John Cook picked up his 500th win at Nebraska as the Huskers swept Maryland-Baltimore County on Friday afternoon to open play in the annual Ameritas Classic at the Devaney Center.
Scores in favor of the Huskers (1-2) in their home-opener were 25-19, 25-13, 25-20.
Senior setter Kelly Hunter made her season debut after missing the opening weekend while recovering from an offseason injury and split time with redshirt freshman Hunter Atherton as Cook chose to use a 6-2 system.
“I thought we came out of the gates pretty good, maybe started letting up a little bit and got a little sloppy but it’s the first time we’ve run a 6-2 with this group and that’s a whole different deal,” Cook said. “I was impressed with UMBC. They do some nice things for their talent and what they’re trying to do. They’re really well-coached, they had a really nice game plan. It was a good opening match for us and I thought our fans did a great job showing up for a Friday noon match.”
Hunter finished with a match-high 20 assists and also recorded seven digs in her debut.
“[It felt] really good,” Hunter said. “Just watching and learning is always a good experience, to sit out and just kind of observe. But it’s always fun to play and compete and be with my teammates out there.”
Nebraska typically runs a 5-1 set with Hunter playing all six rotations, but Cook said he did not want to overwork Hunter and that this year’s roster is well-suited to the 6-2.
“I’m just trying to get Kelly working back in and I’ve got two lefties, so that makes for a natural 6-2 … It’s a natural system to run and we work a lot on those rotations anyway with those guys,” Cook said. “It’s three stations just repeated, if you look at it. The setters are used to that but it’s hard coming in and out.”
In addition to easing her load, Hunter said the 6-2 system gives more players a chance to see the floor.
“It gets more bodies out there,” Hunter said. “We have fresh people. But just for me, since it’s a three-game weekend, it’s kind of a tough weekend to come straight in on. We have a lot of great players; we have a lot of depth so pretty much everyone got a shot today almost. It’s cool to have that many players who can go out there and step up.”
Is the 6-2 here to stay? Probably not, according to Cook, but it is a nice tool to have in the arsenal.
“It’s hard to have Kelly Hunter not on the court for six rotations but it could be something we could jump into if Hunter and Anezka [Szabo] continue to improve,” Cook said. “I was really pleased with Hunter there at the end of game three. She hit two really tough serves after that timeout and long delay.”
The star of the match for the Huskers was senior middle blocker Briana Holman who finished with a match-high 10 kills on 13 swings and a match-high six blocks.
“I thought our serve receive was really good and I think Kelly and Hunter put us in really good spots,” Holman said about her success. “It was pretty easy; it just felt natural.”
Junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke was in top form as well with 9 kills on .412 hitting, four digs and two aces. Junior libero Kenzie Maloney led all players with 14 digs, but also committed four service errors and Cook said the team needs more from her. Freshman outside hitter Jazz Sweet chipped in five kills without an error and four blocks.
Nebraska got off to a slow start in the first set before pulling away and taking its biggest lead at 21-13. UMBC made a late rally with a 6-2 run to cut Nebraska’s lead in half but following a timeout to regroup Holman put the set away with back-to-back kills.
The second set was all Nebraska as the Huskers never trailed and the only tie came at 1-1. The Huskers nearly doubled the Retrievers up with a 25-13 win by out-hitting them .233 to -.097 in the set.
The Huskers struggled in the passing department in the third set and the Retrievers led most of the way, but a 3-0 run put Nebraska ahead 20-17. After trading points, UMBC burned its last timeout down 23-20, but Nebraska came out after the break and closed out the match with an ace by Atherton and a kill by freshman middle blocker Lauren Stivrins.
“I think it was really important [to close out the third set] because three matches in 26 hours I think and you want to try to get through these things and not have to go another fourth game, maybe even get into a fifth game,” Cook said. “We lost a little focus there We started playing sloppy in game three but then we really finished strong. I think that will be good to build some confidence for tonight.”
The Huskers will return to the Devaney for game two of the Americas Classic against Oral Roberts, who dropped a four-set match to St Mary’s to open the Classic. The match is set to begin at 7:30 p.m., or 30 minutes following the conclusion of UMB and St. Mary’s.
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.