The only two remaining teams who are undefeated in conference play meet tonight. This is a story in itself. But the more interesting story to consider, beyond the records, is that Nebraska and Penn State are walking VERY similar paths in this 2021 campaign. They both ooze talent, on the court and the bench, and who also have returning elite, cornerstone-type players alongside the up and comers.
Both coaches are working through multiple line up combinations to find the best fit for this talent. They both lost a few matches they probably should have won, but didn’t in large part because the roster was unsettled. Oh, and let’s not forget their fan bases are smart volleyball lovers that know how to cheer loud!
Both Coach John Cook of Nebraska and Coach Russ Rose of Penn State look at their rosters and see that they have more options than they do spots on the court. That means each week they are starting, and not starting, highly talented players who in a typical year would be locks for a top roster spot.
In the off season, Penn State gained two experienced and decorated outside hitters. Adanna Rollins transferred from Minnesota and Erika Pritchard came in from Maryland. Both of these players were offensive threats for their teams last season, and are vying for starting positions at Penn State. They both have the talent to be on the court, but Coach Rose is looking for the highest performing starters, which isn’t always the players with the best stats or athletic gifts. Sound familiar?
I’ve been asked over and over why Lexi Sun isn’t starting and the answer looks a lot like above. Consistently performing, whether that is during practice or a match, is essential on a team overloaded with potential starters. So, she doesn’t start. Choices have to be made.
The similarities continue for these storied programs. Both teams have a dominating senior middle blocker. Kaitlyn Hord for PSU will stand opposite Lauren Stivrins and Kayla Caffey for NU. All three players are dynamic, explosive and excellent blockers. Watch the middles play tonight. What a show!
The setting position presents another oddly similar situation, too. Nittany Lion setter Gabby Blossom is 5’9’’ and is the emotional leader of the Nittany Lions. Nicklin Hames is 5’10’’ and a fiery competitor on the court.
These two will both play excellent defense and place the ball accurately on their sets to hitters. They will also both be subbed out at times because of their smaller block size so we will see liberos setting the second ball or, on the Penn State side, sometimes Joni Parker on the right side will set.
The Nittany Lions are in the midst of a six-match winning streak following two back-to-back losses to Oregon and Stanford. They looked impressive in a sweep over then-No. 3 Ohio State, and next will face their first ranked matchup since the Buckeyes.
Penn State leads the entire nation as a team in blocks per set with 3.32, with Kaitlin Hord ranking second nationally with 1.74 blocks per set. Their offense has been finding its groove as well, led by Jonni Parker and then different names in the mix contributing in Adanna Rollins, Allie Holland, Erika Pritchard and Anastasiya Kudryashova. In other words, PSU is hitting their stride after a rocky start. Again, does this sound familiar?
This match should go blow for blow. Watching two similar teams working through line up stability challenges with mastermind coaches making the game plan sounds like a great way to spend a Friday night. Coach Cook wants to see the Huskers push teams. The Nittany Lions will push and we will see if Nebraska pushes back. Nebraska has a slight edge in talent, and if they can show some with some grit tonight they should win in five sets tonight.
#10 Nebraska (10-3) vs #13 Penn State University (11-3)
When: Friday, October 8, 2021, 6:00 pm (CT)
Where: University Park, PA
Video: Big Ten Network, Fox Sports App
Radio: Husker Sports Network - Lincoln (B107.3 FM); Omaha (AM 590); Huskers.com; Huskers App
University of Nebraska (10-3)
#1 Nicklin Hames 5’10’’ SR Setter - 2.83 digs per set
#2 Kenzie Knuckles 5’8’’ JR DS - 1.73 digs per set, .959 reception %
#3 Kayla Caffey 6’0’’ SR MB - 2.35 kills per set, 1.05 blocks per set
#4 Anni Evans 5’9’’ SO Setter/Serving Specialist
#6 Keonilei Akana 5’9’’ SO DS - 2.20 digs per set, .933 reception %
#7 Rylee Gray 6’4’’ FR MB
#8 Lexi Rodriguez 5’5’’ FR Libero - 3.79 digs per set, .969 reception %
#9 Kennedi Orr 6’0’’ FR Setter
#10 Madi Kubik 6’3’’ JR OH - 2.80 kills per set, .45 blocks per set, .936 reception %
#11 Lexi Sun 6’2’’ SR OH- 3.11 kills per set, .52 blocks per set, .947 reception %
#13 Whitney Lauenstein 6’2’’ FR OH - 1.05 kills per set, .32 blocks per set
#14 Ally Batenhorst 6’4’’ FR OH - 1.73 kills per set, .32 blocks per set, .938 reception %
#20 Kalynn Meyer 6’3’’ SO MB
#22 Lindsay Krause 6’4’’ FR OH - 2.34 kills per set, .84 blocks per set, .864 reception %
#25 Callie Schwarzenbach 6’5’’ SR MB - 1.88 kills per set, 1.33 blocks per set
#26 Lauren Stivrins 6’4’’ SR MB - 3.0 kills per set, .83 blocks per set
Penn State University (11-3)
#1 Adanna Rollins 6’0’’ SR OH- 2.29 kills per set
#5 Erika Pritchard 6’3’’ SR OH - 2.59 kills per set
#9 Jonni Parker 6’0’’ SR OH - 3.79 kills per set
#12 Cassie Kuerschen 5’9’’ DS FR
#13 Gabby Blossom 5’9’’ SR Setter
#15 Jenna Hampton 5’7’’ SR DS
#18 Anastasiya Kudryashova 6’4’’ R/JR OH - 1.91 kills per set
#20 Allie Holland 6’3’’ SO MB - 1.88 kills per set, 1.29 blocks per set
#23 Kaitlyn Hord 6’4’’ SR MB - 2.15 kills per set, 1.74 blocks per set