The closing weekend of the regular season at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln saw domination by the #6 Huskers over the visiting Ohio State Buckeyes on Friday, and a special pregame speech from Coach Frost on Saturday before the team dismantled Maryland.
Friday night’s opponent, Ohio State, has proven to be a bit of a bugaboo for the Huskers since joining the B1G. In fact, the Huskers had not beaten the Buckeyes at Devaney since 2011. This meeting was all Big Red though as Nebraska notched a sweep 25-15, 25-12, 25-12.
Domination might be too strong of a word for the performance by the Huskers on Friday. Nebraska hit .353 while holding Ohio State to -.044. The Huskers had 13 blocks while Ohio State only managed one. Even though the dig totals looked closer, the Huskers still had 48 to 40 for the visitors.
Lexi Sun has slowly rounded in to form as the player that many hoped she’d be for the Huskers, and the player that we saw glimpses of early in the season. She was putting some fire on her attacks, and lodging kills from the back row. The sophomore outside led the way with 12 kills and no errors to hit .522 on the night. Senior outside Mikaela Foecke added nine kills and hit .318,
Saturday night the Huskers dominated a Maryland team that is hoping to earn a tournament bid on Sunday night. The Huskers had their second sweep of the weekend, knocking off the Terps 25-13, 25-10, 25-18,
Sophomore middle Lauren Stivrin was credited with 13 blocks on the weekend, six of them against the Terrapins. She also had eight kills to hit .500 on Saturday night. Again, the hitting numbers are just obscene, with the Huskers hitting .414 on the night while limiting Maryland to .021. Saturday was senior night, and Foecke led the way with 16 kills to hit .577.
Senior libero Kenzie Maloney had a great night defensively, recording 11 of the team’s 48 digs. The Husker block again was a force, with the team notching a total of nine blocks, not to mention sending a lot of balls back to make the Terps play again.
Devaney should be alive with volleyball again next weekend, with 16 schools getting to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The selection show airs at 7:30 PM Central on ESPNU (or whenever the basketball game ends).
Nebraska is likely to be either a two or three seed in the tournament. Their RPI was just outside the top ten as of last week, which would likely make them a three seed. The team ended up tied for third in conference behind Minnesota and Illinois.
CornNation will have a preview of the NCAA tournament later tonight once we know what the Huskers’ path to Minneapolis for the semi-finals and Championship match looks like. If the Huskers are a two or three seed, it’s unlikely that the team will host the second weekend of the tournament, as the teams seeded above them would have to lose or not have facilities to host.
The team looks good right now. The mid-season doldrums that seemed to haunt the team through the brutal road stretch during conference season seem to have been cast aside. This team absolutely looks like a team ready to beat some teams and play in Minneapolis in three weeks.
As mentioned earlier, Lexi Sun has been attacking at a high percentage the last couple of weeks and with that makes the Husker attack more open and dynamic, not to mention harder to defend. The middles are finding their way in to the offense more and still stoning opposing attackers, which was something that they did well throughout the conference slate.
The biggest indicators, however, might be Jazz Sweet’s improved play and the wrinkle that Capri Davis adds on the outside. When the Huskers are serve-receiving in rotation one (Hames serving and Jazz hitting on the left side, a tough task for a lefty), Freshman outside Capri Davis is attacking at the left. Davis has managed to befuddle defenses and score at a high clip out there which has made it tough to defend this team.
While it’d be easy to draw parallels between this and last year’s team, this isn’t the same team. This team has more raw power and athleticism, and the hiccup this season has been the connection between the freshman setter, Nicklin Hames, and the middle and right side attackers, Stivrins, Callie Schwarzenbach, and Jazz Sweet. It’s still not perfect, but it’s coming. This team is still young and inexperienced, but is rounding into tournament form at the perfect time.
Last season, there wasn’t a lot of Championship Weekend buzz around the team heading into the tournament. I’m still not sure it’s appropriate for this team yet, BUT, many of the pieces are still in place. This team leaves no doubt in its desire and expectations. After the Selection Show tonight, we’ll know much more about what to expect on this team’s road to repeat.