With week one of Big Ten play and a 2-0 record under their belts, the 12th-ranked Huskers are heading into week two looking to build off what they accomplished against Northwestern and Iowa.
Last week served as an introduction to Big Ten volleyball for Nebraska’s highly-touted freshman class.
“I think it was just super fun,” Lindsay Krause said. “I think that’s kind of what we’ve been looking forward to this whole time. Coach has been like Big Ten play, how we’ve got to prepare for it and how it’s going to be tough and every single team you play in the Big Ten is going to be tough. So I feel like, overall, we just had fun. We got our first glimpse of what it’s going to be like.”
The debut was a successful one for Krause who took home Big Ten Freshman of the Week after racking up 27 kills on .500 hitting in Nebraska’s two wins. She joined libero Lexi Rodriguez as Husker freshmen honored by the conference as Rodriguez took home the honor after the first week of the season.
“It was super exciting,” Krause said. “I couldn’t have done it without my team behind me and it was super cool that we kind of got our groove back just in time for this Big Ten play. After those few losses, we did a good job of regrouping ourselves and figuring out how we were going to go into this Big Ten conference play, and so I feel like putting that together was really beneficial.”
A players only “come to Jesus” meeting was part of the regrouping efforts, and junior captain Kenzie Knuckles said she’s seen the difference in practice as they’ve honed in on consistently making the effort plays and doing the little things that the program values.
“I think that we’re a lot more focused, and a lot more on each other,” Knuckles said. “We’re a really close team so sometimes it’s hard to say the things that need to be said, but I think we’ve done a really good job of saying those things and not taking them personal and being hard on each other and making sure we hold each other accountable.”
A bright spot from Wednesday’s practice was All-American senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins working with the A-side. Coach John Cook said on Monday that she won’t play until she feels comfortable, but Stivrins continues to ramp up her work load as she returns from offseason back surgery.
“It’s really fun,” Knuckles said about having Stivrins back on the court. “I’ve missed playing with her and she just brings this extra competitiveness and spark to the team, so it’s awesome … Just knowing that we have her back and she has that fiery side and that competitive side that’s going to light [a fire] underneath the freshmen and all of us too. It’s just kind of like that relief, like ‘Ah, Lauren’s here.’ So that’s good.”
The Huskers allowed the Wildcats to hit .215 and the Hawkeyes to hit .216 last week. Knuckles said she thought the Huskers played well defensively but will look to step up the execution even more this week.
“There were minor things that we needed to figure out and like little plays that we needed to alter, but other than that I thought we made a huge step up from two weeks ago,” Krause said. “I think there were still little things that we need to fix or work on, but I think we’ve done a really good job this week of trying to fix those things.”
After opening the season with the two teams at the bottom of the Big Ten in opponent hitting percentage, the Huskers will face a a step up in competition this week as they host a Michigan team receiving votes in the AVCA Coaches Poll on Friday night. The Wolverines (8-3, 1-1) are third in the conference defensively as teams are hitting .151 against them this season.
Senior Paige Jones is leading the Michigan attack with 3.79 kills per set on .271 hitting while sophomore Jess Mruzik, the 2019 National Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year and a Big Ten All-Freshman Team member, is adding 3.38 kills per set on .230 hitting. Michigan is hitting .258 overall and is one of the more aggressive serving teams in the Big Ten with 1.64 aces per set (third).
“We know that they’ve got some tough servers and they’ve got some pretty strong outside hitters so we’re just kind of trying to prepare for that to be able to block and dig those hitters,” Krause said.
On Sunday, Nebraska will welcome Michigan State (7-4, 0-2) to town to close out the week. The Spartans are hitting .235 and allowing teams to hit .163. Like the Wolverines, the Spartans are aggressive from the service line with 1.70 aces per set, one spot ahead of Michigan.
Sophomore Sarah Franklin is shouldering a heavy load offensively, leading the Spartans with 3.94 kills per set on .268 hitting. Senior middle blocker Naya Gros is a second in the Big Ten in blocks at 1.79 per game.
Nebraska is also honoring newly inducted Hall of Famers this weekend as well as two of the best teams in program history (2000 and 2001) as part of the program’s Weekend of Champions, and Krause said she’s looking forward to seeing all the former Huskers return.
“It’s super cool to have them all back this weekend,” Krause said. “My dad and I were kind of texting about it; he said that royalty is coming back this weekend. So yeah it’s super cool to have them back and they can see the culture that they helped build is just like still being carried on today.”
First serve against Michigan on Friday is set for 6 p.m. on Big Ten Network. The Michigan State match is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. on Sunday, also on Big Ten Network.
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.