No. 5 Nebraska suffered its second loss of the season last week in an uncharacteristic fashion, allowing Wisconsin to hit .376 in the Devaney Center.
With two weekend matches, the Huskers have gotten a chance to get back to work on the practice court to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“I think we’ve had a really great week of practice,” junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins said. “That game really exposed a lot of our flaws so we’ve come in with an open mindset knowing we have to get better if we want to compete in this conference and if we want to make it to the postseason.”
Coach John Cook said the Huskers have responded “really well” to the disappointment of the loss.
“The captains came to me and asked me to turn up the heat on our team, hold ‘em more accountable, push them harder,” Cook said. “I said ‘I can do that.’ I challenged them really hard this week and they responded really well. They should feel really good going into this weekend.”
Stivrins said she and fellow captain Nicklin Hames talked “quite a bit” about needing more accountability in practice in order to make the strides they need.
“I feel like we could be held more accountable than we are and we kind of let a lot of the little stuff slide in practice, and it’s going to carry over to games,” Stivrins said. “This week I think we made it a point to not let those things go unnoticed and to really get better.”
That request was music to Cook’s ears. He’s said multiple times that teaching is the part of the job he enjoys most, and this week’s he’s gotten a chance to accomplish a lot with his team.
“There are a lot of things we’re doing to be accountable,” Cook said. “Bottom line is you get it right or you’re getting corrected somehow or you’re correcting yourself. We’re going to make great reps and we’re not moving on until you get it right. We’re holding them accountable to their techniques so they’ll learn to trust their techniques a little bit more. That’s been the theme this week. I’ve had a fun week of practice.”
Nebraska will get a chance to put their work to the test on Friday when Michigan State (11-3, 2-2 Big Ten) comes to Lincoln for an 8 p.m. start time. Though Nebraska ran into some defensive struggles against the Badgers, they appear to have figured some things out offensively recently as they’ve hit over .300 in each of their last three matches. They’ll put that newfound rhythm to the test against the Spartans who are first in the Big Ten in opponent hitting percentage (.144) and blocking (.281 per set).
“They’re really big and physical and they run a 6-2 so they’re going to have three big blockers up there all the time,” Cook said. “I think they’re a pretty good serving team. It’s the Big Ten, baby.”
Junior outside hitter Meredith Norris leads the Spartan attack with 3.38 kills per set on .243 hitting while the middle blocker duo of sophomores Rebecka Poljan and Naya Gros are both in the top seven in the conference in blocking, combining for 2.54 blocks per set to go with 3.84 kills per set on nearly .360 hitting.
After that, Nebraska will get Saturday off before returning to the Devaney Center on Sunday to host Michigan, who is among the other teams receiving votes in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll. The Wolverines (11-3) are off to a 4-0 start in conference play and are leading the Big Ten in hitting percentage at .289. They’re also second in service aces with 1.71 per set.
Sophomore outside hitter Paige Jones leads Michigan with 3.63 kills per set on .283 hitting while freshman middle blocker/outside hitter May Pertofsky is chipping in 2.47 kills per set on .339 hitting, is fifth in the Big Ten in service aces per set (0.41) and has taken home Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors in each of the past two weeks.
If the Huskers don’t come to play on the defensive end, the Wolverines have the firepower to light them up just like Wisconsin did.
“I’m not going to say it’s a fluke, but that game is something we’re not used to,” Stivrins said. “I think we’re going to go back to Nebraska volleyball and really focus on our defensive game, just going the extra mile, whether that’s on the block or hitting the floor for some balls. I think we’re going to turn it around this week.”
That match is set for 1 p.m. on Sunday on ESPN2. Friday’s match will be televised on BTN.
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.