Sophomore opposite hitter Jazz Sweet made the Big Ten All-Freshman team and played in all 125 sets for the Huskers last season in what was a very productive first year in Lincoln for the native of Tecumseh, Kansas.
However, Sweet wasn’t content ofter a solid year. She wanted more and her coach said she came back a different player this year.
“I just think Jazz understands what she needs to do now,” Coach John Cook said. “She knows what she needs to do blocking. She knows what she needs to do hitting. We’re trying to get her to play six rotations; she hasn’t quite figured that out yet. But she understands the game and what’s happening a lot better. She’s put up some pretty good numbers this year.”
Those “good numbers” over the last four matches are .416 hitting and 3.2 kills per set. She’s committed just six attack errors during that stretch. After a slow start to the season, Sweet is locked in.
“It’s first of all getting used to [freshman setter] Nicklin [Hames]; that’s the first thing,” Cook said. “Second of all, I just think it’s Jazz — she wants to be great. She’s been told several times she has a huge role on this team and she’s going to get a lot of balls whereas last year she was kind of an afterthought a little bit. I don’t think people were too worried about her. I think she wants to be that player that everybody’s got to worry about.”
Part of becoming that player is growing into a hitter who can play all six rotations. That was Cook’s goal for her this season and she hasn’t quite gotten there just yet. It took senior All-American Mikaela Foecke two full seasons as a front-row player before Cook trusted her to play all the way around, and Cook said Sweet isn’t too far behind where Foecke was as a sophomore.
“Jazz is close,” Cook said. “There are days I think she’s ready and then there are days — she just can’t put it together everyday. There are days you’re going to be off hitting because you’re just tired or it’s not there, but you have to pass and dig and serve every day and there’s no off days for that in our gym, so that’s what she’s learning how to do.”
In the meantime, Cook is trying to make Sweet the most effective hitter he can and that involves watching a lot of video.
“She just understands using the block, hitting shots, mixing it up,” Cook said. “We’ve watched a lot of video of top international players. Ironically, I’ve never shown her [Sarah] Pavan; Pavan was, in her time, 6-5 and she could do whatever she wanted. Jazz, we’ve watched a player on Serbia, a lefty, and there’s a player on China, a lefty. So we’ve watched them on how they attack and how they move it around and how they mix up their shots. That’s the biggest change. Last year she was just swinging; this year she’s swinging with a purpose and understands how to get kills and take advantage of blocks and do things like that. I feel like there are times where if the set’s there, she can tool the block any time she wants.”
Cook said the goal for a high-level opposite hitter in his system is .275 hitting, and Sweet is sitting at .326, second on the team behind only middle blocker Lauren Stivrins at .364. She is unlikely to maintain that level of efficiency with a step up in competition looming as the Big Ten schedule begins next weekend.
That being said, as recent results have shown, there really aren’t a whole lot of easy wins in college volleyball any more. Cook offered his thoughts on the reason for the many upsets that rocked top-10 teams last week.
“I think it’s two things. One, sometimes you play these three matches in two days. It’s hard to play well for three matches. You’ve got to be good, you have to have a great mindset.”
Cook said he’d ideally like to play just two matches in a weekend or stretch the matches out a little bit more, but three matches in two days is the standard for nonconference tournaments at this point.
“The second thing is that we’ve had Pavan, we’ve had Jordan [Larson]; those guys are elite players, they’re Olympians. Right now coming out of high school, there haven’t been as many of those elite players … We’re not seeing as many of those high-level players. But what we’re seeing is there is a pool of really good players; that pool has expanded a ton. Maybe there were only 20 of those kids; now there are 60, 70 of those kids every year coming out that are really good players.
“The other thing is they play so much club now, you’re used to playing each other, so there’s no intimidation factor any more. Nicklin’s played against all those kids; they’ve all played against Nicklin. There’s no, ‘Oh god, it’s Nebraska’ or, ‘That’s Texas.’ Those kids have all played each other a bunch of times; they’re not afraid. I think that’s what we’re seeing in college volleyball and I think it’s going to continue with the parity.”
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.