OK the football team finally stops an unprecedented streak of losses and now the Vball team decides to create two more:
3 losses in a row for the first time since 1997 and 4 of 5 losses for the first time since 1981...
Damn losing sucks, but the Big 10 Vball landscape is as tough as there is right now, so there's that.
Young team, learning how to finish can be really hard. I trust Cook. He is a master motivator and coach. The girls will continue to learn, maybe the hard way, but hard lessons learned are rarely forgotten. I like this team. They have good Vball still to play. Keep the faith...Go Big Red
Minnesota hadn’t lost in B1G play. In fact, they hadn’t even lost a set with one exception. So an unenviable task was waiting for the Huskers, as they came to the Twin Cities on Saturday (literally Saturday at 2 AM). A task made even more difficult by the extended 5 set loss in Madison the previous night. Would the quick turnaround lead to a slow start by Big Red, and would fatigue become an issue as the match wore on?
The first part of the question was an emphatic no. The Huskers, aided by their cool looking black uniforms, rode a Miller (yes that Megan Miller who has resided on the bench for a while) mini-service run early in the 1st set and eventually expanded the lead to 20-14. The teams traded points the remainder of the set and Nebraska cruised to a 25-19 win. The first set that Minnesota had lost at home all year. No doubt the Gophers and their crowd were a bit stunned.
Minnesota regained some composure, and the Huskers started racking up hitting errors. In sets 2 and 3 the Huskers would dig themselves a hole, and then methodically climb out of it. In the 2nd set, the Rodentia had a 16-8 lead, but the Huskers fought back to tie it at 20 – 20. In the 3rd set, the Huskers ralled from 7-1 down to tie up the match at 14– 14. The Huskers made plenti-o-mistakes, including service errors by Sun that absolutely stunted any hope for momentum. Nebraska had opportunities to win both sets, but failed to capitalize. As a result, the Maroon and Gold won both sets at deuce, 25-23.
Now, I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but one of those “opportunities” that was missed was during an extended rally, when Hames went to Foecke 4 times in a row. During one rally. That the Huskers eventually lost. The next time I hear about how “great” it is to reset an attacker who was unsuccessful on an initial attempt to help “build her confidence,” I may slash my wrists. An idea that initially I thought had some merit (because all the “knowledgeable” people parroted it), has now literally become my pet peeve. Foecke is an All-American and 2 time Final Four MVP. I doubt she needs her psyche’ assuaged by going back to her if she doesn’t score a kill initially. I’m sure she would much rather Schwarzenbach get a kill, and then the NEXT time, Mikaela comes up against a single block instead of a double.
Some people claimed Nebraska fatigue against the Cult that is Penn State and against Wisconsin. I thought both teams showed fatigue in each of those matches. However, against Minnesota, it was apparent that fatigue was having a much more profound effect on the Huskers than the home team. At points in the 4th, Samedy looked drained, but pushed her way through it. I did not see anybody else on the Gopher squad that looked especially tired. Now contrast that with the Nebraska team, which after losing a 5 set match the previous night, and having pushed sets 2 and 3 to deuce only to allow them to slip away, looked especially fragile going into the 4th. After keeping it close through the first half of the 4th, the avalanche started and the Huskers, who had spent most of the night digging out of holes, were too exhausted in the 2nd half of the set, and the Gophers buried them 25-18.
The reason Nebraska was able to stay in the match, and really this applies to both teams, but the defense again was impressive for the first three sets. Both teams defied gravity in sets 2 and 3 which resulted in extended rallies, and exciting volleyball. Probably the one stat that explains the difference in the entire match was that Big Red had many more attack errors by a 25-13 margin than did the Maroon and Gold.
When you look at the fundamentals, the service game was above average and did stress the Rodentia for most of the match. If you take away Sun’s 4 service errors, then you would have to say it was good. The blocking was non-existent for most of the match, which is difficult to pinpoint a reason why. When in system, Minnesota likes run their offense fast, which may explain some of it. However many of the rallies were long providing each team with blocking opportunities. Nebraska had only 7 blocks, snapping a streak of double digit blocks dating back to the Oregon match I believe. The defense was again superb (if not always the passing) with Maloney still playing at an uber high level.
Of the four pronged offensive attack, Foecke (53 swings) hit above .200 and the middles (39 swings) hit above .400. Sweet (38 swings) started coming out of her slump, but still only hit .158, while Sun (38 swings) had a dreadful offensive night and ended up in negative territory. The offense started opening up when Hames made a concentrated effort to set the middles. I personally think she should have set them a dozen times more. May have made a difference in sets 2 or 3.
In other B1G play, Illinois beat both Michigan schools at Champagne. The Wolverine match did go 5. Michigan did sweep Northwestern on Saturday to halve the week. Penn State clubbed the worst team in the conference (Rutgers) twice. Purdue beat Maryland in 4 and plays Ohio State. After beating the Huskers on Friday, Wisconsin tries to avenge an earlier loss to Iowa today. And of course, Minnesota won both their matches.
Nationally, a couple of big matches are being played today. Pittsburgh plays Louisville at home in a match that will likely determine the ACC regular season title. Stanford has an interesting match against The Ducks at Eugene depending on which Oregon team shows up.
So………..Top 13 predictions are BYU, Stanford, Minnesota, Penn State, Pittsburgh (pending Sunday’s results), Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, Nebraska at No.9, Creighton, Florida, Cal-Poly, and Michigan. I still think Nebraska stays in the top 10 even with 5 losses. 14 thru 25 will again be dependent largely on the chaos that is PAC-12 play today. Kansas lost to K-State in Big 12 play, so they may drop out of the top 25.
Some random commentary:
Another night in B1G volleyball, another top 10 match up, another loud, rambunctious, sold out crowd, another great atmosphere, and yet another great match. While B1G volleyball is not a proverbial goldmine (no Olympic sports are), it does have the potential to be a profitable gig. At least more profitable (or less of a drain) for the athletic budgets in the conference than, let’s say, women’s basketball. If the league would give volleyball the same exposure they do with women’s basketball in terms of advertising and TV slots (i.e. ESPNU, ESPN2, in addition to BTN), I have no doubt volleyball would be more popular and generate more revenue than basketball. First, and foremost, it is just much more enjoyable to watch.
At the turn in league play, Nebraska is 6-4, having lost three straight for the first time in the John Cook era, with no realistic chance at the B1G title. However, looking at the remainder of the schedule, it would not surprise me if this Nebraska team ran the table, and ended up 2nd in the conference with a 16-4 record and a 5 or 6 seed in the Tourney. Nebraska played much better this weekend than they did against Penn State. In fact, if they play those same 3 matches on a neutral site, the Huskers win 2 if not all 3. To be clear, they haven’t played consistently enough to be considered a final four team. But you see the upside with this team and occasionally they provide you a glimpse of how good they can be.
The Fightin’ Schwarzenbachs don’t have much time to lick their wounds. They play Ohio State in Columbus on Wednesday, before finally returning home to greet another top ten opponent in Illinois. The schedule says both matches will be on BTN. Very nice.