Iowa State came to town having played two matches in the prior two days (losing to Creighton in 4 on Friday and sweeping Wichita State on Saturday) while Nebraska was idle, lying in wait having won a momentum building come from behind victory on Thursday. Add to that the fact that the crowd was jacked that one of the all-timers, Sarah Pavan, was getting her jersey retired, and everything pointed to a fast start for the good guys.
Instead, the Huskers came out in the 1st set and matched the Cyclone’s lethargy, point for point. In what has become a disturbing trend (the only match I can think of a good start in the 1st set is the Wake annihilation), the team had a sluggish 1st set overall. Fortunately, whenever Iowa State would gain some momentum, the Cyclone’s would suffer a self-inflicted wound, often in the form of a serving error. The self-inflicted errors occurred often enough to allow the Huskers to escape with a competitive, but sloppy, 1st set victory.
And while Foecke never got untracked, the rest of the team gradually warmed up and after an even start to the 2nd set, the Huskers started to put distance between themselves and their opponents in the later part of sets 2 and set 3. There was a block of points in the 3rd set where everything was seemingly clicking: tough serving, great digging & passing, offensive balance (Stivrins was much more involved offensively in this match) and very few attack errors despite the fact many of the rallies were long (Iowa State was doing a decent job of keeping the ball off the floor on their side). Probably the best volleyball Nebraska has played up to this point in the season, despite Foecke not being the focal point, and resulted in a 20-8 lead in the third. It should be pointed out the radio announcers were not as impressed with the play in the 3rd set as I was.
With Foecke having a substandard offensive game, Sweet and Davis picked up the slack. Sweet was extremely efficient and had no attack errors, and is rounding into All-Conference form. Sweet even got a chance to serve and play the back row in the 3rd set. Foecke DID serve tough and made several good digs, so she impacted the match in other ways.
Davis was more error prone than Sweet, but also showed increased touch and repertoire in her offensive arsenal. She continues to make significant improvement and looks more comfortable out on the court. Slaughter did not see the court again.
The middles were much more involved offensively, a point of emphasis after the Creighton match. Stivrins was particularly efficient and hit nearly 0.500. Schwarzenbach is still a little timid and the hope is continued play and experience will alleviate that. This offensive balance is going to be crucial in conference play to keep the opposing middles honest, and allow the outsides and opposites more single blocks to attack.
Cook found gold in Nicklin Hames. As a freshman she can be a little raw, but can make some incredible sets, even impressing an All-American setter like Lauren Cook.
Defensively, the ball control (digging and passing) was improved. Blocking remains inconsistent, and could be an issue against some of the bigger B1G teams, but was not a factor in this match. Service errors cropped up again, particularly in the 1st set, but the multiple players that Cook trot out to the service line and put legitimate pressure on opponents is impressive.
It was good to see Brooke Smith get her first action of the year. She was utilized as a double sub with Anezka Szabo briefly in the 2nd and 3rd sets when Hames rotated to the front.
I was not impressed with the coverage on ESPNU. While I enjoy watching the ladies play, I could have done without the play by play. I mean, I really don’t care how Texas looked against Kentucky when Foecke is making an amazing one fisted dig and pops it up beautifully to Hames. If I could figure out how to sync the radio broadcast with action on the TV……that would be a much better option.
The team continues to round into form and ready itself for B1G play. Next up is Central Michigan (3-6), New Mexico (5-4), and Missouri State (5-5). Missouri State, itself, probably makes the competition at the Husker Invite tougher than the Ameritas Challenge. However, even though Missouri State is picked to finish 2nd in the Missouri Valley (behind Northern Iowa), they have struggled out of the gate, and the only decent win they have is over an unranked aTm team in 5 sets. New Mexico was a winning record, but Santa Clara disposed on them in 3 sets. And, as a side note, Lexi Sun may play (for whatever that speculation is worth).
Nationally, the chaos continues for highly ranked teams in the AVCA poll. No.1 Minnesota lost twice (3 sets to Oregon and 4 sets to Stanford), No. 2 Wisconsin lost to No. 15 Baylor (who then turned around the next night and lost to something called UTRGV, University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley-----Go Fighting Vaqueros), and No. 5 Penn State lost to Stanford. Nebraska will likely be No. 4 behind BYU, Stanford, and Texas. And given that Stanford and Texas play a home and home next week, Nebraska may move up to 3 and possibly 2 prior to B1G play. Looking at teams in the conference, the B1G could have 5 of the top 10 teams, and 7 of the top 15.