I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the schedulers have the only meeting between the Huskers and Penn State on the last weekend of the regular season, in the new Devaney. It works out really well, as it’s a great test for the ladies going in to the tournament, but going in to this match, there are some concerns. I’ve spent a lot of time writing recaps, and wanted to investigate some of the Huskers’ numbers more closely, maybe give everyone an idea of what to expect Saturday, and going forward.
The Huskers lost for the second time this season to the Purdue Boilermakers. It was a straight set loss in West Lafayette. Kelsey Robinson had one of her worst hitting nights of the season, recording 11 kills on 33 attempts with seven errors. It gave her a hitting percentage of .121. Purdue outblocked the Huskers 11.0 to 6.0. It’s possible that they really found something. It’s also possible Kelsey was just off.
No one else was really able to pick up the slack, with two hitters hitting in the negative. The team hit .136 for the night, with Kadie Rolfzen leading the way, but only recording 12 kills. Purdue also far outdug the Huskers, 44-32 in a three set match.
The Huskers got back on their feet the next night in Bloomington, coming out with a hard fought sweep of the Hoosiers. The team hit .418, including .700 with no errors in the third set. Robinson (.448), Melanie Keil (.444, playing for a struggling Cecilia Hall), Meghan Haggerty (.800), and Mary Pollmiller (.750) all hit phenomenally on the night. The team recorded only six errors.
The Huskers outblocked the Hoosiers 15.0 to 4.0, outdug them 37 to 32, and kept their serving errors to two, while the Hoosiers had four.
On Wednesday night, the Huskers travelled to Iowa City and swept the Hawkeyes. The Huskers hit .240 to the Hawkeyes .134. Melanie Keil had another great night in the middle, hitting .500 with no errors.
The most fantastic stat of the night was the fact that the Huskers had eleven aces to three errors while the Hawkeyes had one ace and four errors. Alexa Ethridge and Robinson both contributed four aces.
So, where does this leave us going forward? Penn State’s good, VERY good. The last time they lost was September 27th to Michigan State. They’re the number two team in the country and, lest we forget, won four straight national titles between 2007 and 2010.
Penn State is not as dependent on one player as the Huskers. While Kelsey, Kadie, and Amber get their share of kills, Kelsey has a clear advantage in kills per set. The Lions distribute the ball more equally between Ariel Scott, Deja McClendon, and Megan Courtney, with Katie Slay also contributing.
Penn State has 312.5 blocks on the season, and the Huskers have 289.0. The Huskers’ blocking has been shaky at times this season. It has improved dramatically, but against a team like Penn State, it will be important that stay disciplined at the net, and on defense.
This match will tell us a lot about what to expect in the tournament. The Huskers have been right around tenth in the country all season. They have twice beaten teams who were ranked ahead of them in the AVCA poll. In all likelihood, the Huskers will be a two or three seed in the tournament. They should make it out of the first two rounds.
Beyond that, the road will get tricky. As has been suggested, there will likely be eight or nine B1G teams in the tournament. The Huskers will have to beat at least one to make it to Seattle. It wouldn’t surprise me to see three B1G teams in the Final Four.
The match on Saturday at Devaney is going to tell us a lot about what we can expect in the tournament. The Huskers don’t have to win for us to be optimistic. If they compete, make runs, and close gaps, it will portend good things for the rest of this volleyball season.