LINCOLN, Neb. – The Huskers appear to have found their stride after the home loss to Ohio State as they ripped off another 2-0 road trip over the weekend, avenging their loss to the Buckeyes in Columbus and making short work of the Terrapins of Maryland.
“I was really pleased with our team’s performance this weekend,” Coach John Cook said. “We did a really good job at Ohio State – took their best shot and found a way to win. We played really well in Maryland after; it’s a long weekend when you’re sitting in Maryland for a day-and-a-half and they did a nice job.”
With No. 1 Wisconsin and No. 3 Minnesota both suffering a loss last week, Nebraska (16-1, 7-1) is back on top of the latest AVCA Coaches Poll with 62 of 64 first place votes.
In the loss to the Buckeyes in Lincoln, Nebraska got off to a good start in the first set but fell apart after that. This time around, Nebraska jumped out to an early lead and never let up.
“We dominated in the first two games and then in game three we made a nice comeback and Kadie [Rolfzen] took a great swing and missed it, and girl hit a really good serve and got an ace,” Cook said. “So we could have won that game and been out of there 3-0. But we did a really nice job in game four in holding them off in game four and finding a way to win. It was a really good game.”
Ohio State’s star middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe finished with 19 kills on Friday, but the Nebraska defense led by setter Kelly Hunter made her work for every one of them.
“We did a much better job on Sandbothe … She had 52 sets – for a middle, that’s just incredible how they run her,” Cook said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. She’s a great player. But we did a better job on her; Kelly had 19 digs and most of those 19 digs were off Sandbothe. She was playing defense when Sandbothe was in the front row. We did a much better job defending her, and then we didn’t let [Luisa] Schirmer or [Audra] Appold get 15, 16 kills. Defensively, we were much better than when we were here.”
>> The Huskers may have been 1,200 miles away from Lincoln, but Cook said the XFINITY Center in Maryland felt like home on Sunday thanks to a group of rabid Huskers fans.
“There are Huskers everywhere,” Cook said. “The Washington DC for Nebraska people are crazy. They’re tailgating, they are wild and they are loud. We’ve got Clarence Thomas behind our bench and these people are dressed up. They ought to do Game Day there for volleyball for Nebraska. It was pretty crazy. Those guys deserve a shout-out for their enthusiasm for the Huskers. I was really impressed.”
>> It doesn’t get any easier this weekend as life in the Big Ten rolls on. The Huskers will host the No. 4 Badgers on Friday night before facing off against the No. 3 Golden Gophers, last year’s Big Ten champions, on Sunday afternoon at the Devaney Center.
“Add Penn State, man, we’ve got a Final Four this weekend,” Cook said. “If you would have told me we’re going to be playing a Final Four level weekend here in Nebraska less than a year later from Omaha, it would have been hard to imagine. This is an exciting weekend for volleyball to have three of the top four teams in the rankings here in Lincoln … It’s a great opportunity for us, for our crowd, for our fans, for national spotlight, for volleyball. It’s another big moment in the epicenter of volleyball in this country – Lincoln, Nebraska.”
In addition to producing some great volleyball, the weekend will have a huge impact on the race for this year’s Big Ten crown. Last year, Nebraska dropped back-to-back homes games to Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the Gophers went on the edge out the Huskers by one game in the final conference standings.
“I think this weekend will determine a lot who will have a shot to win the Big Ten conference,” Cook said. “It’s a big weekend for that. And also for seeding for the [NCAA Tournament] regionals, there are a lot of implications in that or could be. I don’t know – the Big Ten keeps beating each other up.”
Cook said his team is well prepared for the challenge of taking on two top five teams back-to-back thanks to the schedule the Huskers have played over the last two seasons.
“We’ve played a lot of really good teams over the last year from the Final Four to the Tournament to those guys to the start of the Big Ten, so I think our players like big matches and are used to it,” Cook said. “I think it brings out the best in them. They’ll have a little more bounce in their step for this weekend I think.”
As he does with nearly every match, Cook highlighted serving and passing as a big key to the weekend.
“Serve and pass will be a big part of that and then I think all three teams are really good blocking teams, all three are really good defensive teams,” Cook said. “It’s probably going to come down to who can win long rallies.”
>> Junior Annika Albrecht doesn’t necessarily get the recognition that some of Nebraska’s more prolific outside hitters do, but Cook said her versatility is instrumental in the team’s success.
“She was huge this weekend with her serve, with her defense, attacking out of the back row,” Cook said. “She has a major, major role on our team. Now, in recruiting, we’re trying to recruit another Anni somewhere. She has a big impact on games but doesn’t get all the attention. I know as coaches, we know the value she brings and she makes some great plays.”
Finding another Albrecht won’t be an easy task, however.
“She really embraces her role; a lot of kids maybe might want to go to a smaller level, lower Division I school and hit six rotations or play all the way around,” Cook said. “But Anni’s a competitor; she competes.”
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.