Foecke with her 21st kill of the match and NU wins the 4th set 25-12. Congratulations to the Huskers as they win the match 3-1 (25-19, 25-27, 25-17, and 25-12). NU is now 10-1 overall, and 1-0 in the Big 10.
Michigan came rolling into town, a seasoned team unbeaten in 11 non-conference matches, having won 33 of 34 sets. The non-conference wins didn’t include any ranked opponents, but they did beat Auburn, LSU, Colorado State (receiving votes), and a perennial tourney team, Notre Dame, twice. And they didn’t drop a set until they played the Irish at South Bend. So how good is Blue? I’m not sure the match against Nebraska revealed too many answers.
When looking at some random box scores for the Wolverines, I remember seeing 63 digs in a 3 set sweep and thinking, that’s ALOT. And that is the one thing that proved true in the match against Nebraska. Blue was good at keeping the ball off the floor, but aside from their libero, just not particularly good at passing and keeping the offense ‘in system.’
If Nebraska cuts their service errors by a third, they win the match in a sweep. And notwithstanding the 2nd set where the Huskers allowed a 12-1 run by the visitors (again a brief tour into an alternate universe where passing is not allowed, see 2nd set against Santa Clara and 2nd set against Creighton), Nebraska, while not dominating, controlled the match throughout. I say “not dominating” until that final 4th set where it seems Blue just ran out of gas. Go Husker Power.
But let’s say for the sake of argument, that Nebraska drops their service errors from 13 to 8 or 9 and they remain out of the "passing" twilight zone in that 2nd set. Does a match that goes let’s say 25-17, 25-20, 25-17 really indicate a competitive encounter? They (Michigan) have an outstanding libero, some nice but not great hitters (Coach Cook disagrees here as he feels Skjodt is All-Conference), and the one middle is occasionally a handful, but aside from their digging ability, I’m not sure that this is anything more than a 0.500 Michigan team in conference. To be clear, 10-10 coupled with 11 non-conference wins is definitely in the Tournament, and probably in the top 25, but not a top 16 seed. Note that the radio announcers (Baylor and L. Cook) think that Michigan is a top 12 team.
The Four Horseman of the Volleyball Apocalypse each made solid contribution, but Conquest (Foecke) really asserted herself in the 3rd and 4th sets. And Hames started to feed Foecke more as she started to heat up, but still the other 3 prongs of the attack were effective enough to keep Michigan guessing. Hames did another good job of distribution between Foecke (46 attacks, 21 kills), Sun (33 attacks, 14 kills), Sweet (25 attacks, 11 kills), and the Middles (25 attacks, 11 kills). When the distribution is that good, it is almost unfair. This is a better offensive team than last year’s team as long as they can pass consistently.
The block still needs more work, but it clearly is now more of a strength, whereas it was an area of concern early in the season. Schwarzenbach continued her hot performance by contributing 8 blocks but Foecke, Stivrins, Sun, and Sweet made solid contributions in that aspect of the Husker defense.
Defensively, while Michigan was good at keeping the ball off the floor but not so much at passing and staying in system, Nebraska matched them at defying gravity, but passed slightly better and stayed in system more often. Even when the Huskers weren’t in system, the bump sets still, for the most part, put the attackers in a position to at least make a play. Michigan, much of time was simply trying to push a free ball over the net. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the performance of the Husker libero. Kenzie Maloney was everywhere, a very impressive display of digging and passing AND being in the right place at the right time. An All-American effort.
Passing can still use improvement, and can sometimes be brutal for short periods (see 2nd set), but the Huskers continue to make incremental gains in that facet of the game. It needs to be more consistent.
Which brings us to the service game. Right now it is a high risk, high reward endeavor. There is no doubt that the Husker serve was stressing the Michigan serve receive game, but the excessive service errors (along with the momentary AWFUL passing game) allowed Blue to stay in the 2nd set and often killed any momentum. Like the sword of Damocles, the service game may be a fatal flaw as the competition improves.
All in all a solid win over a good, but not great Michigan team. However in this conference, much like the NFL, you don’t obsess over style points, you just want the ‘W.’
In other B1G action, The Cult that is Penn State, no. 4 in the country, lost in straight sets to No. 7 Minnesota 22-25, 21-25, 19-25 on Wednesday. They lost their first match in B1G play last year (to the Huskers), then reeled off 19 consecutive wins. However, Simone Lee, Haleigh Washington, and Ali Frantti no longer dress up in the Blue and White. Penn State is a young team that has all the signs of a 15-5 or 14-6 conference record whereas Minnesota is loaded with veterans.
No. 8 Illinois took a 4 set match from no. 16 Purdue in West Lafayette, but three of the sets were decided by 2 points with one going into deuce (25-19, 23-25, 25-23, 26-24). Aside from the first set, this was an uber competitive match. This result gives Purdue their first loss of the season, and makes Illinois the only unbeaten B1G volleyball team remaining.
Nationally, Texas was pushed to 5 sets by none other than Kansas State in the Little Apple. So much for my claim that Kansas State and Iowa State wouldn’t put up much resistance to UT@SUCKS. The team I thought could do damage, Baylor, lost in 4 sets to Texas Tech.
Up next is Michigan State, a young team, which was on a 12 match winning streak after losing the first to Tennessee in non-conference play. Then they start B1G play in Iowa which I expected to be a 3 or 4 set win from Sparty. Instead the Hawkeyes work the Spartans for a 25-19, 25-14, and 26-24 straight set victory. I don’t know if I overvalued Michigan State or undervalued Iowa, but I would be surprised if the Four Horseman of the Volleyball Apocalypse allow the match Sunday to go past 3 sets.