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Are the Best Middle Blockers in the Big Ten?
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Are the Best Middle Blockers in the Big Ten?

October 17, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. — After his press conference, John Cook stepped away from the podium and touched on a few more topics including the team’s stay in Washington DC, Big Ten Player of the Week Kadie Rolfzen and the middle blocker position in the Big Ten.

>> After winning in Columbus, the Huskers headed east for their game against Maryland. However, with a day between games, the Huskers had some free time on their hands and Cook made sure they put it to good use.

“We practiced and then we went to Arlington National Cemetery; that was cool,” Cook said. “Then we went to a restaurant and watched the football game. It worked out, it was a good day, beautiful weather. Arlington was something we wanted them to see because when we went there in April we didn’t have time to go there. It’s pretty powerful.”

>> Kadie Rolfzen was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after a dominant pair of games, and Cook said he expects her to play at that level at this stage of her career.

“She’s a First Team All-American; she needs to play like that every night,” Cook said. “She’s doing a nice job. One of the challenges at the beginning of the year was we wanted her to become a great six-rotation player and she’s doing a really good everywhere at all the skills.”

>> Does the Big Ten have the best collection of middle blockers in college volleyball? Cook believes so.

“I just know when you look at our middles [Amber Rolfzen and Briana Holman], Penn State’s middles [Haleigh Washington, Tori Gorrell and Heidi Thelen], [Ohio State’s Taylor] Sandbothe, Wisconsin’s middles [Haleigh Nelson and Tionna Blake], Purdue’s Faye [Adelaja], [Alyssa] Garvelink and [Allyssah] Fiterrer at Michigan State, [Michigan’s] Abby Cole … I think that answers the question.”

Cook said the middle blocker position is so important because a strong attack in the middle creates favorable situations for the hitters on the outside.

“If you have a middle attack threat, then you’re going to be committing blockers on those middles … It’s just going to make your outsides have more split blocks and one block when they hit as opposed to two blockers camping on them,” Cook said.

Nebraska’s middles struggled in the win at Ohio State on Friday, combining for 15 kills and nine errors. However, they bounced back on Sunday to post 14 kills with just four errors on 30 swings in the sweep at Maryland.

“We just weren’t connecting [with the middles] very well [against Ohio State], so we made that an emphasis on Sunday,” Cook said. “We want everybody worried about our middles, and usually they are, but we want them to be worried about our middles and then that frees up our outside hitters. We’re trying to be a balanced attack.”

Briana Holman was an All-American at LSU, but despite an overall strong season, she’s had some difficulty adjusting to the level of play in the Big Ten.

“It’s the Big Ten; you’re going against Sandbothe, you better be really good or she’s going to block you, for example … Briana’s used to bouncing balls; she likes to have a dramatic kill,” Cook said. “But if you try to bounce balls on good middle blockers, they’re going to get you. You have to move it around, you have to hit deep – you just can’t go up and crush every ball, and that’s what she’s learning. She’s learning to use more finesse shots. You watch Amber, Amber sometimes will rip it, sometimes tipping it, cutting it, moving it all over the place.”

However, despite her occasionally high error totals, Holman has still had a huge impact on the top-ranked team in the country.

“A lot of teams front her and commit on her,” Cook said. “She’s up there twice with Kadie, that’s one of the reasons why Kadie had such good numbers, it frees up Andie [Malloy]. Those are all together for a couple of rotations and then her rotation six when she’s up there with Kelly I think is our best sideout rotation. It’s about winning those rotations when you’re up there. I just think she has a big impact and draws a lot of attention.”

>> Nebraska will face one of the best setters in the country on Friday as Lauren Carlini and Wisconsin roll into Lincoln looking to get back on top after suffering their first conference defeat to Minnesota last week.

“She’s a very good setter,” Cook said. “She can pass well, they run a fast tempo and she’s a good blocker, good defensive player, she can attack, she’s a good server – I think last week she was leading the Big Ten in aces per game. She’s a premier player in the country.”

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