There are many facets to the Wednesday night match that we can talk about but there are only two that matter; volleyball fundamentals and belief in the training.
It is tempting to write an entire article about the play of Dana Rettke, the 6’8’’ MB graduate student for Wisconsin and her All American setter Sydney Hilley.
Alternatively, shouldn’t we talk about how the Big Ten honored only Nebraska and Wisconsin players after the last week of play?
Player of the week: Dana Rettke, Wisconsin
Defensive player of the week: Lexi Rodriguez, Nebraska
Freshman of the week: Lexi Rodriguez, Nebraska
Co-Setter of the week: Nicklin Hames, Nebraska and Sydney Hilley, Wisconsin
Or, the rankings; we must talk about how Wisconsin is ranked 3rd in the country and Nebraska 6th. These rankings have to matter on Wednesday night.
NO! None of it actually matters for the match. They are exciting stories and earned honors, but the things that make a difference when Devaney is a sea of red are execution of volleyball fundamentals, and consistent belief in the training through the match.
The first volleyball fundamental that will be truly tested is disciplined blocking. Wisconsin is a high functioning offensive team. They hit .305 as a team, compared to .245 for Nebraska. Disciplined blocking means staying with your assignment, seeing the other team’s entire offense, getting your feet to the blocking spot and then pressing over the net.
Blocking is a whole body exercise. Of course you have to jump so feet and legs are involved. When players press over the net, their core muscles are involved, shoulder and back muscles flex to hold the arms and hands tight for contact. This whole body movement happens in milliseconds, but it must all happen or the block becomes an asset to the opponent to tool off of, rather than a defensive asset for Nebraska.
Here’s the good news: Every Wisconsin player is blockable. Rettke has a high contact point so she can hit over many blocks, but watch closer and you’ll see that this isn’t normally how she earns her kills. She most often hits seams in blocks or around poorly positioned blockers. She isn’t highly mobile, so the Badgers can’t get her the ball in all situations.
Wisconsin can send it out to their pin hitters, Grace Loberg (senior), Julia Orzol (freshman)and right side Anna Smrek (freshman). Smrek won’t get set often but she does hit some good angles on her shots. The block needs to form a solid wall of hands in front of her and know that the floor defense can dig most of her shots.
Orzol gets set more than any other Wisconsin player on most nights. She is powerful and hits a lot of angles on the court. She likes to power through the block so the strong shoulders and pressing is vital for Nebraska’s right side and middle blockers.
The senior outside, Loberg, is crafty and experienced. She also receives a lot of sets. She sees the block well and will adjust to what the defense gives her. Defenders need to stop their feet when she contacts the ball so they can then move and react to where she hits it.
Fundamentals in passing are also critical. Wisconsin is an excellent serving team. There are six players that consistently produce aces and are just generally trouble for opponents; Lauren Barnes, Hilley, Joslyn Boyer, Civita Giorgia, Izzy Ashburn and Orzol. Ashburn is the 2nd best server in the conference with .51 aces per set behind Michigan’s May Pertofsky at .54.
Nebraska’s passers need to communicate as the Badgers will try to serve between players. Huskers then have to press their passing platforms forward and allow for last minute adjustments are the ball moves through the air. With good passes, this Nebraska offense is actually more dynamic and complicated than Wisconsin's.
Which leads us back to important issue number 2: Belief in the training. Recall last weekend’s Purdue match, in set one. Huskers were getting rolled with few answers. Did Coach Cook panic? Did the players lose their heads? No. The game hinged back to the Huskers in the first set rather suddenly when the game plan came back into focus. When the players simply did as they practiced. And Purdue didn’t stand a chance.
Look, the Badgers will win a set, possibly two. This game will come down to how our players react, and if they can center themselves and play their game, not Wisconsin’s. So, see above: Where are your feet when you go to block? Are you pressing your hands over the net? Is your platform forward? Etc, etc. When the Huskers execute, they do not lose. They execute when they remember their training.
Tomorrow morning full line ups, stats and games plans right back here on cornnation.com. Wednesday, October 27th, first serve is set for 8 pm on Big Ten Network. John Baylor and Lauren Cook West will have the radio call on Huskers Radio Network.