#5 Nebraska (12-2) travels to University of Michigan (4-5) for a Thursday and Friday double header. Both matches are scheduled on BTN at 7 pm Thursday and 6 pm Friday.
Nebraska had a great set of matches against Iowa where players found a rhythm and eliminated mental mistakes. Lexi Sun was named the B1G player of the week for the second time this season. Sun was great against the Hawkeyes, hitting over .400 and averaging 3 digs per set.
The bigger story was that Riley Zuhn is out for the rest of the season with a broken bone in her foot. Word of that came after the first match with Iowa, but before the second. In the second match Jazz Sweet, starting on the right side, and was phenomenal. Somehow those two things —Zuhn’s injury and Sweet’s great play—are related, but I don’t know how. Sweet will start on the right side the rest of the season, and Coach John Cook said that he hopes she writes the “next great chapter” of her story at Nebraska.
Lauren Stivrins was impressive, as always, but she performed well from the service line, too, which is new. Her serving and defense offer a lift to the team in that rotation. Nicklin Hames talked about having Stivrins stay on the court as a positive presence; we’ll see if this rotational adjustment continues.
University of Michigan is at least one notch better competition, if not two or three notches, than Iowa. Nebraska has a great deal working in it’s favor but will also face a real challenge against U of M.
The Wolverine’s season has stopped and started multiple times. They started in January with a six match postponement period, followed by five matches in which they played. During those five matches they lost to Purdue twice, beat MSU once and split with Maryland. The next two weekends were postponed against Minnesota and Rutgers. They have since played four scheduled matches in a row, beating Indiana twice and losing to Ohio State twice.
It makes a difference that the Huskers have played five more matches than Michigan. It especially makes a difference because Michigan plays a freshman at setter, outside hitter and a redshirt freshmen libero. Those are key positions. Match experience matters and these players only have nine matches worth of experience heading to a match against the juggernaut of Nebraska.
The Wolverines have some names you may remember, because these women are very good. Paige Jones is a 6’1’’ outside hitter. She is in her junior season and has impacted the court every year. She is a high flying, broad jumping creative hitter averaging 3.84 kills per set. She hits well from the front and back court and she has a tough serve.
May Pertofsky should ring a bell. She is a 6’1’’ right side in her sophomore season. She averages 2.71 kills per set and offers freshmen setter, Scottee Johnson, a good option when she needs to spread the offense across the net.
Another sophomore, Jess Robinson, also made a large impact when she started last year next to Pertofsky. These three players will get kills along with freshman outside hitter, Jess Mruzik, but it won’t be enough to beat Nebraska.
Why? Michigan is not a great blocking team. They are undersized in many positions and so they don’t get a ton of stuff blocks. They do touch a lot of balls on the block and give their back court defense a chance to dig the ball up. That backcourt defense is as good as anyone, and they make the rally long by keeping the ball alive.
This forces opponents to terminate and sometimes it will feel like the ball should have gone down multiple times. Their game plan is to force mistakes through frustration and longer rallies. I don’t expect this rattle a veteran Husker team, but there is always a chance.
Michigan has a lot to fight for. They were ranked in the top 25 at the start of the season. They have the talent to be in the top 25 but haven’t produced the wins to prove it. They are the only Big Ten team that is outside the top 25 that still has an argument to be in the tournament. A win against Nebraska would be gold for that argument.
Michigan is the next Big Ten team in after: #1 Wisconsin, #4 Minnesota, #5 Nebraska, #9 Ohio State, #10 Purdue, #11 Penn State. At 48 teams, it is not possible but if the field included 64, there is a chance! If you missed it, read There should be 64 Teams in the Volleyball NCAA Tournament
Check back in here for a Husker vs Wolverine game thread and starting line ups. I can promise you this Michigander gal living in Nebraska is cheering for red.