s season-ending loss to Texas, Kubik led the Huskers in sets with 39 as the Longhorns keyed on Nebraska’s other weapons and she turned them into 15 kills (matching her season high) and five errors (for a .256 hitting percentage).

Kubik earned a spot on the AVCA All-North Region Team and was named an AVCA All-America honorable mention selection for the second straight year.

Looking Ahead

If Sun takes advantage of her extra season, Nebraska will return all three opening day starting outside hitters (including Riley Zuhn on the right side). If she calls it a career in Lincoln, things get a little more interesting.

The Huskers signed the Nos. 1 (Omaha Skutt’s Lindsay Krause), 2 (Abby Batenhorst from Seven Lakes High School in Katy, Texas) and 7 (Waverly’s Whitney Lauenstein) outside hitters in the class of 2021.

I’ve seen quite a bit of Krause, and to my untrained eye she looks every bit the part of a player who will be ready to make an impact from day one. She averaged 5.2 kills per set on .475 hitting and played all six rotations. Heck, she played some libero for her club team this spring as it won a club national championship.

I haven’t seen Batenhorst play in person, but she averaged 6.6 kills per set on .335 hitting as a senior, guiding Seven Lakes to a state title. Batenhorst also graduated from high school early and enrolled at Nebraska for the spring semester, practicing and traveling with the team this season.

Lauenstein is a terrific athlete as well, averaging 5.6 kills per set on .339 hitting as a senior for the Vikings. She’s also been tearing up the track season this spring.

This season, Nebraska had four hitters for three spots until Riley Zuhn’s season-ending injury left Nebraska without any hitters on the bench. With five or six options this fall (depending on Sun’s decision), competition should be fierce. Regardless of who wins the starting jobs, Nebraska is going to need more production form it outside hitters next season, and at least on paper the group appears talented enough to make that happen.

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