Madi Kubik spent Saturday night on the receiving end of high-speed serves and swings from reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Stephanie Samedy and the other Minnesota Golden Gophers without flinching, but she did lose her composure for one moment of panic.
However, it had nothing to do with Minnesota or the play on the court. The Big Ten Network camera crew caught Kubik’s reaction to seeing a wasp fly onto the court.
.@MadiKubik's reaction to seeing a spider on the court. pic.twitter.com/chO0sCwzdT
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) October 31, 2021
“I’m literally standing there and in my peripheral I see something moving and I was like [noise],” Kubik said. “And then it’s flying in the air and I think the up ref saw my reaction and so he tossed the towel down over it and literally fell perfectly on top of the wasp. So Nicklin [Hames] stepped on it and we were like ‘Oh, it’s dead; no worries.’ And she picks up the towel and it flies up with it and we were like ‘Aaah!’, running away. That was funny. Everyone was freaking out.”
The resilient wasp flew back up into the crowd, and the Huskers had to gather their composure and lock back in to the match. In the end, however, the Gophers prevailed in five sets, handing the Huskers their second straight loss after a 10-0 start to Big Ten play. Before that 10-match winning streak, however, Nebraska lost three straight to close out the nonconference slate, an experience from which Kubik said the Huskers learned.
“I just think we recognize that there has to be a change and we can’t wait for teams to get us down 2-0 to start playing and we have to start from the beginning of the match with a sense of urgency,” Kubik said. “I think we just have to do that over a long period of time to be successful.”
Consistency is the ultimate goal, but the Huskers have three freshmen in the starting lineup who are making their way through the Big Ten for the first time, and they’ve all had their ups and downs through the first 12 conference matches.
“I think just as the Big Ten season’s gone on, we’ve faced harder teams,” freshman libero Lexi Rodriguez said. “We have our game plans and stuff, but just going out there and remembering to just play. Some hitters look a lot different in person than they do on film, so just trying to focus on the next play, especially with really good teams like Wisconsin and Minnesota. They’re going to get their good kills and you’ve just got to accept like, ‘Oh, that was a really good kill, but maybe I can dig the next one.’ So just the mindset, you’ve got to stay focused and not let some of those big points kind of stop you from playing your game.”
The freshman who has struggled the most has been Ally Batenhorst. The 6-foot-4 outside hitter had some standout performances early on in Big Ten play, most notably a 15-kill performance against Penn State on .375 hitting. However, she’s hit .000 or worse in five straight matches, and Coach John Cook has turned to Lexi Sun multiple times looking for a spark from the second outside hitter position.
“I’m working through it,” Batenhorst said about her season. “I’ve kind of had some ups and downs, obviously. I’m a freshman and trying new things and just kind of learning along the way and I’m just kind of pushing through and doing my best.”
Batenhorst averaged 6.6 kills per set on .335 hitting as a senior at Seven Lakes High School in Katy, Texas. Through her first 19 college matches, she’s averaging just 1.81 kills per set on .132 hitting.
“It’s definitely a different game,” Batenhorst said. “Obviously huge blockers, players of the year, everything. You can’t be tentative at all. I’ve kind of learned that. I think some games I go in and I play a little bit tentative and I can’t do that because if you play tentative, they’re going to destroy you. I definitely have to go out and just have a free mentality and just play my game and just trust everything I’ve learned and trust my training.”
Batenhorst has tried to avoid that tentativeness, but it has often swung the other way as she has 21 errors and just 15 kills in her last five, with many of those errors coming on swings that went wide or long.
“I just kind of want to go for it,” Batenhorst said. “I think for us, we’re trying to be creative and I think whenever we tip a lot and just kind of roll and just kind of do weak shots, it’s kind of not working and then they come back at us even harder. So I’m trying to swing hard and be aggressive and I think I get too into it sometimes and I’m just like ‘hit the ball as hard as you can,’ and that’s when I kind of go in a little thing because I think what makes me a good player is whenever I have good vision. Sometimes I just throw it out the window and hit hard and that doesn’t work.”
Batenhorst said her struggles have been mental more than physical.
“I know what I’m supposed to do and I’ve learned and I’ve been training and I’ve been training well and I’ve been working through it and I’ve learned a lot from Coach and I know what I’m supposed to do,” Batenhorst said. “That’s why I’m on the court, and I just I think it’s more of a mental thing. I just kind of need to push through it and just have confidence. I need to play with confidence for sure.”
Batenhorst said she gets that confidence from her teammates as she relies on them whenever she gets into one of those ruts. Batenhorst said she plays her best when she’s having fun, and the chemistry with her teammates is a big part of what makes the game fun for her.
“I definitely look to my teammates for confidence whenever I’m not doing my best,” Batenhorst said. “They’re like ‘Hey, we’re going to cover you, keep swinging.’ They kind of build that in me and it’s just very helpful and that’s what I look for whenever I’m kind of struggling.”
As a team, the Huskers will look to right the ship against a team they’ve already beat once this season in Illinois. The Huskers swept the Illini in Lincoln on Oct. 16 behind 19 kills on .457 hitting from Kubik. However, Illinois has since won four in a row including a 3-1 victory at Penn State on Saturday that pushed the Illini into the latest AVCA Coaches Poll at No. 25.
Illinois is the second team Nebraska has had a rematch with this season with Iowa being the other, and match prep is a mix of studying their previous meeting with seeing how they’ve evolved in recent weeks.
“We look at that, we look at what they’ve done the last couple of weeks,” Cook said. “Everybody makes changes, constantly adjusting. So there’s some of that and then some of anticipate what we could see Thursday. So then we learn what we could do better and they’re probably doing the same thing.”
First serve in Champaign is set for 8 p.m. on Thursday on Big Ten Network.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.