In a shortened season, with fewer opponents, every practice and every match is like an ingredient in a recipe. This season, you taste everything because the whole meal is made with fewer components. In this recipe of a season, the next two weekends of play for Nebraska volleyball are main dish. Eat it up fans!
#5 Minnesota comes to Devaney to play Friday and Sunday this weekend, then the Huskers travel to #1 Wisconsin for Friday and Saturday matches the following weekend. These eight days may decide the Big Ten Volleyball Champions for 2021.
Nebraska returned home later than expected after being stuck in NJ after their Rutgers matches. When they went to practice in Devaney on Tuesday, power outages left the practice schedule in question. Despite these hurdles, senior co captain Lauren Stivrins says the team is looking forward to the competition this weekend.
Coach Cook said the competition at practice would determine the starters for Nebraska against Minnesota. He thought Jazz Sweet “looked confident” on the court against Rutgers, but knows each of the potential starters bring strengths to the team and he said he doesn’t knows who will start on the right side.
When asked about passing so far this season Coach gave it an “average” rating. He went on to say, “I think serving and passing, if you don’t do a good job on that, you’re going to have a hard time beating great teams,” Cook said.
The passing load rests primarily on four players shoulders; Kenzie Knuckles, Lexi Sun, Madi Kubik and Keonilei Akana. Coach can make a sub here or there to get the team out of a rotation but the main idea is that this group, comprised of one freshman, two sophomores and one senior, have to pass, and pass very well, for the team to be great this season. And their first real test is Friday night.
The honeymoon period for the season is over according to Coach Cook. Players are players and no matter their year of school they have to step up to the plate. Minnesota has a lot of fast ball pitchers to call up.
First, there’s Stephanie Samedy is a 6’2’’, senior right side hitter for Minnesota. She doesn’t scream or celebrate big but her presence is huge on the court. The balls boom off the floor when she attacks, often untouched by the other team’s blockers. She can hit over, around, and through blockers! “Samedy right now is probably best-player-in-the-country level,” Coach Cook said. “We’re going to have our hands full.”
She plays all six rotations for the Gophers and may be a better attacker from the back than she is in the front row. They set her a ton in the backrow, so teams need to know where she is at all times. Samedy is ALWAYS a threat.
She has a strong supporting cast that are all excellent and stars in their own position. CC McGraw is a junior libero. She is a solid-as-a-rock passer and defender. She owns the back court for Minnesota.
McGraw gets even better when Rachel Kilkelly comes in to serve and play defense. She is tied for the team lead in service aces. These two defenders keep the Gophers in points long enough to chuck the ball to one of their pin hitters (Samedy, Landfair and Rollins) for a kill. That is all they need, a high ball outside for a kill.
The Gophers added Taylor Landfair, the No. 1 national recruit in the 2020 class. The 6-foot-5 freshman outside hitter from Plainfield, Illinois played for a club program known for strong fundamentals and precise volleyball. Add those skills to her athletic ability and you have a player that can score points at will. Landfair ranks second on the team in kills and is a frequent outlet for fellow freshman, Melani Shaffmaster at the setter position.
Shaffmaster is 6’3’’, which draws a lot of attention at the setter position. She is a weapon there and can earn kills for the Gophers that are not common for a setter to make. She brings consistency in the setting position which Minnesota was lacking since four-time All American Samantha Seliger-Swenson graduated and joined the National Team. The freshman has room to improve on her defense and setting accuracy, but with the offensive weapons she has on this squad, she is doing just fine for now.
Adanna Rollins is the other outside hitter. This 6’0’’ junior averages 3.2 kills per set. She is a steady performer in this all star cast. The last person you need to know about on the Minnesota side of the court is 6’5’’ redshirt senior Regan Pittman. She blocks out the sun (not Lexi Sun just the sun in general!) and is that other player tied for service aces on their team. She is one of the emotional leaders of this team. She was also a first team All American last season.
You will recognize Hunter Atherton, who was a serving specialist and backup setter on Nebraska’s 2017 national championship team. She played a year at University of North Carolina and now is a backup setter for the Gophers.
So rest up, get hydrated and stock up on your sustainment food.
The matches this weekend are on BTN!!! Friday match start is 8 pm CST. We’ll be here with a game thread to talk about it all.