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Photo Credit: Eric Francis

2022 Nebraska Volleyball Position Previews: Outside Hitter

August 25, 2022

Hail Varsity is getting you ready for the top-ranked Cornhuskers’ 2022-23 season opener on Friday with a position-by-position roster breakdown.

We’ve covered the middle blockers, setters and defensive specialists so far, which leaves only the outside hitters.

Perhaps the position with the least turnover is outside hitter where the Huskers return their top three in Madi Kubik, Lindsay Krause and Ally Batenhorst in addition to Whitney Lauenstein Lauenstein who played primarily off the bench but did start three matches. However, it’s also the position that needs to see the most growth. Including the departed Lexi Sun, the five pin-hitters combined to hit just .187 in 2021.

Departures: Lexi Sun

Returners: SR Madi Kubik, SO Lindsay Krause, SO Ally Batenhorst, SO Whitney Lauenstein

Newcomers: FR Hayden Kubik

Just like last year, which saw rotation at the pins throughout the season, competition for playing time has been fierce. As of Wednesday’s practice, Cook was still searching for his starters.

“I think it was hard and challenging and you try to give everybody an opportunity,” Cook said. “So we’ll kind of do that and see who steps up. That’s what good competition does.”

He said during Tuesday’s Nebraska Volleyball Show on Sports Nightly that Kubik is the only one who’s earned some breathing room. She’s a four-year starter, a newly-named team captain and the only unanimous preseason All-Big Ten selection.

“I think it’s really special,” Kubik said about the recognition at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. “I think Coach talks about how every award is a team award and it kind of goes back to when we have such a diverse offense, it allows people to have great nights on a given day. I think it’s really special; there are a lot of great players on this list and it just goes to show how strong our conference is. Arguably it’s the strongest and fiercest conference in the country and I think it prepares us to be able to play in matches like the National Championship, considering last year’s National Championship had two Big Ten teams, and no other conference can say that, which is cool.”

Kubik played at an incredibly high level to open Big Ten play, averaging 4.6 kills per set on .329 hitting through Nebraska’s first eight conference matches. She wasn’t able to sustain that kind of efficiency, however, and her numbers tailed off more and more as the season played out and teams were able to lock in on her. She’s one of the best passers on the team and a true six-rotation hitter, but Nebraska needs her to take another step offensively.

Lindsay Krause (22) hits through a block during the annual Red-White Scrimmage. Photo by Eric Francis.

Krause played primarily on the right side as a freshman and led all Nebraska pins in both hitting percentage (.225) and blocks (0.8 per set) but there’s plenty of room for improvement. A breakdown of her season into four segments shows the peaks and valleys she reached as a freshman.

During nine nonconference matches, the 6-foot-4 pin averaged 1.94 kills per set on .163 hitting. In the first 10 matches of conference play, she bumped those numbers way up to 3.06 kills per set on .346 hitting. In the final eight matches of Big Ten play, she fell off again to 1.96 kills per set on .092 hitting. She rebounded in the postseason, however, averaging 2.50 kills per set on .285 hitting in six NCAA Tournament matches.

Both Batenhorst and Lauenstein alternated between starting and watching from the sideline at different points throughout the season. 

Batenhorst played on the left side and started 16 matches, averaging 1.99 kills per set on .155 hitting. She played her best in some of Nebraska’s biggest matches, however, putting up 15 kills on .375 hitting in a four-set win at Penn State in October, then she one-upped herself in the Elite Eight against Texas with another 15 kills on .406 hitting in another four-set win.

Batenhorst missed the Red-White Scrimmage with a minor abdominal injury but returned to practice on Tuesday and participated again on Wednesday.

“She’s had two really good days,” Cook said. “Tomorrow we won’t do a whole lot, so she’ll have another day to kind of recover. I don’t know how sore she gets after practice, but she did really well.”

Lauenstein played the least of the three freshmen but still saw action in 27 matches with three starts while rotating primarily with Krause at opposite hitter. Her best performance came in the nonconference win over Arizona State as she put up 11 kills on .529 hitting. Lauenstein has all the athletic ability in the world and plenty of power on her swing, but she’s still needs some refinement.

“What she’s trying to learn is in high school, she can just go over everybody,” Cook said at Big Ten Media Days. “Well, at our level you can’t; if she hits hard every time, they’re going to dig it. So you’ve got to move it around, create indecision in the defense, as we say, use the whole court and use the block more. So that was her challenge this spring. We’ve shown her video of Kelsey Robinson and Jordan [Larson], those guys, how creative they are.”

All three freshman pins showed their immense potential last season, but the next step is finding consistency.

“I think as a freshman, you kind of keep your head above water, and now I think they have the opportunity to kind of blossom into being their more full personality and being their true self on the court and presenting their personalities in a way that is helpful for our team,” Kubik said. “For example, like with Lindsay, she’s more of a dominant personality and I think being a freshman, it’s not easy to express that because you’re like, ‘I’m a child and I don’t know what’s going on.’ So I think now, her even being a sophomore, it’s going to be really cool to see her leadership and little bit of that dominance kind of show through and kind of help to lead our team.”

Freshman Hayden Kubik hits over a block during their annual Red-White Scrimmage. Photo by Eric Francis.

Another Kubik joined the mix back in January as well as Hayden, Madi’s younger sister, enrolled early and went through the spring with the program. She was the 18th-ranked player in the 2022 class according to PrepVolleyball.com. She played for the White team in Saturday’s Red-White Scrimmage and finished with eight kills, seven digs and two blocks, earning praise from Cook for her performance.

Madi Kubik, Krause and Lauenstein started for the Red team in the scrimmage with Kennedi Orr setting the squad to a .311 hitting percentage. Kubik put up 13 kills on .385 hitting, Krause finished with 12 kills on .407 hitting and Lauenstein chipped in nine kills on .238 hitting.

“For those guys, the better position we can put them in, the more success they’ll have,” Cook said after the scrimmage. “But if you watch them, if we went through, you’d see how much they were moving the ball around. It wasn’t just the same shot over and over. It was mixing up shots, hitting high, inside-outside, tooling line, facing one way and hitting the other way. Those are all things we’ve been working on and when they’re feeling good, they do all that and it makes them hard to defend.”

Who plays where is still very much up in the air. Cook has been rotating everyone through all three pin-hitter positions, and while Kubik has a spot in the lineup locked up, any combination of the sophomores seems plausible.

“Every single day it’s a grind and every single day everyone’s competing for a spot and I think that raises the level of the gym a ton, which is awesome,” Madi Kubik said on Wednesday. “We’ve had some young people really step up and that’s cool to see and see that they feel that sense of ownership and that sense of competitive fire to try and fight for that spot too. I’m really excited to see what happens because it’s kind of it’s kind of up in the air.”

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