After playing their first top-25 opponent last week up in Omaha, Nebraska’s schedule ramps up even more in the last week of the nonconference as the Huskers will host No. 9 Stanford on Tuesday before traveling to No. 13 Kentucky on Sunday.
“As I’ve been saying, the ante goes up every week and it goes up more this week,” Coach John Cook said. “We’re playing two teams that are highly ranked and and we’ve got to have these tests to prepare for the Big Ten. I’ve liked how our schedule has gone and how it’s built, and this is a big week for us in learning how to win against great teams.”
The Huskers and Cardinal have plenty of shared history. Stanford has won the last four meetings including a four-set win at Stanford last season. Prior to that, the teams met in Lincoln in 2019 (a 3-1 Cardinal victory) in the wake of the locker room picture situation that followed Stanford’s five-set win over Nebraska in the 2018 national championship.
“I think it was more of a big deal freshman year when they came here and played us right after the [championship match],” Madi Kubik said. “I think we’ve had a little bit of distance from them in the last couple of years, but it’s still going to be a great match and we’re very excited for it.”
This will be middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord’s first match against Stanford in a Nebraska jersey, but not her first overall. She played against the Cardinal five times during her four years at Penn State.
“I’m actually really excited because I’ve never beaten Stanford before,” Hord said. “So have that picking me up, that fire behind my back. So I’m really excited to play them in a new uniform.”
Despite Penn State’s 0-5 record, Hord played at a high level in those matches as she averaged 3.0 kills per set on .387 hitting and 1.56 blocks per set in those meetings.
The Nittany Lions finally broke through and took down the Cardinal last Friday, and Hord was watching from afar. She planned to FaceTime with one of her former teammates on Monday night to potentially get the “inside scoop.”
“They’re big,” Hord said. “Everyone’s like 6-2 and above at the net, so I think that’s going to be something we haven’t seen yet. Everybody’s a really good athlete, and so I think it’ll be a nice little challenge for us, but I think we can handle it.”
Like Nebraska with Whitney Lauenstein, Stanford’s opposite hitter has led the way offensively this season as Kendall Kipp, a 6-foot-5 senior, is leading the team at 4.0 kills per set on .275 hitting to go with 1.04 blocks per set and 0.43 aces per set.
“She’s a great player and she hits all over the court, front row and back row,” Cook said. “So she’s getting a lot a lot of swings. She plays like a true opposite in the men’s game — those guys are in there to hit and block and they don’t have to pass. She plays defense, obviously, but she’s a very good defensive player for her size. And she gets a lot of swings; I think if you look at their stats and she’s got almost twice as much as the next person. But that’s because she’s basically hitting six rotations.”
Stanford’s two starting outside hitters, Caitie Baird (3.05 kills per set) and Ella Rubin (2.09 kills per set), are both hitting under .200 this season, but 6-foot-6 middle blocker Sami Francis is averaging 2.09 kills per set on .427 hitting and 1.65 blocks per set as the Cardinal are currently 11th in the country at 2.93 blocks per set.
No. 1 Texas handed Stanford its other loss in three sets on Sept. 4. The Cardinal (4-2 overall) also have wins over No. 6 Minnesota and No. 16 Florida.
“They have a really good team,” Kubik said. “They just beat Minnesota I think the other day, so we’re going to have our hands full with them a little bit. But I think we’re excited to scout them and get to play a good team.”
Kubik eclipsed a milestone during Saturday’s win against Long Beach State, recording her 1000th career kill on set point in game two. She’s the 24th player in program history to reach that mark.
“I think it’s really cool,” Kubik said. “It’s funny because Coach texted me and he was like, ‘Congrats on 1000 kills; big girl club’s 1000 kills, 1000 digs’, and I was like, ‘All right.’ So just kind of funny that that was his his response to it, but it’s really cool. I don’t think a lot of people have done that.”
Kubik has accumulated 755 digs during her four-year starting career with 22 matches to go in the regular season. Reaching 1,000 will likely be difficult because of the abbreviated 2020-21 season, but Kubik has still put together an impressive career and is off to a strong start this season with 3.43 kills per set on .300 hitting.
Kubik said she’s looking forward to the final week of the nonconference, even with the unusual schedule with four days between matches.
“I think it’ll be a really good challenge for us,” Kubik said. “I think the schedule is a little bit weird doing a Tuesday-Sunday. But I guess it’ll give us an opportunity to recover from our Tuesday match and then get on the road and be there in Kentucky to play well there too. So I think we’re excited for the next couple days.”
Cook said the Huskers will take Wednesday off before getting back in the gym to prepare for Kentucky on Thursday, and they’ll have to take Monday off next week as well. However, he said the players are used to their schedule changing from week to week.
First serve on Tuesday is set for 7 p.m. on Big Ten Network with Larry Punteney and Emily Ehman on the call.
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.