The Red-White Scrimmage is officially in the books and next up for Nebraska volleyball is the season opener. To get you ready for the 2019 season, Hail Varsity is going position by position to bring you in-depth analysis of the Nebraska roster. Next up is a look at the situation at opposite hitter.
Nebraska has a pair of lefties that play primarily on the right side in veteran Jazz Sweet and back-up Anezka Szabo.
Sweet, a junior from Topeka, Kansas, made the All-Big Ten Freshman Team in 2017 and started 33 matches last season as a sophomore. She averaged 2.24 kills per set but only hit .205, down from .273 as a freshman. With Foecke gone, Sweet is one of the players Cook is looking to for more production.
“Stepping up and having a bigger role and being a go-to player,” Cook said. “That’s about establishing confidence with the setters that they’re going to set her when it matters and the game’s on the line. I also think Jazz senses that. She wants to have a bigger role by being a six-rotation player so we’ll see if she can do that. Again, remember Mikaela for two years was just a three-rotation so that’s the carrot we’ve been dangling for her.
“And then I want to see her have a bigger impact with her team. She’s one of our older players now, she’s won a national championship, she’s been very close, so she knows what it takes. Can she make her teammates around her better? That’s going to be a big step for her.”
The desire to play in the back row and be a six-rotation player was what drove Sweet’s work during the offseason.
“I think I just really focused on everything I really need to put into being a six-rotational player,” Sweet said. “I took the skills aways that Foecke used and other things like that, things that Kenzie did. So I just really tried to improve my all-around game, how I can help the team the most.”
As one of the more experienced players on the team, Sweet also said she’s going to do whatever she can to help captains Lauren Stivrins and Nicklin Hames in the leadership department.
“That’s a lot to carry on yourself for two people, so as much as I can take away from them, take some pressure off and just let them have fun and play,” Sweet said.
Sweet is a strong blocker but hasn’t quite reached full-time six-rotation status yet with her serving, passing and defense on a consistent basis. During the Red-White Scrimmage, defensive specialist Megan Miller subbed in for her in the back row for the first two sets. Sweet struggled overall in the scrimmage, finishing with 5 kills on .200 hitting, two digs, one assist, one ace and two errors.
Behind her is Szabo, a redshirt sophomore from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who is affectionately known as the Block Nesh Monster by her teammates. Because of her blocking ability and the team’s lack of depth inside, Cook moved her to middle blocker last season before an injury knocked her out for the season after playing in just nine matches. She’s healthy now, though, and Cook has moved her back to opposite hitter for 2019.
“Anezka will be back at her natural spot,” Cook said. “That’s one regret I had last year was moving her in the middle because it’s just tough on a lefty and then she got hurt, so it was tough. The good thing is she’s come back and physically she’s better than she was a year ago at this time. It’s been good. She’s worked really hard.”
Szabo was granted a medical redshirt for last season, maintaining that year of eligibility.
Cook prefers to play southpaws at opposite hitter if he has them and Sweet is a two-year starter, but he also has the flexibility with his depth at left side hitter to experiment with some different lineups if Sweet doesn’t have a bounce-back season.
Lexi Sun and Madi Kubik are both playing all six rotations and one of them (likely Sun) could slide over to the right side if Capri Davis, who has come on strong in practice recently and put down 18 kills in the Red-White Scrimmage, shows Cook that she deserves to be on the floor. Or, as Lauren West suggested in this week’s Lo-Down, Davis could simply slide into the opposite hitter herself. Cook is also still trying to find where freshman Riley Zuhn fits best between hitter and middle blocker, and how she might fit into the equation has yet to be determined.
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.