After what NU coach John Cook called an up-and-down stretch of play early this season, the Nebraska volleyball team fixed its ills as the tenth-ranked Huskers steamrolled Iowa State this weekend in straight sets.
Yet even with the win, the Huskers have little time to relax as defending national champions Penn State come to town this Wednesday in NU’s first conference match as a member of the Big Ten. With the No. 5 Nittany Lions likely to come out firing against their new conference foe, here are some things NU can lean on as they look to pull the upset in the Coliseum:
Taking Chances Wisely — After allowing errors and easy mistakes dictate their first few weekends of play, the Huskers have started to clean up during their current mini win streak. This past weekend, NU was able to hit .281 in its match against Iowa State by registering only 11 hitting errors on 114 swings. That means that the Huskers had less than half the number of errors as Iowa State while coming up 12 swings short of the Cyclones. Couple their hitting efficiency with just three return errors and just one block error, and it is easy to see how the Huskers made quick work of ISU.
Domination from the inside out — Coming into this weekend’s match, it had seemed Brooke Delano’s lack of blocking output was a talking point after just about every match. However, even with the slow start at the net, Delano came out energized Saturday night, getting her hands on a number of attacks in the first few sets as the Husker senior racked up seven block assists on the night. After the match, ISU coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said Delano’s performance was a major factor in the match, saying Delano “has the ability to take over a match with her blocking.” If NU hopes to content for a conference title in its first Big Ten season, Delano is going to have to keep up the strong play in the middle of the Husker block.
Taking team defense to a new level — Although Kayla Banwarth made an appearance at the NU-ISU match this weekend, the former Husker libero won’t be taking the court for NU anytime soon. Even with the strong play from freshman Lara Dykstra at the libero spot, however, it hasn’t always been easy for the NU rookie to step into the shoes of the programs all-time digs leader. In place of Banwarth’s steady hand in the back row, the rest of the Husker back line has had to pick up the slack to help catch Dykstra up to speed. Although it’s been up and down numbers wise, the match against the Cyclones showed just how capable NU is of having a number of people step up in the back row. Junior Hannah Werth led the team with 15 digs, while fellow junior Gina Mancuso and sophomore Morgan Broekhuis were also able to record double digit dig numbers. While Werth made her presence known with a number of impressive, rally-saving digs, Mancuso and Broekhuis put up impressive dig numbers while also compiling double digit kills for the Husker attack. No matter how you put it though, the defensive versatility of NU’s offensive weapons will be crucial as the Huskers strive for consistency from the libero spot.
Bringing the Sea of Red to the Big Ten — While most Big Ten coaches are probably preparing to handle the Husker’s tactics and athleticism, one factor they might not be accounting for is the boost Nebraska gets when they play in front of home fans. Wednesday’s match will not only be NU’s first in its new conference, but it will also be the first time an opposing Big Ten squad will have to deal with the pressure of the Coliseum. Look for the Husker crown to give coach John Cook’s squad a much needed boost as they butt heads with one of the most prominent volleyball programs in the nation.