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Volleyball Preview: Nebraska vs Indiana

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Friday Night 5 pm match

Jon Johnston

Tonight is the night!

Nebraska volleyball returns to the court for a match for the first time in 13 months. They’ll play University of Indiana Friday and Saturday at 5 pm CT.

You can stream the matches on BTNPlus.com (subscription). Husker Sports Network will broadcast all the Husker action on HSN radio affiliates, including 107.3 FM in Lincoln and AM 590 in Omaha. A live audio stream will be provided at Huskers.com and the Huskers app.

Nebraska is ranked 5th nationally and 3rd in the B10 preseason coaches poll. Coach Cook reminded us in a press conference recently that the last time Nebraska was preseason #5, we won a national championship. Boom! He talks about again here on Conversations with the Cooks.

We get back all our starters from year, which is great. Coach Cook’s squad went 28-5, if you remember, and reached the Final Four. The Huskers lost to national runner-up Wisconsin in that game. The big three returners are Middle Blocker Lauren Stivrins, outside hitter Lexi Sun, and Setter Nicklin Hames. All three were All-Big Ten First-Team in 2019, and both Stivrins and Sun were All-Americans. Tough to predict how All-American votes will go this year, but these are three of the best players at their position in the nation, obviously. We’ll go as far as this trio can takes us.

The other starters that return are Opposite Hitter Jazz Sweet, Defensive Specialist Hayley Densberger and Middle Blocker Callie Schwarzenbach. Lots of experience here. Don’t forget about Outside Hitter Madi Kubik. She was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2019. Last, Libero Kenzie Knuckles, was a member of the All-Big Ten Freshman Team. Among this group, I look for Knuckles to really shine. She can get to the next level, possibly even into the All-American discussion (whatever that looks like in this weird season), with a good showing. If she becomes the player we all think and hope she can become, we’ll be a tough out in the tournament.

Coach Cook brought in four new players for this season. I am intrigued by junior Middle Blocker Missouri transfer Kayla Caffey. She ranked ninth nationally with a .408 hitting percentage during the 2019 season for the Tigers. Legit. She seems to have a really high ceiling, and with some better talent around her this year at Nebraska, it’ll be exciting to see what Caffey can do. She has fantastic competition for the role, and I am excited to see if she can rise to the occasion and perform in the B10.

The other three additions to the roster are freshmen: Middle Blocker Kalynn Meyer, Setter Anni Evans and Defensive Specialist Keonilei Akana. Sophomore Setter Nicole Drewnick has opted out of the 2020-21 season. Keep your eye out for these highly rated recruits to get in some games on sheer talent alone.

Historically, it hasn’t been much of a series. The Huskers are 17-1 against Indiana all time. In 2019, the Hoosiers went 14-19 overall and 3-17 in the Big Ten to finish 13th in the conference. Indiana was picked 11th in the Big Ten Preseason Coaches Poll for 2020. Never overlook an opponent, they say. And they’re right. But this is a good draw to open the season with for the Huskers. Get our feet wet, work out the kinks after around 400 days since the last real game.

Anyway, since last year Indiana graduated seven seniors and will suit up eight freshmen this weekend. Coach Steve Aird, a very highly respected former Penn State assistant coach under Russ Rose, goes into his third season relying pretty heavily on junior Outside Hitter Breana Edwards. They have experience at the setter position, sophomore Emily Fitzner started last year. An interesting addition arrived in Bloomington this offseason, a senior transfer from U of Dayton Brooke Westbeld will compete for the starting setter role. Dayton lost in the first round of NCAA last season, so she has seen some success.

Playing one team two nights in a row poses a new type of challenge to teams this season. Coach Cook described it as a “chess match”. There are psychological challenges to facing a team two days in a row. If you win, how do you stay focused? If you lose, how do you work up a positive attitude when lacing up your sneakers again? Volleyball is that way. Same woman across the net from you, same scenarios, same challenges. If she’s a better blocker than you are hitter, say, you get to think about that for 24 hours before seeing her again. Kind of a mind game to not give in mentally. Coach Cook will earn his pay this year!

So, try to focus on your work or school today. But, I know my mind will wander into daydreams of sweet sets, floating serves and impressive digs. Volleyball is back!