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The Wait is Over for a Heavily Weighted Weekend in Volleyball

Nebraska travels to Wisconsin in what could decide the B1G Champion

Jon Johnston

#4 Nebraska (7-1) plays a #1 Wisconsin (10-0) team that hasn’t changed much since last year. They have 6 of 7 primary players returning. They graduated Madison Duello from the right side position and Tiffany Clark from Libero. Clarke already had an understudy in defensive specialist Lauren Barnes. Barnes is now the libero, a very good one. Duello was replaced by a highly talented freshman, Devyn Robinson. Everyone else is the same as last season so...

I went just back to the archives and just uploaded the same article as last season.

No, no I didn’t. I could. I could just tell you the same thing as last year, but I won’t. If we do the same thing, we get the same result. Do you remember the result from the three matches between Huskers and Badgers last year? We don’t want ANY of those results. But it will be a very challenging road to 25 points against the Wisconsin 2021 team.

Only two teams have taken a set from Wisconsin so far this season. Illinois and Michigan State both took set three from the Badgers in the second match of their weekends. While both of those teams are talented, they are not ones I would have expected to beat Wisconsin, even a set. #11 Purdue couldn’t win a set and here is why...

This is a Wisconsin team that has gears and knows how to shift up a gear when necessary. Teams stay close the whole set and then at 20 points, Wisconsin scores a quick and seemingly easy five points to end it.

Coach Cook talked about the last five points of a set this week in reference to his team. He said he wants to see improvement in the urgency to close the set. Set 3 against Minnesota on Friday night was a prime example of the need to finish a set. Had the Huskers won set three, which they were in position to do, the match dynamic was entirely different.

Last weekend, we also saw how significant learning between matches is when teams are playing back to back. It took Nebraska 24 hours and a practice to make the changes they needed to beat the Gophers. They will need to learn and adjust faster with the two matches against Wisconsin. There is no off day and heck, make the adjustments in the game to work for two wins not just one!

Here is what to expect on both sides of the net. We will see Riley Zuhn start in the right side position because of her performance last weekend as well as her blocking size. Coach uses practice to determine the starting line ups, but Zuhn was too good last weekend and the team needs the size of her block.

Coach will use Jazz Sweet and Anni Evans in a double sub when Wisconsin is hitting over or off of Hames’s block. Sweet comes in for Hames to give a bigger block. Evans comes in to set the offense. This sub will happen more against the Badgers than we have seen previously this season.

I also expect Kayla Caffey to start in the middle. She was very effective last weekend with 7 kills for a .455 hitting percentage and 7 blocks. She cuts (turns her wrist or arm) the ball when she hits and that makes her hard to block. Wisconsin has two very good middle blockers. Playing Caffey not only gives NU kills but frustrates the opponent.

Nicklin Hames will move the middles around and of course we will see lots of slides. We will see them not only because Lauren Stivrins is a graceful slide machine, but because it will require tons of movement for WI blockers. Movement create holes and holes create kills.

Wisconsin runs a lot of slides as well. Watch in the middles during a point or two. They will transition from attacking on a slide (they are on the far right side of the court) to blocking a slide (now they need to be on the far left side of the court).

Coaches run this exact drill in practice to fine tune middle’s footwork as well as endurance. Normally the players are bent over with hands on knees catching their breath. Middles work HARD! Nobody will put their hands on their knees in the match (pride) but they will be sucking wind.

We will watch some of the best middles in the country on both sides of the net this weekend. Dana Rettke is a 6’8’’ senior MB for Wisconsin. She is a three time All American and was on the US National team in the summer of 2019. She runs the slide extremely well and blocks everything. She is the marquee player for the Badgers, but while we were over here talking about Rettke, Danielle Hart just ran a slide for a kill and we forgot to watch.

Hart is a 6’4’’ redshirt Junior MB. She was an honorable mention All American so let’s not forget about her! She also runs the slide very well averaging 1.75 kills per set. She blocks on average .78 blocks per set.

Both middles have excellent timing with setter Sydney Hilley a 6’0’’ senior. Hilley is a focused and studied player. She sets precisely and makes very few errors. She is the smallest block on the Badger side so expect Madi Kubik and Lexi Sun to aim for the sides and tips of her hands for kills.

The outside hitters for Wisconsin will execute the same strategy, hitting off smaller blocker hands, against Hames. Molly Haggerty 6’1’’ redshirt senior and Grace Loberg 6’3’’ senior are experienced players having played all four years at Wisconsin. Haggerty redshirted after her freshman year due to a back injury. She also didn’t play last weekend against MSU. She is the more explosive of the two outside hitters and always makes a difference in the match.

Wisconsin has plenty of players to start in her place, but if she is still not playing this weekend that will result in a decrease of offense, defense and serve receive consistency for Wisconsin. She makes a difference.

In the backrow for Wisconsin, along with Barnes, you will see Giorgia Civita 5’6’’ senior. She is a transfer from Wichita State with a wicked serve and great defense. Deahna Kraft is a 6’0’’ redshirt senior transfer from Pepperdine University where she was a huge success in beach volleyball. She plays in the backrow and is an attack threat from there.

This will also be a battle of talented coaches. Wisconsin’s Kelly Sheffield is in his 7th year as head coach there. In those seven years, the Badgers have gone to at least the sweet 16 or better in the NCAA tournament. WOW! Sheffield will make adjustments toe to toe with Coach Cook. This too will be fascinating to watch.

The Huskers and Badgers play on Friday night. That match will begin at 7 p.m. CT on BTN, and the Husker Sports Network. They play again Saturday, this night at 8 p.m. CT on the Big Ten Network. The Saturday match will also be streamed on the platform and can be heard on the Husker Sports Network.