Nebraska volleyball maintained its unanimous hold on the top spot in the AVCA poll this week. That wasn’t a surprise, but it’s still remarkable when you stop and look at it. It has been four weeks since anyone has voted a team other than Nebraska No. 1 and the Huskers have earned all of the first place in nine of the thirteen polls this season. Including the preseason poll, that’s 715 out of a possible 832 votes. Not bad.
A big part of the reason why is defense. That’s not a surprise, either. Defense has always been the foundation of Coach John Cook’s program, but this 2016 team, considering the conference it’s playing in, is playing defense at a remarkably high level. In conference games, the Huskers are holding some of the best volleyball programs in the country to a .147 hitting percentage.
“That’s awesome,” Cook said Monday (Premium). “We’ve got to keep that going because if we can keep it down there, keep teams at that level, .150 is our goal so if we can be around .150 you have a chance to win a lot of matches. That’s really good.”
That quote reminded me of a conversation I had with Cook earlier this fall when he told me that in addition to the .150 defensive goal, the other part of it was to hit .300. The Huskers aim to be a .300/.150 program.
That’s great, I thought, but that’s an insanely lofty goal. That’s being twice as good on average against every team you play, which seems like a tough threshold to hit.
And it is. Start here: Since 2000, only 71 teams in college volleyball have hit .300 for a season. That’s an average of about four teams per season and Nebraska has done it five times over that span. Holding teams to .150 hitting is more common. There are about 10 or 12 teams that do that each year and the Huskers have done that 10 times.
Doing both? That almost never happens.
Volleyball stats are hard to reliably find. The NCAA didn’t start listing opponent hitting percentage in its official stats until 2014 and schools’ individual sites are sort of catch as catch can. (Get better statistical archives, Texas!)
For that reason, I can only think that the following is 98-percent accurate (there are three or four teams I wasn’t able to prove didn’t do it, thanks again, Texas), but by my count there have only been seven teams to achieve the .300/.150 double in the past 10 seasons. All seven were Penn State. The Nittany Lions hit both marks from 2006 to 2010 and again in 2013 and 2014. Penn State won national titles in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014.
Between 2000 and 2005, I was able to find five teams that did it: 2005 Penn State, 2005 Washington (national champs) and Nebraska in 2000, 2001 and 2002, Cook’s first three years at the helm.
So why are we talking about this sort of obscure statistical domination right now? Because this 2016 squad currently qualifies with a .300/.141 split. It will be tough for the Huskers to stay in the .300 club past Wednesday with No. 15 Penn State coming to Lincoln. The Huskers go to No. 2 Minnesota a week after that.
But even being at that level now while playing in what is undeniably the best volleyball conference in the country is as good as sign as any as to how good this team has been thus far in 2016.
The Huskers and Nittany Lions play at 8 p.m. on Wednesday night. The Big Ten Network will carry the game.
The Grab Bag
- ICYMI: Here is Monday’s press conference report, including Mike Riley’s update on Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s status.
- Scott Frost has UCF bowl eligible at 6-4 in his first season, but attendance has declined slightly in recent weeks. Frost seems to have the right outlook on things: “If we keep winning and putting a product on the field that we’re putting on the field, sooner or later, those stands are gonna be full.”
- Knives are out in ACC country with Raleigh’s News & Observer columnist Luke Decock writing that the conference needs to do something about Boston College’s mediocrity in football and basketball.
- Interesting statistical comparison of Michigan and Ohio State.
- Speaking of the Wolverines and Buckeyes, Michigan’s loss to Iowa hurt Ohio State’s chances of winning the East. Despite that, Buckeye players were all saying Monday that wasn’t enough to make them root for the Wolverines.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.