LINCOLN, Neb. — The No. 1 Nebraska volleyball team closed out the Nebraska Invitational on Saturday afternoon with its third straight sweep and fourth straight win to open the season after dispatching Oregon State 25-16, 25-14 and 25-12 in front of 8,196 fans at the Devaney Center.
Nebraska (4-0) got off to a slow start, falling behind 6-1 to open the match. However, from that point on the match was all Huskers as the team closed the set on a 24-10 run to jump ahead 1-0.
“After the start, which was a little shaky, I didn’t call a timeout; I just wanted to let them see how they worked through it and they did a really nice job,” Coach John Cook said. “I thought they really got their focus and just put the pressure on Oregon State and never let off. The way we pressured them was serve, block and our defense.”
Nebraska only trailed for two points the rest of the match – at 1-0 in both the second and the third set. The Huskers quickly took control and pulled away in both sets.
On match point, Cook sent in sophomore defensive specialist Brooke Smith to serve. She offered up a fireball that forced an overpass and Hunter was right there to put it down and end the game.
“I love Brooke,” Cook said. “She brings a ton of energy, she works really hard in practice. She’s got kind of a serve – if you haven’t seen it, it’s very difficult the first couple of times you see it. I was trying to get her in earlier but we had a big run there, so we finally got her in that point. She and Olivia [Boender] bring in great energy, and you have to have players like that on your team.”
Boender, a sophomore outside hitter from Waverly, checked in for the third set in both matches this weekend and made the most of her opportunities, putting down four kills on seven swings including two against Oregon State. Cook said she is pushing hard for playing time.
“In high school we used to call her ‘The Hammer,’” Hunter said about Boender. “As you can see, she hits the crap out of the ball. That’s always a big energy thing and she just is always smiling and eager to want the ball. She’s a great person to have out there.”
Nebraska held Oregon State to .054 hitting including .000 hitting by sophomore outside hitter Lanesha Reagan (9 kills and 9 errors on 28 attempts) who Cook identified as one of the most dynamic hitters he’s seen. Mary-Kate Marshall was the only Beaver who hit above .000.
“I think our defense is probably one of the best in the nation,” senior middle blocker Amber Rolfzen said. “There’s not a ball that doesn’t go down without at least effort or touch it, whether we get it up or not. We just work hard on it every single day and we just know that when the ball crosses the net, if it doesn’t get blocked then we’re going to dig it up.”
The theme of the season thus far on offense has been balance, and that was the case again on Saturday as five players recorded six or more kills, led by eight apiece from Kadie and Amber Rolfzen.
“Our passers are just so good and our defense is just so good that I can always set whoever I want,” Hunter said. “Just having those passers is good and that just helps our attack be balanced and have the other side guessing. We never really have someone that we always go to just because we have hitters at every single position. It makes my job easy.”
Hunter herself got into attack mode as well, finishing with six kills on seven attempts to go along with her 25 assists, 10 digs and one block. Cook once said that Hunter might have one of the best arms on the team.
“I don’t know that it’s my arm, I think it might be my mentality,” Hunter said. “I used to be a hitter and I really miss hitting, obviously, so every time I play it I call for the ball.”
“If you don’t block her, she’s going to make you pay,” Cook said. “They didn’t block her today, and she made them pay … Six kills, seven attempts. You’ve got to put a blocker on her, and if you start putting a blocker on her, then that means somebody else is going free. Our team does a nice job of getting her in position to be able to attack or set. That’s Kenzie [Maloney], Anni [Albrecht], Justine [Wong-Orantes]; those guys do a really good job of that.”
The Huskers will head to Albuquerque, New Mexico, next weekend to participate in the Lobo Classic. Nebraska will take on Montreal in an exhibition game on Thursday before facing off against Arkansas on Friday and the host Lobos on Saturday.
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.