On Saturday night, August 19th at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, the #5 Nebraska Husker Women’s Volleyball team staged their annual Red-White Scrimmage as a preview for the upcoming season. For an in-depth recap, head over to the Huskers’ website. Stats are available here.
One of the biggest stories out of Saturday night match was the absence of setter and three-year captain Kelly Hunter. Hunter has been battling an injury throughout fall practice. While Husker Coach John Cook didn’t disclose what the injury is, he did say that Hunter will play in one match next weekend, but that back-to-back matches is off the table while she continues to recover.
That means that redshirt freshman Hunter Atherton is likely to play one match at setter next weekend in Gainesville for the VERT Challenge. Cook didn’t say which match it would be, but the Huskers are playing #18 Oregon Friday night, August 25 and #12 Florida Saturday, August 26th, so both are high quality opponents, making the decision even more difficult.
Setter is one of only a couple of positions where the faces on the court will be familiar. Mikaela Foecke will be back at outside hitter, though she may play right side, Briana Holman will be back in the middle, and Annika Albrecht will still see a lot of playing time this season.
Where many of them will play is a question. It’s likely that Annika Albrecht, also chosen as a captain this season, will play front row this season after spending the last two seasons as a primarily back row substitute.
Junior Kenzie Maloney is slated to take over at libero for Justine Wong-Orantes who graduated last year and has played with the US Women’s National Team. Wong-Orantes leaves behind big shoes to fill, as she was an absolute force in the back rown, and made it near impossible for opposing hitters to find the floor. However, Maloney filled in very well last year when Wong-Orantes missed matches with an injury last season.
Whether or not we see local favorite, and Waverly High School graduate, junior Olivia Boender regularly will depend on the development of highly-touted freshman Jazz Sweet. If Jazz is a reliable option at the right side hitter position, opposite the setter, then Foecke will likely remain at the left side hitter. However, if Sweet struggles, expect to see Foecke at right side and Boender hitting left side.
With the graduation last year of Amber and Kadie Rolfzen, you’ll see a new face at middle blocker as well. Right now it’s likely that redshirt freshman Lauren Stivrins will take the position, but senior Allie Havers has performed well in practice as well, and she’s a familiar face to many Husker fans as she was on the Women’s Basketball team.
With the Huskers being ranked #5 in the AVCA Coaches’ Poll, it’s clear there’s a lot of respect amongst the coaching ranks in Coach Cook’s ability to recruit and coach-up great players. There are many out there (me among them) who think #5 might be a little high with so many question marks in key positions.
There are seven other B1G teams in the top 25 right now, including #4 Minnesota, #6 Penn State, #7 Wisconsin. As always, the conference schedule will be a gauntlet for the Huskers to try and negotiate. A reliance on youth could hurt the team early, but that experience could pay off down the stretch and in the post-season.
Ultimately, expectations should be tempered in the early part of the season, but Coach Cook will not put players out there who cannot handle the expectations of a perennial powerhouse. Expect growth to be a keyword for the team this season as players adjust to new positions, new team mates, and new situations.