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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

2021 Nebraska Volleyball Position Reviews: Outside Hitter

February 01, 2022

The 2021 season was one to remember for John Cook’s Huskers, and before we move on to beach volleyball and the offseason, we’re taking one last look back, position by position.

We’ve already broken down the setters and defensive specialists. Up next is the outside hitters, perhaps the most inconsistent group on the team in 2021.

Senior Lexi Sun

Lexi Sun opted to take advantage of the extra season of eligibility the NCAA granted to athletes who played during the 2020-21 season, but it probably didn’t play out the way she anticipated when making that decision. After spending her first three seasons in Lincoln as a starter and earning third-team All-America honors the past two years, she started just 11 games this season.

Outside hitter Lexi Sun (11) scores a kill against Georgia opposite Kayla Rivera (10) and middle blocker Mackenzie Norris (11). Photo by John S. Peterson.

Cook spent the nonconference experimenting with his pin-hitters, trying to find the best combination of the two returners and three freshmen for three starting spots. However, none of them really separated from the pack and Cook chose to go a different direction once conference play began.

Sun served as a spark off the bench a few times but played sparingly through the first half of Big Ten play. Sun came off the bench to play in all five sets and put up 12 kills against Minnesota on Oct. 30 and re-entered the starting lineup the following game, remaining there for the rest of the regular season. However, she returned to the bench for the postseason and played in one set during the NCAA Tournament. For whatever reason, Sun couldn’t find a way to match her efficiency from the previous two seasons and thus never managed to lock down the starting spot.

Sun put up career-lows nearly across the board, averaging 2.26 kills per set on .153 hitting, 1.00 dig and 0.54 blocks per set. She notched 16 aces (0.23 per set) and just 11 errors. She recorded double-digit kills in eight of her 27 matches including a season-high of 14 against Arizona State on a season-high .364 hitting. She put up a season-high nine digs to go with 10 kills in a five-set win over Omaha, recorded a season-high four blocks three times and served a season-high three aces three different times.

Sun surpassed 1,000 kills as a Husker during the season-opener against Colgate and finished her career 19th in program history with 1,150 kills.

On Jan. 16, Sun said goodbye to volleyball with an Instagram post.

Junior Madi Kubik

Kubik was the only pin to play in every match, and she started all but three of them while serving as the team’s only six-rotation hitter. Like the other pins, she dealt with her own inconsistency from a hitting standpoint, but Cook valued her defensive and passing ability enough to keep her on the court all season.

Kubik earned AVCA third-team All-America, AVCA All-North Region and first-team All-Big Ten honors as a junior. She was also on the NCAA Austin Regional All-Tournament and NCAA Championship All-Tournament teams and picked up two Big Ten Player of the Week honors during the season.

She averaged a career- and team-high 3.49 kills per set but hit a career-low .202 while stepping into the featured outside hitter role. She added 2.11 digs per set, 0.47 blocks per set and 0.18 aces per set. She led the Huskers in kills 25 times and reached double figures 25 times as well including a season-high 19 set four times. She had seven double-doubles including 12 kills and a season-high 15 digs in the NCAA Tournament win over Florida State. She notched a season-high four blocks against Maryland and recorded a season-high three aces in the national semifinal win over Pitt.

Kubik finished third in the Big Ten with 4.11 kills per set, but she was at the top of the leaderboard for much of the league schedule before tailing off. Through Nebraska’s first nine Big Ten matches, Kubik averaged 4.59 kills per set on .288 hitting. In the last 10, that was down to 4.00 kills per set on .191 hitting. Her numbers continued to decline in the NCAA tournament as she averaged 3.5 kills per set on .154 hitting.

Freshman Ally Batenhorst

Ally Batenhorst (14) runs toward the net against the Florida State Seminoles in the second set during the second round of the NCAA volleyball tournament. Photo by John S. Peterson.

The Huskers signed the top two outside hitters in the 2021 class according to PrepVolleyball.com. Cook decided to play the top-ranked pin in Lindsay Krause on the right, leaving No. 2 Ally Batenhorst on the left to push the veterans in Sun and Kubik.

A minor injury slowed her early in the season, but Batenhorst made her debut during the second week of the season and played in 28 matches with 16 starts. After juggling the pins during the nonconference, Cook decided to roll with Batenhorst alongside Kubik on the left once Big Ten play began, at least in the front row. She struggled with consistency which led to Cook going back to Sun in the second half of league play, but Cook went back to her for the postseason.

The 6-foot-4 freshman averaged 1.99 kills per set on .155 hitting, 0.63 digs per set and 0.31 blocks per set. She did not record an ace but had six errors from the service line. Batenhorst reached double-digit kills seven times including a season-high 15 twice (on .375 hitting in four sets against Penn State and on .406 hitting in four sets against Texas). She recorded a season-high eight digs against Stanford and notched a season-high three blocks three times.

Looking Ahead

Sun’s career is over, but Kubik and Batenhorst will be back next season and Nebraska is likely going to need both of them to make a leap in terms of hitting efficiency in order for the Huskers to win a national championship.

The Huskers signed one of the top-10 outside hitters (and top 20 players overall) in the 2022 class, and you might recognize her last name. West Des Moines Valley product Hayden Kubik, ranked 18th nationally by PrepVolleyball.com, will join her sister Madi in Lincoln to add depth to the position and push the returners.

Another option on the table for Cook to improve the outside hitter production is to slide Krause back to the left where she played in high school, but that would require Cook finding an option he likes better on the right.

If the outside hitters can develop a strong connection with new starting setter Kennedi Orr and terminate more consistently than this past season, Omaha will be the likely destination for this team in 2022.

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