The Huskers have had an up and down regular season with big wins over Penn State in four, and a sweep of Purdue. Both happened in the Devaney Center. First serve tonight happens at 4:30 for the Kansas State Wildcats (22-8) and the Utah Utes (19-12). At 7:00 (or half an hour after the end of the previous match, whichever happens later) the Nebraska Cornhuskers (20-9) take on the Hofstra Pride (28-5). The Huskers match will be televised on NET1. Here are five things to get you primed for the match, and help you talk a little volleyball.
1) Three Huskers earned All-B1G honors
Although she only started for about half the season, the playing time she had was incredible, and Kelsey Fien was named first team All-B1G with Kadie Rolfzen. Rolfzen had 353 kills on the season, averaging 3.57 per set and added 2.62 digs per set. Fien had 240 kills on the season with 3.24 kills per set and hit .303 to lead the Huskers in percentage and finish third in the conference.
Setter Mary Pollmiller earned honorable mention All-B1G honors with 10.17 assists per set to rank fourth in the conference and her 5,067 career assists ranks her fourth among active setters. She also added 73 blocks, fourth on the team.
This marks the 23rd consecutive year that Nebraska has had at least two First Team All-Conference players, a streak dating to 1982.
2) Watch the middles
Middle play and blocking has been questionable for the Huskers for a good part of the season. Meghan Haggerty has been most consistent, playing in 98 of the Huskers’ 103 sets this season, but has struggled mightily at times. Cecilia Hall has seen more set time than either Melanie Keil or Kira Larson, but play from the middles was painfully inconsistent in the early part of the season, and seems to have regressed that way a little bit again. Often the middles don’t get blocks closed, and it leads to great opportunities for opponents to bury kills. Thankfully, defensive players like Justine Wong-Orantes and Annika Albrecht have really made great gains this season.
3) The Rolfzen Twins on defense
Amber’s defensive playing time has decreased fairly significantly this year in favor of the serving and defensive play of Sydney Townsend. However, don’t be surprised if we see her from time to time. The reason for the change, as far as I can tell, is the fact that both Amber and Kadie seem to take plays off defensively. They played really at times, but not the whole season.
Kadie will play back row and serve. To be honest, it’s my opinion that she deserved, at best, honorable mention for the All-B1G. There’s a lot of pressure put on these girls by fans in the state as they’ve been on the radar since eighth grade. So far, they’ve not shown they can live up to the hype consistently. Will this be the time when they find that ability to lead? Coach Cook and much of Nebraska hope so.
4) Coach Cook’s trigger finger
When will Coach make substitutions? Who will he sub out? Maybe the question is, who will start? It seems to many in the volleyball world that Cook gives Kadie and Amber too much leeway while giving a very short rope to other players. Will he stick by players like Haggerty and Fien if they struggle a little? Or will we quickly see Larson, Keil, or Ostrander? If Kadie or Amber is making mistakes, will he replace them or keep them on the court? There were times this season that it seemed if Kadie was having a bad game, her opposite was subbed out and if Amber was struggling, it was time to replace the middle. Yes, Coach Cook has two national titles, but the last one came in 2006. How will he use the personnel?
5) Kansas State and Utah are good
The best match on Friday night SHOULD be K-State against Utah. The Big XII is a pretty darn good conference, with powerhouse Texas and perennial Top 25 teams in Baylor and Iowa State. K-State only lost one out of conference match, and that was against Arizona (a Pac-12 school) in Green Bay. After losing to Baylor in Manhattan, the Wildcats went down to Waco and gutted one out against the Bears, so this team will be dangerous.
Utah’s record isn’t as good as they have proven themselves this season in the VERY good Pac-12. Oh, and they BEAT WASHINGTON, a team that only has two losses on the year. They’ve played a lot of close matches, with six of their matches going five sets, against superior Pac-12 competition. The stage shouldn’t be too big for them, and they’ll come out looking for the upset on Friday against Kansas State.
6) The Devaney Center
Devaney is far and away the biggest venue in the country for collegiate volleyball. A team like Hofstra, from the Colonial Athletic Association, will likely feel a bit overwhelmed by the stage. Kansas State and Utah? Not as much, but the pure size may take them by surprise when it’s full.
The other thing that may shock the teams Friday night will be how well Husker fans understand and appreciate the sport. Kansas State has experience with us as former conference foes, but Utah and Hofstra stand to be pleasantly surprised at the fact that we can get 8,000 rabid Huskers together who really know what’s happening, not just how well the ‘Skers are doing.
It should be a REALLY fun weekend again! All signs point to a Wildcat-Husker second round on Saturday night which would, again, be carried on NET1 at 7:00. The Huskers should make it out of Lincoln to play in Seattle next weekend.