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Huskers Split the Weekend in the Mitten

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In two tough matches over the weekend in Michigan, the Huskers beat Michigan State, but lost to Michigan.

The Husker Women’s Volleyball team traveled to the Mitten over the weekend, beating Michigan State 3-1 (25-20, 25-18, 22-25, 25-23) on Friday, but being swept by Michigan on Sunday 3-0 (19-25, 30-32, 21-25).

In front of 2,800 people on Friday night, the Huskers fought back after giving up a disappointing third set, in which they hit .030, to finish off the win over the Spartans. Kadie Rolfzen led all hitters with 16 kills on the night to hit .200, and Alicia Ostrander had 12 kills to hit .176. For the match, the Huskers outhit the Spartans .190 - .152.

Four Husker defenders had double-digit digs, with Justine Wong-Orantes leading the way with 19. Annika Albrecht added 13 and Kadie Rolfzen added 12 to notch a double-double. Sydney Townsend had 11 digs.

The Huskers had eight service aces on the night, which nicely offset the eight errors. Alexa Ethridge, Wong-Orantes, and Townsend each had two aces for the Big Red.

On Sunday, the Huskers traveled to Ann Arbor to battle the Michigan Wolverines. In front of 1,100, the Wolverines swept the eighth-ranked Huskers.

Alicia Ostrander led all Huskers with 12 kills and a hitting percentage of .286. Kelsey Fien hit .571 in two sets with four kills on seven attempts with no errors.

The Huskers didn’t make a lot of errors through the course of the game, but they didn’t make a whole lot of plays, either. Ostrander was the only hitter with double-digit kills, (Kadie Rolfzen and Meghan Haggerty had six each), and the Huskers were outdug 57-46.

Michigan had 21 more kills (61) than the Huskers (40) on only 13 more attempts. Michigan did commit four more hitting errors (18-14) but ultimately led the Huskers .331-.222.

Coach Cook sat the Rolfzen twins in the third set against Michigan. Ostrander was moved to right side, and Annika Albrecht and Kelsey Fien played outside. The entire state wants the Twin Towers, as they’re called, be great, but right now their leadership and "clutch gene" leave much to be desired.

It was refreshing to see (via twitter, as the match wasn’t televised) Coach Cook give other players a chance to step up. While I’ve met the Rolfzens and think they’re great young women, I’ve been less than impressed with their ability to lead on the court (vocally or with their play). Hopefully, being faced with even this little bit of adversity will help them grow.

Right now, the Huskers are a middle of the B1G volleyball team. Their talent is unquestionable. The legacy of the program brings great players to Lincoln, and this group is no different. So why is this a middle of the road program?

The leadership issue has come up plenty. As coaches, when your team is trying to find its identity, it’s important to give some consistency. Many who have a bit of a deeper understanding of the sport have been concerned about who would replace (Now World Champion) Kelsey Robinson, and now at the halfway mark of the season the answer is… still unclear.

Alicia Ostrander has stepped up when others couldn’t seem to make the jump, but at the slightest hint of a struggle, she finds herself on the bench. Kelsey Fien hasn’t impressed, and Annika Albrecht hasn’t had a chance aside from defensively, where she’s played very well. There was hope that Kadie would be the answer, but she hasn’t been.

If this team can grow from here and become a threat come post-season, the team needs to have more matches like they had against Penn State and (Yes) Texas. However, too many matches like those this weekend or Ohio State have been the rule, not the exception this year.

If this team is to be a threat in the post-season, there needs to be consistency. Volleyball is a sport that requires incredible individual talent, but it means nothing without being able to trust the others on the court with you. Yes, football, basketball, etc. also require both, but to me it’s more so in volleyball.

Why? Peyton Manning can throw a receiver open. LeBron can all but win games on his own. Even one great hitter (or pitcher) can keep a baseball team alive.

In volleyball, the greatest setter in the world is only as good as the hitters he/she can set. With all positions, the longer you play next to or with that teammate, the more you can trust that person, and the more confident you can be in what you can do and what he/she will do.

What does this mean for the Huskers? The inconsistency at outside and middle hitter hurt Mary Pollmiller’s ability to confidently place her sets. Even though it’s not terribly different to the naked eye, each hitter has her own preferences for ball placement. Mary is already setting to five different players if no one is subbed out.

When you add substitutions, sometimes three different players in one set thus far, you’re now talking eight players that Mary has to know what they prefer. It makes her job much harder, and it makes it incredibly difficult to get a rhythm going as a team.

Add in some toying and shuffling defensively, though it’s been better since Sydney Townsend’s been in there, it’s no surprise that the Huskers have struggled in tough situations.

With a team that lacks leadership, the team needs some confidence. That will not be built if there isn’t consistency. While there is always pressure to win and win now in a program like Nebraska, it’s shaping up to be a very disappointing season if the team doesn’t get a chance to build confidence and chemistry.