The 2019 Huskers have already played a lot of volleyball together thanks to their trip to Asia, but Saturday’s Red-White Scrimmage — sold out for the second straight year with an attendance off 7,946 — was a completely different experience for Nebraska’s newcomers.
Even so, the same kind of competitiveness that has defined the team’s preseason practices carried over to the big stage.
“I missed it,” sophomore outside hitter Capri Davis said. “We’ve been doing it in practice too and it’s been the same thing every day. We’ve been going back and forth and it’s been so competitive on both sides. But being out in Devaney again, that was a lot different than Asia and the silence in the gym there. Just being back in front of our home crowd was really big too.”
Five freshmen played their first match in front of a Nebraska crowd at the Devaney Center and Coach John Cook said he thought they looked comfortable.
The Red team, consisting of likely starters, swept the White team, made up of the rest of the team as well as volunteer assistant Andrew Sato and former Husker middle blocker Amber Rolfzen, 25-18, 25-21 and 25-19.
The Red team hit .333 with seven blocks while holding the White team to .165 and two stuffs.
“I thought we did some really good things tonight, how we’re trying to play volleyball and the things that we work on,” Cook said. “That was really good … I just thought our team looked really comfortable out there and I didn’t see a lot of nerves, so that was really good. I think our freshmen being here this summer and going to Asia really helped them through that. We know we’ve got to work on serving, and I tell them our six best servers are going to get to play so we’ll determine who those six best are going into next weekend. But everybody got a chance to serve tonight. It was great to have a huge crowd and let our players experience what they’re going to experience next weekend because it is nerve-wracking.”
Between the two sides there were 23 service errors to just eight aces (six aces by the Red team).
The Red team got strong production from its middle blockers as junior co-captain Lauren Stivrins finished with seven kills on seven swings and sophomore Callie Schwarzenbach added nine kills on 15 attempts.
“Callie and Lauren combined had 15 kills out of 41 [team kills], so that’s a pretty nice job there,” Cook said. “That’s one of our things, we want to run more middle.”
The star of the night, however, was Davis who finished with 18 kills on .467 hitting. She was the focal point of the White team’s offense in the first two sets before switching over to play with the Red team in the third game.
Sun said she wasn’t surprised at all to see that kind of performance from Davis.
“I think that we’ve seen glimpses of it in practices every day,” junior outside hitter Lexi Sun said. “Obviously this is unreal; I hated being on the other side of the net. When she came to our side in the last set we were all really excited. Props to Capri and how hard she’s been working. This summer she’s been going into the gym and really getting after it and I think tonight it just showed. It’s awesome to see. I’m having a proud mom moment.”
Cook said he wasn’t surprised either; the Davis he saw in the scrimmage is the same one he’d seen in the last few days of practice.
“Capri’s whole things is consistency, but she is improving and she wants to be on the court,” Cook said. “She made a big statement tonight. … When she’s playing like she was tonight, she’s going over the block. She’s very athletic, she’s got a great arm, and when she gets her feet there and is in a good rhythm — I thought Nicole [Drewnick] set her really well tonight — it’s hard to stop her. Those are game-changing hits.”
Sun led the Red team with 10 kills on .222 hitting thanks to four errors. Sophomore setter Nicklin Hames finished with 29 assists and tied freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles with a team-best eight digs. Drewnick had 25 assists for the White team and led her squad with eight digs as well. Freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik, who played with the Red team for the first two sets and swapped sides with Davis for the third game, finished with nine total kills on .240 hitting.
Knuckles spent the whole match at libero for the red team while junior Hayley Densberger served as the White team’s libero. Sophomore defensive specialist Megan Miller started with the Red team, subbing in for junior right side hitter Jazz Sweet in the back row, before switching over to the White team for the third set. Cook said all the changes were planned beforehand.
Sato got things started with an ace for the White team that just caught the sideline but the Red responded with three straight to pull ahead and they never trailed again.
The Red team continued to build its lead gradually until a 3-0 run — featuring Stivrins at the service line and three straight kills by Sun — pushed the Red’s lead to 12-5 and drew a timeout from White team coach Kayla Banwarth.
The White scored the first two points out of the break to pull within five but that was as close as the B side got. The Red team built the lead up to eight at 20-12, drawing the White’s second timeout, and then pushed it as high as nine.
The Red earned set point at 24-15 but the White showed some fight, saving three set points before Sweet put down her third kill of the set to seal the win.
The Red team hit .321 in the first with Sun leading the way. The junior outside hitter had five kills on .400 hitting plus an ace. Davis recorded seven of the White team’s eight kills and hit .455 in the process. As a team, however, the White team hit .036.
The White team struck first in the second set as well with another kill by Davis and freshman Riley Zuhn, playing middle blocker, recorded her first kill of the night to take a 2-1 lead for the White, but the Red scored the next two points to pull ahead.
The White team tied it up at 3-3 with a kill by junior opposite hitter Anezka Szabo but the Red responded with a 6-1 to take a 9-4 lead and draw a White timeout. Kubik served up a 3-0 run on the tail end of that capped by a powerful kill from the back row for the freshman.
The Red team continued to roll, stretching the lead to as much as eight at 15-7. The White team wasn’t ready to go down without a fight, however. Trailing 20-13, the White ripped off four straight to draw the Red’s first timeout of the night. Davis had two kills during that run, pushing her total to 14.
The Red team scored the first two points after the timeout but the White cut the deficit to three again, but a service error gave the Red team set point. Davis put down another big kill to keep the White alive but then served long to end it at 25-21.
The White team actually out-hit the red .306 to .281 with 15 kills apiece in the second half, but five service errors in the frame was too much to overcome. Schwarzenbach had four kills on six swings in the second set, pushing her total to six. Davis had nine kills in the second game to give her 16 in two sets.
Between games two and three, strength and conditioning coach Brian Kmitta (who was promoted to Director of Olympic Sports Performance in July) awarded Densberger with the lifter of the year title, honoring the work she did in the weight room during the offseason.
“Hayley is one of the hardest working girls on our team,” Sun said. “I think that she shows it in the gym and when we’re lifting every day. I think that it’s well deserved. Hayley’s a stud and has been working really hard in the offseason.”
In the third set, Davis and Kubik swapped sides while Miller also switched over the the White team, leaving Sweet to play all six rotations for the Red.
The White team led throughout much of the third set and took a 15-12 lead into the side timeout thanks to an ace from Densberger. After the break the Red took control with a 7-0 run served by Knuckles and cruised from there.
Davis put down the final kill on match point, sealing a 25-19 win.
“That was pretty exciting, just to know all the hard work that we’ve been putting in,” Davis said. “Just being able to be there and celebrate — I know both sides were our team so I was just really proud at the end of the day that everybody came out and it was really competitive on both sides.”
After the match, Cook took a moment to thank the fans for showing up.
“This is my 20th year,” Cook said. “It still just continues to amaze me that we get this big of a crowd for a scrimmage. Most college volleyball teams are just doing a scrimmage in front of the booster club and we’re charging admission. We do it right — we had the band, our fans were into it, they cheer good volleyball. I’m just so thankful that this is Nebraska and we have that opportunity and our players get to experience that. This is probably the biggest crowd, just tonight, that anybody else in the country will play in front, maybe Hawaii might get a bigger crowd. And this is just for a Red-White Scrimmage.”
It won’t be a scrimmage next week. The Huskers open their season at home against No. 18 Creighton on Friday as part of the Husker Invitational.
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.