It's pretty incredible that we can get more fans for the preseason scrimmage than many programs get at an average home match, but that was the case in the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Saturday night. On a night where severe weather threatened, fans still filled levels A and B, with a good part of level C occupied as well.
The most noticeable upgrade to Devaney in the offseason was the video board hanging above the court. As the red and white teams warmed up, cameras flashed through the crowd, giving nearly everyone their 15 seconds (or so) of fame. No one missed their picture, as all eyes were on the massive new board.
Coach Cook started off the night by introducing the two new coaches. Chris Tamas (Pronounced: Thomas) replaced Dan Meske who left to take the Head Coach position at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Tamas's wife, Jen, is serving as a volunteer assistant this year.
The teams were split into Red and White. The White team was Justine Wong-Orantes (who played setter), Sydney Townsend, Brooke Smith, Alicia Ostrander, Briana Holman, Kelsey Fien, Meghan Haggerty, Tiani Reeves, and Olivia Boender (BOON-der). The Red team was Mikaela Foecke (FECK-ee), Kelly Hunter, Amber Rolfzen, Kadie Rolfzen, Cecilia Hall, Kenzie Maloney, and Annika Albrecht (ALL-bright).
Based on last season's stats, experience, and offseason hype, the line-ups initially looked like weighted in the red team's favor, but white took the initial 3-0 lead.
Ultimately, the score stayed close once Red took an 8-6 lead. At 12-12, Amber Rolfzen announced her arrival as a middle blocker with wicked attack on a quick set to take a 13-12 lead. The score was 15-12 Red at the media timeout. The score stayed tight, within four points, until the Red team won 25-22 on a Cecilia Hall kill.
In the second set, with the score 2-1, the teams kept a rally alive for close to a minute with hustle, dives, and what looked like straight up prayers. The crowd came alive and it sounded, however briefly, like Penn State or Wisconsin was in the house. Husker fans never disappoint.
Another piece that we saw tonight was the first challenge I've seen at collegiate volleyball match. The White team was given the point to make the score 11-10 Red on a called four hits by the red team. Coach Cook won the challenge, and the result was a replayed point. The NCAA changed replay rules starting with the 2015 season, and only the B1G and Pac-12 had asked (as of February) to use replay during conference matches this season.
The Red team led most of the second set, but White took the lead at 17-16, and opened it up to 19-16 before a run by the Red team made it 19-19. The Red team won the second set by the same count as the first, 25-22.
For set three, Kelsey Fien came out in a Red jersey along with Meghan Haggerty, and Annika Albrecht and Cecilia Hall switched to the White squad.
The third set stayed close, with White finally opening up a 12-9 lead, and causing Coach Cook to call timeout. The margin remained the same until two Sydney Townsend aces opened up a 19-14 lead for White and Coach Cook used his final timeout of the set for the Red team. The Red team never got close again, and a scorching Annika Albrecht kill sealed the set 25-19 White.
The fourth and final set was played to 15, as it was announced before the set that it would be the final set no matter what. Neither team had a chance to get a lead to speak of in the final set, and White had their first set point with the score 14-13. Red used a timeout and won the next point, tying the score at 14. A Kadie Rolfzen kill gave Red their first set point, 15-14. A second consecutive kill ended the set 16-14.
While the stat line didn't look great, Amber Rolfzen had a nice night at her new position as middle blocker. She swung efficiently, and was in the right place to affect the white team's hitters. I expect to see her make big growth through the early matches as she settles in to what I've been told is her new position.
Serving was a problem, with 24 missed serves through the four sets, but one important thing to keep in mind is that not all these players will serve in the matches that count. It's somewhat of a reassurance, though, that most of the missed serves were over the net, not in it.
Hitting numbers were also far below where we as Husker fans have come to expect them to be. A big part of that is the fact that, again, many players got touches who probably will not as the season goes on, and the fact that players were getting used to Kelly Hunter rather than Mary Pollmiller, and Wong-Orantes and Brooke Smith split setting duties for the White team. Finally, it should be noted that a couple of players, Amber Rolfzen and Alicia Ostrander in particular, were playing positions that they haven't played a whole lot.
There's a lot to feel good about with this team. Haggerty, Hall, Amber Rolfzen, Kadie Rolfzen, and Wong-Orantes bring a wealth of game speed experience to the team. Hunter, while she's a name we aren't terribly familiar with, has played a LOT of high stakes matches, including setting the Rolfzen twins to their state championships.
The kinks were still getting worked out. I, for one, was not a fan of the challenges, but it did mean that they got the call right. However, the Huskers will start the season ranked number five nationally in the AVCA Coaches Poll, and have the pieces in place to make a run to Omaha for the 2015 Final Four.