No. 3 Nebraska completed its nonconference slate at 9-1, and now the Huskers turn their attention to the Big Ten.
After hosting tournaments the first two weeks, Nebraska played three ranked opponents in the last two weeks as the scheduled ramped up throughout the nonconference, culminating in their best performance of the season in a sweep at Kentucky.
“I feel like those last few matches we had at the end of our preseason really prepared us for going into the Big Ten,” Lindsay Krause said. “We played a very tough Creighton team, Long Beach is a good team, Stanford, Kentucky. And so I feel like Stanford, we really saw glimpses of the kind of team that we can be, even though sometimes we did kind of fall short. And then that turnaround to Kentucky, we really wanted to work on all those things that we needed to iron out and we feel like we came out punching and we truly played Nebraska volleyball in that match.
“Every year it’s going to be slow at the beginning when you don’t have a set routine, but we feel like that was kind of the first match this year that we really felt like we played Nebraska volleyball — clean, crisp, just together. And so I feel like that’s going to be really good to build on going into the Big Ten.”
The Stanford match was Nebraska’s first loss of the season, and freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick said the setback revealed to her some things she needed to work on, including her serving. She missed a couple of serves late against the Cardinal, but she bounced back and nailed a couple late in the close first-set win over Kentucky.
“We’ve been working a lot on just taking my time, because for a while, I always felt like I was rushed,” Allick said. “Jaylen [Reyes] gave me full permission to use all eight or 10 seconds, I believe it is, and he’s like, ‘If we get violated for that, then we’ll just work backwards from there.’ And then technique-wise, we’re working a lot on keeping my elbow high and just trying to keep it simple.”
Cook said he’s been helping Allick make some technical adjustments that will hopefully allow her to be more consistent, something that will be important if Nebraska continues to play a 6-2.
Because of either injury or coach’s decision, Nebraska has played eight different systems, starting lineups or rotations in nine matches this season. The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Pepperdine matches are the only two matches so far this season that have featured the exact same group of players in the same roles.
Cook has experimented with three different setters and two offensive systems, three different opposite hitters to pair with Madi Kubik, two different middle blockers to pair with Kaitlyn Hord and two different opposite hitters to rotate with Whitney Lauenstein. Krause has bounced back and forth between the left and right pins throughout the season and has even sat out one match, and Cook has praised her for her willingness to do whatever he asks of her.
“I feel like as a team, we all know that when it comes to preseason, nobody is expecting to play every set, play the same position every set, run the same rotation,” Krause said. “So I feel like when everybody comes into preseason these first three, four weeks of the season, everyone is really prepared for kind of whatever Coach is gonna throw at us because we are really just trying to find what is the best rotation for everyone to succeed and for us to succeed in Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament.
“And so me specifically, I just try to really be a presence that is a positive attitude towards I’ll do whatever we can to win. I just want to be on a winning team, and if that means I’m playing right side, cool; if that means I’m playing outside, cool; if that means I’m not in the lineup, that sucks for me, but cool. I want to be on a team that’s going to win.”
Another play who has been adaptable through all the lineup changes has been freshman Maggie Mendelson, who started one match at middle blocker, sat out four matches and started at opposite hitter in the last two.
“Maggie was very willing to just say ‘OK, Coach” and go,” Krause said. “We were all even kind of a little bit surprised. We didn’t really know that Maggie was going to play right side because we came to practice one day and Maggie was practicing out-of-system hitting for like 10 minutes, and then the next day she was starting at right side. And we were all just like ‘Oh my god, are you OK? We’re here to support you.’ But she’s taken it like a champ and one big thing about us is we’re big on support our teammates, no matter what and through everything. And so she’s taking it like a champion and we’ve all been with her every step of the way.”
Cook said the only positive of his constant lineup changes has been all 14 players have gotten a chance to play, including all three freshmen.
“The negatives are, for me, I’d rather be in a consistent system,” Cook said. “But we’ve got a team that can handle it really well, so it’s worked out. We’ve had to adjust and great ones adjust.”
What the Huskers do moving forward will rely on health in addition to performance. Nicklin Hames and Ally Batenhorst remain out until the trainer tells Cook they are ready to go, though Batenhorst at least participated in practice on Tuesday.
Though Nebraska rolled out its eighth different lineup on Saturday, the Huskers closed out the nonconference with a bang, bouncing back from the Stanford loss with a win over another top-15 team in Kentucky in what Krause called a culmination of everything they’ve been working on throughout the preseason.
“t was everything we needed, because we knew that that loss to Stanford could have meant a lot of things for the direction we would be heading in and I think we could have rolled over against Kentucky in the first set or we could have just kept making the same exact errors during practice,” Allick said. “But we were being really intentional, working on off-speed, picking those up. And so to not only beat Kentucky, but to sweep them, it was just satisfying.”
Now the buskers will carry the confidence from the Kentucky win with them into the Big Ten, which begins on Friday.
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.