After suffering their first Big Ten loss, the No. 7 Huskers (14-4, 7-1) bounced back with a 3-1 win on the road against No. 17 Purdue on Saturday.
The Boilermakers are one of the best hitting teams in the conference but Nebraska held them to .134 hitting and got a season-high 21 kills with just one error from junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke.
“I think we were able to — with our serve, our block and our defense — frustrate those hitters,” Coach John Cook said. “I think they’re used to getting kills and they weren't getting kills, and they started trying too hard and started making some errors. Our block and defense got to them a little bit.”
Purdue features the Big Ten’s leader in kills, Danielle Cuttino, and the Huskers held her to .087 and made her earn her 14 kills. Next up on the schedule is a Friday night game against Northwestern (12-8, 2-6) led by Symone Abbott, who is second in the league in kills per set. Both teams heavily feature their main hitters as compared to a more balanced attack like Nebraska uses.
“I heard that one player got 70 sets or something crazy one night, so that definitely makes it a lot easier,” Foecke said. “Honestly I think any team that gives one player that many sets is a lot easier to defend, no matter how good that player is, just because ‘OK, we can leave so-and-so alone’ or not have to worry about them as much.”
First serve at the Devaney Center on Friday is set for 7 p.m.
On Saturday, the Huskers will see a familiar face as Nebraska hosts Illinois (15-4, 6-2) and Chris Tamas, Cook’s former assistant who left after last season to take the head job in Champaign. However, that familiarity won’t change the way Nebraska approaches the match.
“We’ll prepare for them just like we do anybody else,” Cook said. “He’ll know our team pretty well, but he has’t coached this group. He’s coached these players, but Anni [Albrecht] was in a different role, Mikaela was in a different role, Lauren [Stivrins] is in a new role, Jazz [Sweet] is new. It comes down to the players playing, but they’ll be well-prepared.”
Illinois is leading the Big Ten in blocks per set this season and Foecke said the match against Purdue should also help the Huskers get ready to take on the Illini.
“I think Purdue was a good start for us just because they’re such a big team, and Illinois is also really big and they jump high,” Foecke said. “They’re not quite as big so I think it will be a little bit better for us hitters; we’ll get to see the court a little more versus against Purdue, but I think we’ll have to go up and use their block a lot and we won’t be able to hit down nearly as much as we’re used to.”
First serve is set for 7 p.m., and both of this weekend’s matches will be televised on NET.
Freshman serving sub and defensive specialist Hayley Densberger has been out of commission with an illness recently, but Cook said she is making her way back.
“She came in yesterday and did a little bit and made it through practice today,” Cook said. “We kept her out of some stuff, but tomorrow will be the test, so we’ll see. She looks good, so we’ll have to see how she feels tomorrow.”
Nebraska’s depth took a hit on Monday as junior left side hitter Olivia Boender announced she is seeking a medical release to end her volleyball career at Nebraska.
Boender’s retirement leaves true freshman Sami Slaughter, who has appeared in just two sets this season, as the next woman up and the only reserve at left side hitter behind Foecke and Albrecht.
“She’s the third outside hitter,” Cook said about her role moving forward. “She worked with the first group today and did a great job.”
Cook said that Slaughter is a front-row option only. Foecke expressed confidence in her teammate.
“Sami just is a hard worker and she gets after it every day,” Foecke said. “She has a really good arm and she used to be a middle like me … You saw that for a little bit in Wisconsin — she made some great plays when she went in there. If she gets the opportunity, I have complete trust in her and I’m sure she’ll do great.”
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.