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Volleyball: The Biggest Test so far: Nebraska Passed and Won vs. MSU

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The Huskers beat the Spartans in three sets

Molly Houser

Nebraska 3 vs Michigan State 0- 25-16, 25-19, 25-20

There were ups and downs to the straight set win for Nebraska against Michigan State but the Huskers played with full confidence through all the waves. There was no doubt in the face or body language of the players. After the match Madi Kubik said “I feels like the energy she (Lauren Stivrins) brings to the court makes a difference”.

The Huskers held MSU star, Sarah Franklin, to only 5 kills and -.029 hitting percentage. The game plan clearly worked and the team executed it to stop her as an offensive threat. Nebraska was in the drivers seat and could side out at will for most of the match.

Coach Cook said “Lexi Rodriguez put on a show tonight”. Rodriguez had 17 digs and many of them were pivotal to winning the rally. In set three she dub three balls during one rally and all players pointed to her after they won the point, she did that!

After the match, Coach Cook felt like this was a good win but wanted to clean up aspects. “We had a lot of opportunities to score points in transitions. We made errors in those situations. We have a great drill for this; we call it JC (John Cook) on a box live”. The team committed to doing this drill every practice when they play 6 on 6.

Drills like this, tough competition in practice and matches can push this team to be better, to get better. This team getting better every week, every day is exciting. The potential is obvious. Coach Cook says they love to train. If they put in the work that potential turns into talent and skill.

We saw great play on Friday night from the 2021 squad and it was largely sustained in this Sunday match. They elevated their level of play as a team and dominated a quality Wolverine and Spartan teams. Credit is due to senior captain and All-American Lauren Stivrins. Her potential before she was healthy this season, was to provide this team with the missing piece to their puzzling inability to push teams that their talent otherwise says they should push.

It’s only one match, but early indication is that by stepping on the court for a match, she brought together the links of a chain that is strong enough to win against the best teams in the country. She may get the credit for all of this, as the final piece needed to elevate the team. And maybe she deserves it. Maybe.

Of course, every other Husker that stepped on the court on executed to a high level. Ally Batenhorst terminated the ball with a variety of shots and hit aggressively. Keonilei Akana served well and dug tough balls with precision. Nicklin Hames spread the offense with almost mathematical equivalence, and made those sets in great locations for each hitter.

We can go on about the high level of play for each individual. A team performance, perhaps brought made possible by a great player and leader, Stivrins, who is respected by her team and boosts the entire program and, really, the whole Husker volleyball nation. Heck, maybe even Husker football nation!!

We’ve seen this happen in other sports, at other times, like Derek Jeter and the Yankees; surrounded by talent but he was the “x” factor that pushed them over the top. Whatever the cause, the Huskers were able to sustain that high level of play for three sets against Michigan and Michigan State, and that’s a start.

The test is to sustain and continue to improve this new level of play for another match, two, five, for the next 17 conference matches plus the NCAA tournament. But we’ve at least got the first part of that test behind us.

Nebraska visits No. 14 Penn State on Friday, Oct. 8, with first serve set for 6 p.m. CT at Rec Hall in University Park, Pa. The match will be televised on Big Ten Network and streamed on the FOX Sports app. John Baylor and Lauren Cook West will also have the radio call on Huskers Radio Network.