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Volleyball: Huskers go 1-1 in VERT Challenge

Florida avenged their national championship loss while the Huskers swept Oregon

Gallery: Husker Volleyball Conquers Weekend Challenges

The #2 Nebraska Huskers Women’s Volleyball Team opened the season hosting three perennial powerhouses in women’s volleyball. On Friday night at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, the Huskers dropped the National Championship rematch to the #7 University of Florida Gators 1-3 (20-25, 22-25, 25-23, 23-25). Nebraska rebounded Saturday to sweep the #18 University of Oregon Ducks 25-21, 25-21, 26-24).

This year marked the fourth and final year of the VERT Challenge four-team tournament to open the NCAA Volleyball season. The tournament has featured the same four teams, Nebraska, Oregon, Florida, and Texas, in each season. The teams rotated hosting duties with this year landing in Lincoln.

While the scores were close against Florida on Friday, the Huskers struggled offensively and from the service line. Jazz Sweet led the Huskers with 13 kills and hit .273. Mikaela Foecke was the only other Husker with double-digit kills recording 11, but hitting .085. The team also missed 13 serves while putting up only 5 aces.

Nine and a half Husker blocks held the Gators to .182 hitting, but 10 Gator blocks helped keep the Husker offense hitting only .126, Nebraska did outdig Florida with 65 digs to 59. Foecke had 10 digs to record a double-double. Freshman setter Nicklin Hames had 19 digs to lead the Big Red and Libero Kenzie Maloney had 14.

Saturday night, the Huskers looked in control for most of the match, though Oregon made it interesting late in the final set. While only Foecke cracked the double-digits for kills with 15, the team hit a much better .246, led by Calli Schwarzenbach’s .667 with six kills on nine swings and no errors and Foecke’s .375, 15 kills on 40 swings with no errors.

The Huskers had only two aces, but reduced the service errors to eight on the night, giving up fewer points to their opponent. Both teams had 54 digs, with Maloney having 16 digs and Foecke again notching a double-double with 11 digs.

It’s not entirely unexpected to see the Huskers start by dropping the match to Florida but beating Oregon. High-level volleyball looks very different than practice, no matter how well you’ve trained. The Huskers are filling in a lot of holes left by last year’s senior class and they’re figuring out how to fit together.

Unlike last year’s VERT Challenge, the Huskers did escape with a win this year. Last year the team was without their setter, but this year they were missing Lexi Sun, the transfer from Texas who is expected to play opposite Foecke at outside hitter. She was battling a back problem and while her return is not certain, she’s not expected to miss a lot of the season.

The Huskers were also able to avoid #3 Texas in this year’s tournament. The Longhorns were the only team to make it through undefeated on the weekend, beating Oregon 3-1 Friday and Florida 3-2 Saturday.

It’s always dangerous to draw parallels, but the Huskers were missing a key component for opening weekend last season and dropped both matches. They’re missing a player who should be a key component this season and managed to get a victory this year. The team will have some kinks to work out early in the year, so we won’t really know who this team will be until we see them at full-strength with a couple weekends under their belt.

Next weekend will be a good weekend for the team to find their footing. Ohio, Wake Forest, and Santa Clara come to Lincoln for the Ameritas Players’ Challenge. The Huskers play Ohio Friday at noon and Wake Forest Friday at 7:30 pm. They close out the weekend on Saturday at 2:00 pm against Santa Clara. All games will be available on BTNPlus ($$) and Husker Sports Network radio affiliates.