The six newcomers including five freshmen might have been the biggest source of intrigue for fans leading up to Saturday night’s Red/White Scrimmage, but it was a player making her second appearance at the Devaney Center who stole the show.
Lauren Stivrins, a 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman middle blocker from Scottsdale, Arizona, led all players with 16 kills as the Red squad, made up primarily of the returners and projected starters, took down the White team 3-1.
Stivrins hit .538, committing just two errors all night while recording seven blocks and three service aces in front of 6,028 fans.
“She’s worked really hard to get in this position,” Coach john Cook said. “She’s at our M-1 spot, meaning she’s next to the setter. You saw tonight how good she is in transition of getting up, getting available, getting behind as the play’s going really fast. That’s why you get her 26 balls. I thought she did a really nice job. She managed some really tough sets tonight and still kept it in. She also has a really good serve. Once she settled down she ran some big points in serving too. She’s a good volleyball player.”
The upstart white team featuring four freshmen, a former basketball player and an assistant coach took it to the Red squad in the first set as the Red struggled to find any kind of rhythm offensively, committing 10 attack errors.
White pulled away after the media timeout for a 25-19 win behind six first-set kills by freshman outside hitter Anezka Szabo.
“I don’t care how long you’ve played volleyball, how many national championships, Big Ten championships you have, this Red/White game is nerve-wracking for our players,” Cook said. “The first game I think you saw all the nerves coming out. I saw stuff I haven’t seen all training. They slowly worked through it.”
Red woke up in the second set, however, dominating on its way to a 25-13 win that evened the match at one set apiece. After starting out slow with one kill and four errors on her first nine swings, new captain Annika Albrecht recorded a kill on three of her last five swings of the second set. Stivrins had five kills on six swings after managing just one kill on five attempts (with two errors) in the first.
“I think we came together more as a team, talked about what we needed to fix, came together more after each play and we started communicating a lot more which definitely helped,” Stivrins said. “We figured that we play this team every day in practice; why is it any different? We should focus on the game and not what’s going on around us.”
Red looked to be in position to roll to another easy win in the third set, jumping out to a 19-13 lead, but the White team rallied with a 4-0 run to make it a one-point game. The sides battled back and forth but White wasn’t able to get over the hump and even the match, staving off one set point before falling 25-23.
White got off to a good start in the fourth set with an early 5-1 lead, but Red tied it up at 7-all with a 4-0 run. White responded with a 3-0 run of its own to regain control and held the lead until Red tied it again at 13-13.
Red took its first lead of the set at 15-14, White took it right back and Red jumped back in front for good with a 10-2 run to end the match.
Junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke added a double-double for the Red squad, finishing with 11 kills, 12 digs and four blocks.
“Mikaela was really good tonight,” Cook said. “I was really impressed with her in the back row tonight. This is her first time playing six rotations, but she just looked really comfortable.”
Albrecht was strong in the back row (12 digs) and from the service line (four aces) as usual, but struggled bit as a hitter, finishing with six kills and seven errors. Cook said she was a bit too fired up and tried to do too much, but isn’t worried about his new captain.
“Anni is a really hard worker, she is very honest and is able to pretty much say how she feels and is not worried about somebody being mad at her,” Cook said. “I think our team really respects her because of that. She’s very honest in what she says and she doesn’t mess around; she’s just very straight-forward. I just think our team really respects her. She’s a little under-sized, but she works her tail off. She’s somebody they can all talk to. She knows what has to happen and needs to happen. so she has a great sense of that. I wanted to give Kelly some help and Anni was the one that we all kind of agreed on.”
Albrecht said the honor, which Cook revealed earlier on the day on Saturday, came as a surprise to her, though Stivrins said it was “very well deserved.”
“I walked into the locker room for practice and Coach had put plaques on my locker,” Albrecht said. “It was pretty cool. It’s a really big honor and it’s something I’ve been working for. It was just pretty exciting.”
True freshman outside hitter Anezka Szabo led the White team with 15 kills, drawing more sets than anybody else with 46 swings on the night. She added five digs and two blocks as well.
“Anezka did a nice job tonight,” said Cook, who coached the Red team during the scrimmage. “She beat on us pretty good.”
One thing that stood out to Cook was the confidence behind Szabo’s swings despite it being her first chance to play in front of the fans.
“She’s been doing it in practice, she’s been doing it the whole time she’s been here,” Cook said. “She’s like a different player than what I saw in club. She’s really blossoming. I had no idea how she’d do tonight, but she looked really comfortable out there. She is a huge block. One of the reasons Anni struggled tonight is she hasn’t hit against that block. Anezka is a very big, physical block and she’s really disciplined.”
The Huskers played without senior setter Kelly Hunter, the team’s other captain, as she continues to rehab from an offseason injury. Cook revealed after the game that Hunter will miss at least one of Nebraska first two matches next weekend as she has not been cleared to play in back-to-back games.
The season begins on Friday as Nebraska travels to Gainesville, Florida to participate in the VERT Challenge.
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.