After two-and-a-half weeks traveling across Asia, the Nebraska volleyball team has returned to Lincoln.
The Huskers’ 17-day tour of Japan and China, designed to challenge the team in many ways and bring the players closer together, came to an end on Tuesday. In addition to seeing the sights and experiencing the culture, the Huskers also got to play a little volleyball. Coach John Cook wasn’t too worried about wins and losses heading into the trip, but all things considered, Nebraska fared pretty well on the court as well.
Overall, the Huskers won eight sets and lost 10 in official scrimmages, and also got in plenty of training and extra scrimmage sets that weren’t statted. Cook opted to roll with his normal lineup for some of the matches but also sat some of his veterans in others, giving younger players a chance to see the court.
The Huskers began their tour in Osaka, Japan, before heading to Kobe to take on reigning two-time Japanese League champion Hisamitsu Springs in a scrimmage, though the Huskers did not track stats in that one.
After that, the Huskers traveled to square off against the Toray Arrows in a pair of matches on June 20 and 21. In the first match, Nebraska fell 0-2 (25-17, 25-17) while playing a young lineup. Sophomore outside hitter Capri Davis led the Huskers with seven kills. One bright spot was the defensive effort at the net as the Huskers recorded 11 blocks as a team.
"We did a really good job blocking but struggled with attack and sideout,” Cook said.
The Huskers bounced back to beat Toray 2-1 (20-25, 25-21, 27-25) with a full lineup. The Arrows were on the brink of victory, leading 24-21, when Cook subbed outside hitter/middle blocker Anezka Szabo into the match and the junior affectionately known as the Block Nesh Monster recored three straight stuffs to tie up the match.
"It was a really, really high-level match," Cook said. "The Huskers did a nice job of competing and playing some really good volleyball. Anezka was huge coming in that third set and stuffing three attempts."
Junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins, who Cook is looking to as a leader for this young team, led the way with 11 kills on .364 hitting. Junior opposite hitter Jazz Sweet chipped in nine kills on .474 hitting. Freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles posted 15 digs and junior outside hitter Lexi Sun had five blocks while matching up with a tough opponent for Toray, earning praise from Cook for her defensive effort.
After that, the Huskers packed up and continued on to China for the second part of their trip.
Nebraska faced off against Shanghai Bright Ubest, the third-place finisher in the Chinese Super League last season, on June 24 and win in five sets (25-23, 25-17, 20-25, 21-25, 15-11). Cook got everyone in the match to gain some experience and a lot of different players contributed.
"I believe this is the first time we’ve ever won at the Shanghai gym," Cook said. "Everybody played in the match, and it was a great team effort. Nicklin Hames set the first two sets, and then Nicole Drewnick set the last three. We were really solid in every area to win the match."
Davis led the way with 14 kills while freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik added 13. The Huskers got strong production from their middles as Stivrins had seven kills on .600 hitting with six blocks and sophomore Callie Schwarzenbach had five kills on .571 hitting and five blocks.
The Huskers out-blocked Shanghai 12-6 as freshman outside hitter Riley Zuhn also notched four blocks. Nebraska served tough as well with 10 aces and just seven errors.
"Kenzie Knuckles and [sophomore defensive specialist] Megan Miller did an exceptional job digging balls," Cook said. "They made several big plays to keep rallies alive, and we won some big rallies."
The following day, the Huskers fell 2-1 (25-23, 17-25, 25-21) in a rematch with Shanghai Bright Ubest. Sun and 15 kills on .400 hitting while Davis contributed nine kills. Stivrins recorded five blocks while Knuckles posted a game-high 16 digs.
Following that match, the Huskers hopped on a train for an all-night ride to Tianjin that Cook called one of the most valuable parts of the trip when he previewed the tour with the media.
The Huskers trained with Tianjin Bahai Bank for two days — which including a handful of unofficial scrimmage sets.
"We drilled with Tianjin, and the drills have been competitive drills," Cook said. "The first day, we did our practice drills, and the second day we did their drills. It's been great. We've learned a lot about how teams train in different ways. We also played about 10-12 sets against Tianjin over the last two days and won three or four. I did a coaches clinic here in Tianjin, and that was a neat experience. Now we're taking a bus from Tianjin to Beijing, and we'll play their professional team [Baic Motor] on Sunday morning here, which will be Saturday night in Lincoln."
The Huskers closed out their exhibition schedule with a match against reigning Chinese league champion Beijing Baic Motor in Beijing on Sunday. Beijing won 3-2 (13-25, 14-25, 26-24, 25-20, 15-6) but the Huskers took a 2-0 lead while playing at full strength before sitting some veterans and letting the younger players finish the match.
"It was a good match for us," Cook said. "We had a great chance to win it in three sets, but we just couldn't quite get there.”
Kubik, who enrolled early and participated in the beach season and Nebraska’s spring exhibition against Colorado State, led the Huskers with 19 kills on .394 hitting. Sun had seven kills and Sweet added five on .800 hitting. Stivrins (.700 hitting) and Schwarzenbach (.429) had five kills apiece while Zuhn and Davis chipped in three blocks apiece. Knuckles finished with 12 digs.
You can look back through the trip with photos, videos and journal entries from the Huskers here.
The Red-White Scrimmage is set for Aug. 24 and Nebraska’s season-opener against in-state foe Creighton is scheduled for Aug. 30.
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.