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No. 3 Huskers Hit Road Again to face No. 12 Purdue, Illinois

October 18, 2022

After a brief two-match home stand, Nebraska is set to begin a three-match road swing on Wednesday, the first of three straight weeks featuring a mid-week match.

Nebraska will play on Wednesday and Saturday the next two weeks before a Wednesday-Sunday match schedule to open November.

“I would prefer to play Friday-Saturday just because we have a whole week to train,” Coach John Cook said. “But it’s an advantage because you just prepare for one team, you go in there and give it all you’ve got and then you’ve got a couple of days to recuperate for the next one. So there are advantages and disadvantages to both schedules. The worst schedule, though, is playing on Sunday because it blows up the whole week.”

Because of the Sunday match against Northwestern, Nebraska took Monday off. Cook said he challenged his team a little bit to get the blood flowing again, then the Huskers hopped on the plane to head to West Lafayette for Wednesday’s match against No. 12 Purdue.

Yorktown, Indiana, native Kenzie Knuckles said she’s looking forward to playing at Holloway Gymnasium for multiple reasons.

“It’s kind of fun,” Knuckles said about Purdues arena. “It kind of has like a homey vibe and the crowd kind of sits right on top of you a little bit how Devaney is. So it’s kind of nice, and my family’s going to be there because I’m from Indiana, so I’m excited about that.”

Capacity at Holloway Gymnasium is just over 2,200 for a program that is fielding what has become a perennial top-25 team.

“It reminds me of a small high school gym somewhere in Nebraska,” Cook said. “But they do a great job there. It seats like 2000 and they fill it, the students section is great there. There’s just not a lot of room, which is great. There’s a great energy in there which, I think, helps us feed off that.” 

Cook and Knuckles both said Nebraska prefers playing in front of packed, engaged crowds because it’s more comparable to what they’re used to with the Devaney Center than bigger, empty arenas. 

“The difference is it’s one of the few gyms left that we play on wood, so we had to get them on the wood here today to get them used to that,” Cook said. “What they need to think about is could they draw 5,000 if they they had a bigger gym? In some ways they are limiting their growth. A lot of other Big Ten schools are building arenas to try to draw more people. Wisconsin’s expanding, Minnesota expanded and remodeled, Ohio State built a new arena, Michigan State’s now in the Breslin — I mean, they had 7000 the other night. Volleyball is growing; the Big Ten schools have got to grow with it.”

The Boilermakers stumbled their last time out, losing to Maryland in three sets on their own court to fall to 6-2 in Big Ten play and 15-3 overall. 

“Maryland just played well,” Cook said. “They did what Maryland does well. I told our team after we played Maryland, ‘That’s a good team; we’re going to have to play better when they come to Devaney.’ They played great, they served tough and they blocked really well and got Purdue way out of their comfort zone.”

Purdue’s other losses were to top-10 teams in Louisville and Wisconsin, and the Boilermakers opened conference play with a sweep over another top-10 team in Minnesota. They’re sixth in the Big Ten in both hitting (.251) and opponent hitting (.187).

“I think something that Purdue has always been great at is just being really scrappy and defensively always keeping the ball up along with they do have the freshmen outside that’s been really good this year, and all their other attackers have been good in the past as well,” Knuckles said. “So I think just really focusing on that they’re going to be scrappy, they’re going to get balls up, and there is going to be a bunch of rallies and just how to work to win those rallies.” 

That freshman outside is Eva Hudson, who is leading the Big Ten in kills per set at 4.68 on .285 hitting. The 6-foot-1 pin from Fort Wayne, Indiana, may have run into the freshman wall recently as she’s hit under .200 in her past four matches, but she has scored 10-plus kills in every match this season and is still averaging 4.50 kills on .245 hitting through her first eight Big ten matches.

“She moves it around, she has a lot of different shots, they set her a ton of balls,” Cook said. “I’m just thinking if one of our hitters had that many swings, who could even handle that load? And she’s a freshman. So she’s doing a nice job. They set of everywhere, so she’s getting a lot of swings from the front row and back row.”

Raven Colvin, a 6-foot-1 sophomore middle blocker, is second on the team in kills per set with 2.21 on .309 hitting and first in both blocks (1.29) and aces (0.38) per set. Senior libero Maddie Schermerhorn is leading the Big Ten in digs per set with 4.37, narrowly ahead of Nebraska’s Lexi Rodriguez in second place.

“I think we’re really excited and Purdue is always just a fun match because I think in regards to how we play volleyball is very similar, I’d say,” Knuckles said. “Really taking pride in our defense and hitting high and not necessarily hitting balls straight down but Nebraska is known for hitting the high shots and all of that stuff, and I feel like Purdue does that as well. So I think it’s always just fun playing Purdue because they play kind of similar to the way we do.”

First serve is schedule for 7 p.m. CT Wednesday on Big Ten Network.

After the match, the Huskers will spend a couple more days back at home before hitting the road again to head to Champaign for a Saturday meeting with Illinois (9-9, 4-4 Big Ten). The Illini have been middle of the pack in both offense (.225, eighth) and defense (.199, 10th). However, Illinois is one of the better teams in the league when it comes to the service game, ranking fourth in both aces (1.68 per game) and aces surrendered (1.09). Chris Tamas’ squad is 0-7 against ranked teams this season, though the Illini did push both Purdue and Wisconsin to five sets.

Junior outside hitter Terry Raina is fourth in the Big Ten in kills at 3.91 per set on .225 hitting and third in service aces (0.45 per set). Senior opposite Jessica Nunge is averaging 3.05 kills per set on .222 hitting while senior setter Diana Brown is third in the Big Ten with 10.44 assists per set.

First serve on Saturday is set for 6 p.m., also on Big Ten Network.

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