Huskers handle Shockers in spring match
By Jeff Sheldon
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LINCOLN — The biggest hitter on the Nebraska volleyball team has been working on a jump-serve for only a couple of months, but Hannah Werth’s new weapon looked like it was past the testing stage Saturday night.
And it was a useful tool for the kind of battle that was unusual to nearly everyone on the court.
Werth unleashed five of Nebraska’s 10 service aces as the Huskers survived the ups and downs of the sideout scoring format in a 15-4, 15-0, 11-15, 15-6 spring exhibition win over Wichita State at the NU Coliseum.
The Springfield, Ill., native tallied a team-high 22 digs for the Huskers and added 12 kills, including several on her notoriously thunderous swings, but she drew the biggest reactions from the crowd of 1,743 with a jump-serve that she has been working on since late last season.
“In practice it feels really good,” Werth said. “I don’t waste a lot of jumping reps with it in practice. Coach kind of limits it so I can save it for the game, but it’s come a long ways. It’s just a lot of feel, a lot of repetition, and a lot of rhythm.”
Nebraska’s offensive rhythm came and went during the extended play caused by the sideout scoring format, in which each team was awarded a point only by winning a rally on its own serve. Husker coach John Cook and Wichita State coach Chris Lamb set up the scrimmage as an ode to the old days of college volleyball, which decided matches in the sideout format until 2001.
Nebraska dominated the first two games, hitting a combined .422 and needing just 35 minutes to take a 2-0 lead.
But Games 3 and 4 showed how sideout volleyball can be a grueling test. The score was tied 1-1 after nine rallies in Game 3, which took 45 minutes to complete. With the Shockers leading 8-7, the teams traded five straight serving errors.
Wichita State eventually prevailed thanks to eight kills by Emily Adney, who finished the match with 14.
“I hope our players take this from this match: When you have a chance to score a point, you’ve got to get it,” Cook said. “In rally scoring, I don’t think there’s as big a sense of urgency to treasure that opportunity to score a point.
“Those games are longer. Mentally, you’re out there grinding. You’ve got to hang in there longer.”
In Game 4, Morgan Broekhuis helped the Huskers hang on long enough for the Shockers to finally let go. The opposite side hitter from Colorado Springs, Colo., had six of her team-high 13 kills in the decisive set, in which at one point, the clubs exchanged 10 straight sideouts.
Cook said the format puts a premium on floor defense. The teams combined for 192 digs.
For Werth, it meant a new appreciation for the fitness of her predecessors who played during the sideout scoring days.
“I think they were in really good shape,” Werth said. “It was really muggy anyway, but I was sweating all over the place.”
The match offered fans their lone chance to see an exhibition in the Coliseum this spring, and the crowd that braved the afternoon thunderstorms got a look at a pair of position battles Nebraska will likely take into fall camp.
Cook said redshirt freshman middle blocker Cecilia Hall is making strides defensively, but still needs to make more progress finding a rhythm in the NU offense. Hall had eight kills and seven blocks Saturday in her bid to compete with senior Allison McNeal and junior Hayley Thramer for starting spots in the middle.
“She’s not trusting it yet, the speed,” Cook said. “She’s used to a little slower sets, and we’re trying to get faster. So it’s a process with her.”
Senior Paige Hubl and sophomore Lara Dykstra each played two sets in the libero jersey as they continued their spring competition for the starting job. Hubl had 10 digs in the first two games while Dykstra, who started all 30 matches as a freshman last fall, recorded 20 recoveries to go with three aces in the final two frames.
“We’re just letting those guys compete. We evaluate each week,” Cook said. “We’re letting them split time and see who’s going to emerge. We want those guys to have to compete.”
Nebraska will play its final match of the spring next Saturday at Iowa State to finish what has been, by all accounts, a satisfying exhibition season.
The veteran Huskers — who could start as many as five seniors next fall — have spent the last five weeks working on the details of success, Werth said. They’re recognizing the cracks that led to disappointing losses in two of the team’s final three matches last season, including an upset defeat at home in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“We’re in a really good place, and I think that we’re at where we need to be right now,” Werth said. “I’m not saying we’re at our peak, but spring is a good time to stay even-keeled. We’ve been doing a great job of that.”