No. 2 Nebraska passed its first real test of the season on Wednesday night, beating No. 17 Creighton in five sets in front of a record-setting crowd at CHI Health Center Omaha to improve to 6-0.
A Celebration of Volleyball in Nebraska
We knew by Monday afternoon that Wednesday’s match was going to break the NCAA regular season volleyball-only attendance record, the only question was by how much. That answer turned out to be “by a lot.”
The official announced attendance was 15,797, shattering the record Creighton and Nebraska set in 2018 of 14,022.
“It was awesome,” Coach John Cook said. “There’ve been so many great matches up here in Omaha and this reminded me of 2018 when we went five. I don’t know, this is a great venue for volleyball and Nebraska fans love it. And I think this sets up another epic battle next year. Maybe we look at going to PBA; I’m not promising Trev right now we’re going to do that, but this is going to get people fired up about volleyball. Again, it’s a celebration of volleyball in this state.”
Creighton and Nebraska put on a show for the national audience on FS1, but they are just two of many teams from this state who are competing at a high level, which Cook made sure to note.
“From little kids all the way up to Division I college volleyball — You look at Wayne State is now ranked No. 5 in Division II, Kearney seventh, UNO had a huge win this past weekend,” Cook said. “You’ve got Creighton and Nebraska putting on a show like this. Great high school volleyball. Iowa Western won the junior college national championship last year. It’s unbelievable from a state of 1.8 million people that we have this level of volleyball. And the other great thing, how many Nebraska girls were on the court tonight? So it’s pretty impressive; in some ways it’s mind boggling.”
To answer Cook’s question, there were 10 Nebraska natives between the two teams including six who played in the match. Papillion-La Vista graduate Norah Sis and Gretna grad Sky McCune both started for the Jays while Waverly products Whitney Lauenstein, Bekka Allick and Anni Evans and Omaha Skutt alumna Lindsay Krause played for the Huskers.
Lauenstein said the only word she could come up with describe the atmosphere was “surreal.”
“It was awesome,” Lauenstein said. “That’s what you go to Nebraska for, the fans.”
Krause, a Papillion native, is no stranger to the CHI Health Center, though despite all her previous experiences in the building she came up with the same word as her teammate to describe the atmosphere on Wednesday.
“I just came to a lot of matches in this facility,” Krause said. “We were practicing yesterday and I was literally pointing out to my teammates, I was like ‘Hey guys, right there, that section? That’s where my dad has season basketball tickets just for fun.’ I remember coming to this match in 2018 when it was here, the Creighton versus Nebraska match, and the Final Fours and everything. So it’s just so surreal, like Whit said. To get to have this match and be on the court, it’s a feeling like no other.”
Each of the top 13 regular season volleyball-only crowd totals in NCAA history took place in the state of Nebraska, and Krause said she was honored to be a part of the match that now tops the list.
“It’s an amazing moment,” Krause said. “I remember coming to this match last year and thinking I don’t care if this person is wearing blue or wearing red, they’re all coming to watch a volleyball match and we’re playing a volleyball match in an 18,000 capacity arena for not a Final Four. We’re just playing each other. So that is such an amazing thing and I am so happy about that. No matter who is playing, to have that big of a crowd at a women’s sports match is very fulfilling.”
That being said, it was a shame to see that FOX moved the match from FS1 to FS2 midway through the fourth set to clear the air for baseball. There were likely contractual obligations that impacted the decision, but it’s a shame to see these two talented teams jump through hoops to get the match on national television with a 5 p.m. CT start time only to have it moved to a lesser channel before its conclusion. That match deserved better and the hard-capped two-and-a-half-hour scheduled window showed that volleyball still has a ways to go in terms of how it is treated nationally.
Speaking of amazing moments, Sis made one of her own prior to the match. During starting lineup introductions, instead of tossing her mini volleyball into the stands, the dynamic sophomore jogged up to the net and rolled hers across the court to Krause on the opposite baseline.
Sis and Krause are best friends who grew up playing together on the same club team and competing against each other for their high school squads.
“We were actually talking about it a lot before the game,” Krause said. “I told her that if she did it, I was going to be really mad at her. But she finally did and she wrote a little message on it for me. But it was really fun and we love these matches. It’s so much fun that we get to play against each other and we really miss getting to share the court. This is the closest thing that we get to it so we really take advantage and cherish that.”
That message? In part, it said “Please don’t block me.”
“It was really special to play against her and in that big of an environment,” Sis said. “We both played for Premier, we had a lot of Premier people there which was really cool. I love playing against her. She’s incredibly talented, so I like cheering her on.”
Krause recorded three block assists, but none of them were on Sis’ attacks. She narrowly edged out Sis in kills, 16 to 15, as each of the pins finished second on their respective teams in the match.
Sticking with It
Nebraska rolled out a 6-2 offense for the third straight match with Nicklin Hames starting and Evans rotating in off the bench. The Huskers failed to crack .300 hitting like they did in the previous two matches, but they still finished at .244, a solid mark against a top-20 team.
Hames put up 38 assists and 17 digs while Evans added 25 assists and 17 digs. Lauenstein had a monster match, Krause came on strong late and Madi Kubik was solid, but the big story was what happened with the fourth pin-hitter spot.
Sophomore Ally Batenhorst gave it a go, but Cook said she had to shut it down late in the first set because of abdominal soreness (the same problem that led to Batenhorst sitting out the Red-White Scrimmage). That thrust true freshman Hayden Kubik into the spotlight as the fourth pin, and she acquitted herself well with six kills on .250 hitting and five digs.
“It’s pretty good,” Cook said about the 6-2. “It was a bummer Ally didn’t go, so that threw Hayden in there, but Hayden stepped up. That’s what I told them, it’s a team game. That’s why we rotate them in practice, but I don’t think Hayden was ever thinking she was playing tonight. That’s what she looked like when she first went in, she looked like she didn’t know what was going on. But she stepped up. I’ve seen her do that in practice a lot, so it didn’t surprise me. We just had to get her to do it.”
Nebraska’s four main pins combined to match Creighton’s entire team with 61 kills on .282 hitting with Lauenstein’s career-high 25 kills leading the way.
“We’re all just so proud of each other,” Krause said. “It’s amazing to see. I feel like, especially running a 6-2, Coach even made a point where it’s good to run a 6-2, but in order to run a 6-2 you have to have four great pin hitters. And so the fact that we have that on our team and we have so many great hitters and so many great players that we’re able to run offenses like this, it’s just so amazing to watch. I love getting to be on the bench and watching these people succeed before I get to go in. It’s so much fun.”
Cook said he never considered changing their system after losing Batenhorst, showing his confidence in the younger Kubik just two-and-a-half weeks into her career.
The tests will continue to come next week as Nebraska faces two more top-20 teams in No. 11 Stanford and No. 14 Kentucky, but it looks like Cook might have found something that works for this roster with the two-setter system.
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.