In the words of Coach John Cook, junior opposite hitter Jazz Sweet has been on a mission to open Big Ten play this season. In four matches (and 14 sets), she’s averaging 3.7 kills per set on .392 hitting.
“She’s just turned it up a notch in the Big Ten,” Cook said. “We’ve been encouraging her to play with more fire and be more aggressive, and she’s finally embracing that.”
After an up-and-down nonconference (in five of her matches she hit below .200 and in the other four she was above .300), her hot start in the Big Ten has bumped her season averages up to .302 hitting and 2.74 kills per set.
“In the Big Ten, if you can hit .270 as a right side, or any outside hitter, it’s really good,” Cook said. “You’re going to be an All-American, or all-conference. And I’m not talking just the first four matches, I’m talking over 20 matches. It’s hard, .270 or higher for an outside is really good. Our left sides we talk about being at .250. You get above that, you’re in elite territory.”
That’s where Sweet is at this point, and the numbers are even more impressive considering she’s receiving the bulk of Nebraska’s out-of-system sets — by design.
“In our system, she gets more, so that’s even more impressive,” Cook said. “We’re trying to set her out of system, not our left sides. Because she’s a lefty, it’s just natural for her over there. It’s just easier because the libero is setting it. It makes it harder for the other team to transition back against us a little bit too because the setter’s got to play defense. If you set the left sides, the setters can rotate out and they don’t have to play defense so they’re right into transition. So we’re forcing setters to have to play D by setting Jazz. Tactically, it’s a little bit more of an advantage to set her more out of system.”
Nebraska’s offense has been pretty balanced so far in the Big Ten as all three outside hitters are within 15 sets of each other (139 for Lexi Sun, 138 for Madi Kubik, 125 for Sweet).
“We’re trying to set her and her numbers, normally you see our left sides way more but she’s been pretty balanced every match with our left sides, which is what we want,” Cook said.
>> Sweet’s been pretty up and down, but she can’t hold a candle to the inconsistency Nebraska is getting from sophomore middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach. Against Illinois and Rutgers, Schwarzenbach had 15 kills and one error on 21 swings (.667 hitting) plus 11 blocks. Against Northwestern and Wisconsin, she totaled four kills and five errors on 19 attempts (-.053) and two blocks.
“She’s super aggressive and flying around and working really hard,” Cook said about Schwarzenbach’s big games. “The other ones she slows down and gets frozen. I don’t know if it’s stress or what it is, but we’ve got to get that fixed.”
On the season, Schwarzenbach has seven matches below .150 hitting compared to six at or above .250. Cook wants his middles hitting .350; Lauren Stivrins is at .421 but Schwarzenbach is down at .292. Perhaps even more importantly, her blocking has slipped from where it was a season ago when she set a freshman record with 177 blocks. She’s recording 1.05 blocks per set this year after averaging 1.33 last season, tops on the team and third in the Big Ten.
“She needs to be better,” Cook said. “We just had a team light us up and she was out there a lot. She needs to be better.”
>> After having time to watch the film against Wisconsin, a three-set loss in which the Badgers out-hit Nebraska .376 to .336, Cook shared some of his takeaways.
“We put on a hitting clinic for us, so really happy about that,” Cook said. “We lost the serve and pass battle. The difference was we had 12 more errors than they did; that’s the difference right there. You lose three games, close games, the errors are the difference. We had 12 more unforced errors than they did and that’s a very experienced team playing really well and really consistently, and that’s the difference. We’re constantly talking to our team about that in practice. When we do drills, they’re penalized for unforced errors, they lose the game or the point right there if they make an unforced error. That’s where we have to get to, where were really consistent.”
Nebraska went toe-to-toe with Wisconsin from most of the match, but the later in the set, the more error-prone Nebraska became, whether it be poor communication, bad serves, off-target hitting or whatever else. What does Nebraska need to do to find that consistency the Huskers need to win in the Big Ten?
“It’s more focusing on that point and trusting their training and trusting each other,” Cook said.
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.