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Volleyball: Nebraska vs Kansas

Grand Island, NE hosts the spring match up

Maddie Washburn

Nebraska (0-0) vs Kansas (0-0)
When: Saturday, April 23, 2022, 5:00 pm (CT)
Where: Heartland Events Center Grand Island, NE
Video: Nebraska Public Media- free live stream at NebraskaPublicMedia.org
Radio: Husker Sports Network

The Nebraska volleyball team plays its only spring match of the season when it heads to Grand Island to face Kansas on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Heartland Events Center. Tickets for Saturday’s match went on sale on March 10th and approximately 6,000 tickets were sold out within 10 minutes. After the match, the Husker players will sign autographs in the arena for approximately one hour.

Spring is the traditional off-season for volleyball. Generally, the seniors from last year are not playing, but next year’s freshman are not on campus yet. It is a chance for coaches and players to try new line ups, see what the is working and what is not. Play will not be perfect and line ups will change frequently as coaches get a feel for their players.

Nebraska vs Kansas should be a very competitive match. That is exactly what both coaches want. Both teams have seen the same faces across the net in the practice gym for weeks, so they are excited to see a change and test out their skills.

The scoreboard matters less. What the teams and coaches take from this match are practice drills, areas for improvement and the adrenaline of competition. You have to drink the adrenaline juice!

Since practice started in the spring, coaches have designed drills and line ups that they think are best. The match will give a good indication if those drills are working and if the line ups can be what they hoped.

This is a check point along the road to the fall season and the NCAA Tournament. Adjustments will be made after this match. If I put my coach hat on: We (the coaches) will see a player do something we didn’t know she could do, let’s do more of that! Or maybe we will see the defensive drills we are doing in practice are just not translating to execution in a match. We need to adjust the drill to force pursuit of the ball, for example.

We are likely to see a little bit of everything, much will be unexpected. But, here’s a list of things we will see that is important for the season ahead:

-New faces in new positions (for NU): Kennedi Orr at setter and Kaitlyn Hord at middle blocker.
-Veteran faces in same position: Madi Kubik, Lindsay Krause and Ally Batenhorst at outside hitter, Lexi Rodriguez at libero and Keonilei Akana and Kenzie Knuckles at defensive specialist.
-Veteran faces in new position: Nicklin Hames as serving specialist or defensive specialist.
-Veteran faces in unknown position: Kayla Caffey is still waiting for the NCAA to determine if she is eligible for the season.
-Veteran faces in temporary positions: Callie Schwarzenbach in middle blocker before she transfers to Long Beach State.

Also intriguing to see where and how Whitney Lauenstein, Anni Evans and the freshman class will contribute.

Nebraska is coming off a 26-8 season (15-4 Big Ten) and an NCAA runner-up finish. Entering the NCAA Tournament with a 21-7 record and a lineup featuring four freshmen in the rotation, the 10th-seeded Huskers peaked at the right time, knocking off the No. 2 Texas Longhorns on their way to an NCAA Semifinals appearance.

After a 3-1 win over No. 3 Pittsburgh, NU played Big Ten champion Wisconsin for a third time in the season. The match went to five sets, where the Huskers fell behind 7-0. A long rally pulled the Huskers to within 14-12, but ultimately Wisconsin edged NU for the NCAA title.

Nebraska’s second-ever AVCA National Freshman of the Year in libero Lexi Rodriguez, was also the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and an AVCA first-team All-American. Rodriguez averaged 4.33 digs per set and posted a Nebraska freshman record for digs in a season with 524.

Madi Kubik had a breakout junior campaign in 2021, earning third-team AVCA All-America honors and first-team All-Big Ten. Kubik had a team-high 3.49 kills per set to go with 2.11 digs per set. She ranked third in Big Ten matches in kills per set (4.11). The Huskers reached the NCAA Championship match for the fourth time in seven years, the most finals appearances by any program since 2015.

Kansas is coming off an NCAA Regional Semifinal appearance last season. The Jayhawks upset No. 19 Oregon (3-0) and No. 20 Creighton (3-1) before losing to No. 3 Pittsburgh (0-3). Kansas finished the year 18-12 and went 8-8 in the Big 12 Conference, finishing in a tie for third. Caroline Bien was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year last fall. Bien averaged 2.95 kills per set and 2.42 digs in her first year at KU. The outside hitter was named to the All-Big 12 First Team.

The Jayhawks added Florida graduate transfer middle blocker Lauren Dooley in January. Dooley played in 22 matches for the Gators in 2021 and had 86 kills and 77 blocks while hitting .436. Dooley was the SEC Defensive Player of the Week three weeks in a row in her junior season in 2020-21 and led the SEC in blocks with 1.40 per set. Former Husker Anezka Szabo is a senior right-side hitter for the Jayhawks. Szabo averaged 1.41 kills and 1.01 blocks for Kansas in 2021.

Nebraska is 87-0-1 all-time against Kansas. The last time the teams met was in the 2015 NCAA Semifinal in Omaha, where the Huskers won 3-1 and continued on to win the NCAA Championship.

Were you one of the lucky, quick acting 6,000 going to the match?