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Nebraska Volleyball's Lauren Stivrins Waits for a Serve from Indiana
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

No. 6 Nebraska, No. 3 Wisconsin to Meet Wednesday in Battle of Big Ten’s Best

October 26, 2021

The top two teams in the Big Ten will take the court at the Devaney Center on Wednesday night as No. 3 Wisconsin (17-1, 9-1 Big Ten) visits No. 6 Nebraska (16-3, 10-0).

Nebraska is first in the Big Ten in hitting in conference play at .283. Wisconsin is second at .273. Nebraska is also first in opponent hitting at .146, besting Wisconsin at No. 2 by a couple tenths of a percent. Nebraska has elevated its game significantly since the nonconference end and is playing on par or better than the Badgers, who have been ranked in the top five nationally all season.

“I think this team is ready,” senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins said. “We’ve matured a lot. We’ve really stepped up our game in a lot of aspects so I think this is going to be a great matchup for us and we’re really excited.”

Wednesday will mark the first meeting between the teams since the 2019 season when the Badgers swept the Huskers all three times they faced each other. COVID-19 concerns resulted in the cancellation of their scheduled matches during the spring 2020-21 season.

Nebraska hasn’t beat Wisconsin since the 2017 season, but Stivrins said there isn’t any extra motivation heading in to end the losing streak. For them, it’s just another match.

“It would be nice to win but I just want to see this team get better, whatever that may look like,” Stivrins. “I think we’re ready for this challenge and I’m excited to see how we stack up against them.”

Stivrins is the only Husker who was on the team for that 2017 victory. She’s faced off against the Badgers five times, and the Badgers have a lot of the same players back from 2019.

“I think they do a good job of keeping the ball off the floor,” Stivrins said. “They’re a very physical team, they’ve got physical hitters, but what they do best is ball control and they’re a very gritty team. They don’t like to let a ball down easy so I think they bring a lot of competitive energy which I hope we can match on Wednesday.”

Coach John Cook said he didn’t spend any time rewatching the matches from 2019 despite the similar personnel.

“It’s ingrained in my head already,” Cook said.

Four-time All-American middle blocker Dana Rettke is back for her super senior year and is once again leading the way for the Badgers, averaging 3.74 kills per set on a Big Ten-leading .496 hitting and 1.38 blocks per set. At 6-foot-8, Rettke has been one of the most dominant forces in college volleyball since she set foot on campus in Madison.

“I just think for her size she moves,” Cook said. “She’s got a great arm and they’re really good at getting her the ball in transition and on off passes, her and Hilley have a great connection. So that’s what makes her unique is she’s very mobile and they can get her the ball and she she’s smart with it.”

Sydney Hilley is the reigning Big Ten Setter of the Year and an All-American who opted for a fifth season as well, and she’s leading the Big Ten with 12.10 assists per set. The Badgers have three other super seniors as well in All-American libero Lauren Barnes (3.98 digs per set), All-Big Ten outside hitter Grace Loberg (.256 kills per set) and defensive specialist Giorgia Civita (2.16 digs per set).

The Badgers suffered a blow early in the season when senior middle blocker Danielle Hart went down with a season-ending knee injury, but a couple off underclassmen have picked up the slack. Sophomore middle blocker/opposite hitter Devyn Robinson is averaging 2.37 kills per set on .325 hitting and outside hitter Julia Orzol, a 6-foot freshman from Poland, is second on the team in kills at 3.48 per set.

“They’ve got some great players,” Cook said. “Hilley’s an All-American, Rettke’s an All-American; those guys are first-team All-Americans. Loberg has been there forever. They have a great freshman from Poland and then Devyn Robinson’s put up numbers that are off the charts. So they’ve got a lot to deal with but we’re excited and let’s go, let’s see what we can do.”

Wisconsin’s lone loss this season came in five sets in the Badgers’ Big Ten opener against Maryland. Wisconsin hit a season low .196 in that match thanks in part to 15 blocks from the Terrapins.

“It was a good match,” Cook said. “Maryland blocked really well — they had a lot of blocks, I don’t remember how many. They got to the fifth game and anything can happen in the fifth game.”

Wisconsin won the serve and pass battle handily in all three meetings in 2019. In Big Ten play, Nebraska is first in service aces per set (1.91) and first in aces surrendered (0.58 per set), and Cook said the Huskers’ serving and defense is something they will need to rely on heading into Wednesday’s showdown.

“The last several last several years, they’ve been at the top in hitting efficiency,” Cook said. “They’ve had a lot of great hitters. So that gives us a chance if we can serve, block and play defense, and we also have to deal with their their defense too and their serve and block. So it’s going to be a great test and we’ll have to get better today and tomorrow and be prepared to deal with their size and their offense.”

Freshman libero Lexi Rodriguez will have to set the tone defensively like she did last week, averaging 5.9 digs per set en route to winning both Big Ten Freshman and Defensive Player of the Week honors. It was her second freshman honor in the last three weeks and third of the season.

“It’s very clear that she is one of the greatest defensive people to pretty much ever come through this program,” Stivrins said. “She’s so talented and we’ve seen that from day one, so it’s no surprise that she keeps getting these accolades and she’s one of those people that really doesn’t care about any of that stuff and just wants to get the ball up. So I think she’s a great addition to this team and I think she’s only going to continue to get better and better each day.”

Wednesday’s match will also feature the Co-Big Ten Setters of the week in Hilley and Nebraska’s Nicklin Hames. First serve from the Devaney Center is set for 8 p.m. on Big Ten Network.

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