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Huskers Show Out in Belo Horizonte

June 05, 2023

The Nebraska volleyball team wrapped up its stay in Belo Horizonte on Monday before departing for the second leg of the Huskers tour through Brazil.

Nebraska stayed in Belo Horizonte for five days, training at the Minas Tênis Clube and experiencing the city. They also took part in a tournament on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, playing against three teams in live-streamed matches.

The Huskers went 3-0 with dominant sweeps, outscoring their opponents 225-102. The Huskers faced the U19 teams of Minas Tênis Clube (25-8, 25-12, 25-13), Mackenzie (25-15, 25-14, 25-17) and Dentil Praia Clube (25-9, 25-7, 25-7), and with their youth, none of the teams was able to truly push Nebraska, limiting how much we could actually learn from the matches.

Even so, with so many positions seemingly up for grabs, it’s worth evaluating what we were able to see in the first public action since the spring exhibition against Wichita State on April 29.

Cook mixed and matched his lineups throughout the three matches, giving everyone a chance to play, and all of them performed well. By my count (official statistics were not released), Nebraska hit over .500 overall, recording just 19 total attack errors in nine sets.

Let’s start with the setters. Junior Kennedi Orr played in five sets while freshman Bergen Reilly played in four. 

Orr averaged 12.2 assists per set with five kills, two blocks and one ace. To my untrained eye, it appears as if the individual work she put in with Cook and Kelly Hunter during the spring has really paid off. She’s continued to improve and did a fine job running the offensive and getting everyone involved. There were a few hiccups here and there with off-target sets, but she didn’t get called for any double contacts and did a great job running plenty of middle.

Reilly averaged 13.0 assists per set with two kills, one ace, two service error and one ball-handling error. It’s pretty remarkable how smooth she is from a pure setting standpoint, consistently making smart reads and putting the ball exactly where it needs to be.

At this point, I’d say Reilly has an edge in terms of pure, technical setting. Her ability to smoothy orchestrate an offense looks to be truly special for one so young. I’d probably give Orr an edge at the net. I still don’t have a great feel for their defense or serving.

While setter is likely the most important position battle for Cook to sort through, I’d argue the most interesting one is outside hitter. In Belo Horizonte, juniors Lindsay Krause and Ally Batenhorst played in five sets apiece while sophomore Hayden Kubik and freshman Harper Murray each played in four sets.

Krause led Nebraska in total kills, averaging 4.0 per set on .486 hitting plus 0.8 blocks per set with three aces and two service errors. She was consistently effective against Minas while she got off to a bit of a slow start from a termination standpoint before settling in and getting on a roll, converting all five of her kills in the second set to finish with 10. Krause has a powerful swing, and she continues to be a weapon at the service line as well.

As I wrote after the spring match, it appears as if Batenhorst has adjusted her swing a bit to feature a higher contact point, and it’s continued to serve her well. She averaged 2.2 kills per set on .455 hitting plus 0.8 blocks and one service error. 

After starring in the exhibition earlier in the spring, Murray got the start in Nebraska’s second match and struggled a bit. She accounted for all five of Nebraska’s attack errors, hitting into the block twice and hitting long three times. Even so, she once again flashed a huge arm and she bounced back in her one set of action in the third match, terminating on four of her five swings. Overall, she averaged 2.75 kills per set on .261 hitting with three aces and four services errors.

Likewise, Kubik struggled a bit in her start with five errors but followed it up with a perfect set (four swings, four kills) in Nebraska’s third match. Overall she averaged 2.75 kills per set on .316 hitting with an ace.

Cook has had his pins play all six rotations and sub out in the back row for a defensive specialist at various points. No doubt back row play will factor significantly into Cook’s decision for who starts as at least one of the two will likely play six rotations. Batenhorst has a head start over the others in that area after playing six rotations down the stretch last season.

Both opposite hitters have performed terrifically in Brazil to this point with freshman Caroline Jurevicius playing in five sets while Florida transfer Merritt Beason played in four.

Cook mentioned that Beason dealt with some nerves in her first match as a Husker, but last week was a different case. Beason converted 16 of her 21 swings into kills without a single error, which equals out to 4.0 kills per set on .762 hitting. She also notched four blocks in four sets, including a solo stuff, and served up an ace, though she also had four service errors.

The freshman was impressive as well as Jurevicius averaged 2.8 kills per set on .462 hitting plus 0.8 blocks per set. She has a huge arm and put it on display down in Brazil. The daughter of former NFL wide receiver Joe Jurevicius looks to have a very bright future in Lincoln, but I’d expect to see Beason starting and playing all the way around this season.

On the other hand, the middle blocker position looks to be very much up in the air as all three contenders performed exceedingly well in Belo Horizonte. Freshman Andi Jackson actually played the most of any Husker outside the defense specialist group with seven sets played. Maggie Mendelson played in six sets while returning starter Bekka Allick played in five. As a trio, they combined for 47 kills on 67 attempts with just four attack errors, for a hitting percentage of 64.2%.

Like she did in the spring match, Jackson terminated at an incredibly high rate, finishing second on the team with 18 kills (2.57 per set) on .571 hitting plus a team-best 1.14 blocks per set.

Allick, too, picked up where she left off in the spring match, averaging 3.4 kills per set on .577 hitting and 1.0 block per set. She also served up four aces with just one error.

Mendelson doesn’t explode off the ground quite like the other two middles, but she’s been the most efficient of the three so far. Mendelson averaged 2.0 kills per set, terminating on every swing she took except for one for a .923 hitting percentage. She also averaged 1.0 block per set and looks to be progressing steadily now that she’s focusing purely on middle blocker rather than doubling at opposite hitter.

At libero, Cook gave Lexi Rodriguez two starts and Laney Choboy one, though I did not attempt to track digs. Rodriguez will be wearing the libero jersey come the fall, but Choboy is spectacular in her own right and has shown that again in Brazil, flying all over the court and diving to the floor to make highlight-reel digs and covers. Having those two share the court as Choboy steps in for the departed Kenzie Knuckles is going to be huge for Nebraska’s defense next season. Maisie Boesiger made an impact as well, playing serving specialist primarily and making the most of her time with three aces.

The bottom line is Cook is going to have some very difficult decisions to make. All of these Huskers look like they can play.

Nebraska will continue its tour if Brazil with a pair of tougher opponents this week. They’ll face the U21 Brazilian National Team on Tuesday and the Military Selection team, featuring some Brazilian National Team players, on Wednesday.

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