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 outside hitter.
Nebraska has a lot of stability at setter and middle blocker, but with Foecke’s departure, outside hitter is a different story.
“Our really big question mark and probably the theme this year is obviously now we know what a great player Mikaela Foecke was,” Cook said. “She’s in the hunt to go to the Olympics as, if you want to call it, a freshman; that’s unheard of at that level. So who is going to step up and take that? Ask me that in a few months and I’ll tell you. We’ve got Capri Davis, Lexi Sun, Jazz Sweet, all those guys are in, who’s going to take over that responsibility and who wants to do that under pressure? We are going to get tested. In our conference and our nonconference schedule, we are going to get plenty of opportunities to work on that.”
Foecke’s accomplishments as a Husker would take a couple of paragraphs to list in full, but it’s worth running over her numbers from last season to illustrate just what the Huskers have to replace: 3.86 kills per set, .317 hitting, 2.65 digs per set, 46 aces. She was a First Team All-American and All-Big Ten First Teamer for good reason.
Lexi Sun, who transferred to Nebraska after spending her freshman year at Texas, is Nebraska’s returning leader in kills per set and was tabbed as a preseason All-Big Ten performer on Monday. As a sophomore, she averaged 3.11 kills per set but hit just .195 as she struggled with consistency.
Sun added 2.69 digs per set and notched 10 double-doubles as she made the transition to playing all six rotations, which was one of the primary reasons she chose Nebraska as her transfer destination.
“I think that playing with the players I did last year and having those people around me, it definitely gave me confidence and helped me learn and grow and kind of get some confidence in the back row,” Sun said. “So I think it’s just bringing that over into this season and improving every day and keep working at it.”
Cook said he wants to see Sun improve “everything.”
“Learn how to play Nebraska volleyball,” Cook said. “I think Lexi’s played Lexi volleyball her whole life and she’s very talented, but she has to play within our system and more disciplined, be able to understand how we play and she can’t dominate people anymore like she could before. That’s what Mikaela learned; Mikaela thought she could just pound the ball on everybody but at our level and in our league, you’ve got to be smart and understand how to play the game.
“I’ve seen tremendous progress from her and she’s worked really hard. I’m excited to see what she can do. I think the other thing is carry a passing role. Mikaela for two years never passed and we’re asking Lexi now, she passed last year and now to carry more of a passing role as a junior. That’s something we’ve challenged her to work on.”
With a year of experience in the program, Sun said she has a much better understanding of what Nebraska volleyball truly is.
“I think that year, just kind of understanding and looking up to the seniors and upperclassmen of what it looks like to play Nebraska volleyball, I think that I definitely have a better idea and have a year under my belt to hopefully help me and improve on that for sure,” Sun said.
Last year, an injury limited Sun throughout the offseason and kept her out of the lineup for most of the nonconference slate.
“I think that having the preseason training and preseason matches is definitely going to help,” Sun said. “It was a bummer missing them last season but I’m excited to be back and healthy.”
Capri Davis appeared in 26 matches with three starts as a freshman last year. With Sun unavailable to start the season, Davis got plenty of playing time early and took double-digit swings in six of her first seven matches. Once Sun was cleared to play, Davis was used primarily as a spark off the bench. She averaged 1.14 kills per set on .171 hitting.
Davis was the star of the show in Saturday’s Red-White Scrimmage, finishing with a match-high 18 kills on .467 hitting while playing two sets with the White team (the B side) and one with the Red team (the starters).
“If she plays like that she’ll be on the court,” Cook said. “But Capri’s got to do that every day. My metaphor on that one is as an investor, I don’t gamble on the stock market; I pick something I know what I’m going to get every day.That’s what coaches like, I like. I want to see consistency. But she put on a show.”
Madi Kubik, a 6-foot-3 hitter from West Des Moines, Iowa, was the top-rated player in Nebraska’s 2019 recruiting class as PrepVolleyball.com tabbed her as the No. 4 recruit in the country. She was one of two freshmen who enrolled early and participated in the beach season and Nebraska’s spring exhibition against Colorado State in McCook. She’s making a strong case to start from day one.
“I think she brings a lot of different shots,” Jazz Sweet said. “She’s had some USA experience so she’s definitely played at a high level and she knows how to hit at a high level. She also played with a lot of top recruits in the nation so I’m sure she took things from them and took things from watching us, watching Foecke. She’s doing a really great job.”
Kubik has also shown the ability to play all six rotations. She posted 15 kills in the spring exhibition win over Colorado State and she played the first two sets with the Red team in the Red-White Scrimmage before swapping sides with Davis for the third game.
Riley Zuhn, a 6-foot-5 freshman from Fort Collins, Colorado, could play either middle blocker or outside hitter and has been splitting her reps in practice almost evenly between the two positions.
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.