A young Nebraska Huskers Womens’ Volleyball team dropped two tough matches in Gainesville, Florida in the VERT Challenge.
The #5-ranked Huskers started the weekend on Friday night against the #18 University of Oregon Ducks. The Huskers dropped the match 1-3 (20-25, 21-25, 26-24, 23-25). For the match, the Huskers hit a dismal .174 to .222 for Oregon. The Huskers were lead by 14 kills from Jazz Sweet, a freshman making her Husker debut. Sweet hit .375 for the night. Junior Mikaela Foecke had 13 kills and hit .204
On Saturday night, the Huskers battled the #12 Florida Gators to five sets, but ultimately fell short 2-3 (25-19, 18-25, 25-17, 18-25, 11-15). Again on the night, Freshman Jazz Sweet impressed, converting her attacks at a rate of .323 with 16 kills. Foecke added 18 kills and hit .204.
Serving was problematic for the Huskers, but their opponents didn’t serve much better. On Friday night the Huskers had five aces and eight errors to three aces and seven errors for Oregon, and on Saturday night, the Huskers had seven aces and eleven errors to one ace and nine errors for Florida.
So what went wrong for the Huskers? Age and experience is an easy factor to point to, but the most obvious missing piece was senior setter Kelly Hunter. While it was reported that Hunter would set one of two matches, redshirt freshman Hunter Atherton ran the offense. Kelly Hunter has be saddled by a yet-undisclosed injury for a good part of fall practice.
Last year, the Huskers lost two four-year starters in Amber and Kadie Rolfzen, libero extraordinaire Justine Wong-Orantes and Andie Malloy. That’s a lot of experience gone, and when you put new faces in key positions, having the stability that an experienced setter like Hunter is invaluable.
Many people (including this writer) thought the Huskers were over-rated at #5. Not because the ability or coaching isn’t there, it is, but because there are so many questions about the team. Hunter’s return, whenever that may be, and stability at the outside hitter position, we’re not yet sure who will be opposite of Foecke, will help.
There will be growing pains with this team. They’ll get much better as the season goes on. Be patient Husker fans, there’s off-the-charts athleticism and potential with this team. A fully healthy Kelly Hunter is MUCH better for this team than trying to run her out the first weekend if she’s not 100%. This team will be exciting.
Next weekend the Huskers host the annual Ameritas Players’ Challenge at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. The Huskers take on the University of Maryland at Baltimore County Friday, September 1 at noon, and then Oral Roberts at 7:00 pm the same day. The last match of the weekend pits the Huskers against Saint Mary’s College at 2:00 pm Saturday.