→ VERT Challenge Photo Gallery
→ My VolleyTalk Top 25 Vote for 08-27-2018
We have data now, but we have no context. That makes a lot of organizing extremely difficult at best and a fool’s errand at worst. So, I’ve given a lot of thought to some of these teams but very little to others. Alas, sometimes you just have to throw things at the board and see what sticks.
- Russ Rose
- Washington State
- San Diego
- Florida State
- Colorado State
I don’t have much today. There are simply no connections between the pods in our directional graph. Some teams did stuff that I thought probably deserved some movement and got moved. Some teams did very little to prove or disprove my initial assumptions and stayed put. I was in Lincoln at VERT(Longer article to come.) and didn’t see much beyond the four teams that were there. I spent most of the rest of the weekend traveling to and from Lincoln. The official post on VolleyTalk courtesy of user vbprisoner can be found here. The AVCA’s vastly inferior poll can be found here.
Nebraska’s Place in the Fray
Tough to tell right now. The first match for Big Red was pretty different than the clean volleyball we’ve come to expect from the Huskers. However, with all the new players and the losses sustained by graduation and transfers, it wasn’t a totally unexpected start. Statistically, it wasn’t even that different from Nebraska’s appearance in the VERT Challenge in 2017. Obviously, I’m not expecting this team to win a National Championship. That is an unfair expectation at any time, and doubly unfair when half of the team is new to the program. It does; however, illustrate the incredible transition a team can make from opening day to tournament time.
That’s why they play the games. That’s why we watch the games.
→ Omaha Challenge Review and Husker Weekend Preview
The Omaha challenge was last week and I was there for all but one game. Nebraska, Kansas State, Northern Iowa all went 2-1 in the competition while the host UNO went 0-3. However, that’s getting ahead of myself. Let’s first start off with the games.
→ Kansas St. vs. Omaha (2017-09-14)
Game 1. Kansas State and Omaha. The Wildcats have fallen off a bit from their typical results. Usually, near Top 25 status, ViPR started off the week rating the Wildcats around the sixty mark. Omaha started off just beyond 210th. Neither team was particularly clean during the match, but Kansas State’s superior talent did show throughout. Omaha, for their part, played above their predicted level and won the second set handily. Setter Sydney O’Shaughnessy was the star for the Mavericks and did her part taking the second spot in the WPA Top Performers and contributing thirty-four assists and twenty digs. Bryna Vogel of KSU took Top Performer awards in the top spot by terminating on thirteen of twenty-eight swings with only two errors. She also added sixteen digs and two blocks.
Omaha may have lost the game, but they were competitive throughout the game and as it would turn out later, the weekend.
→ Nebraska vs. Kansas St. (2017-09-15)
Game 2. After a hotly contested first set, Nebraska cruised through the rest of the match and completed a comfortable 3-0 sweep of KSU. Nebraska swept the Top Performers list as well with Kelly Hunter, Annika Albrecht, and Kenzie Maloney taking the honors. Kelly Hunter’s thirty-seven assists, eleven digs, three kills, three blocks, and a service ace were enough for top honors. Annika added an ace, two blocks, six kills, and fifteen digs. Kenzie Maloney continued a streak of strong performances from her Libero position with sixteen digs.
Both Husker middles had a strong day with Briana Holman acquiring ten kills on eighteen swings with one error and Lauren Stivrins terminating ten times on fourteen swings with three errors.
Kansas State’s Kylee Zumach stands out for the Wildcats with ten kills on twenty-seven swings with only two errors. She added an ace and two blocks for a solid day all-around.
→ Omaha vs. UNI (2017-09-15)
Game 3. The last match on Friday between Omaha and Northern Iowa was almost a repeat of Omaha’s previous match with Kansas State. Both games ended in 3-1 losses for the Mavericks, but that one was a comfortable second set win by Omaha. In this case, Omaha took the second set 25-19.
Bri Weber takes the Top Performer crown in this game despite having a bit of a rough day hitting. Weber had fourteen kills on forty-one swings with eight errors but also acquired a team-high twenty-three digs and an ace. Bri wasn’t the only hitter to struggle as both teams found terminating to be tough sledding. Omaha hit .105 for the match and Northern Iowa managed only .160 in what was a decidedly defensive struggle.
Claire Mountjoy’s match-high twenty-eight digs propelled her into Third Place on the Top Performers list.
→ Nebraska vs. UNI (2017-09-16)
Game 4. Northern Iowa’s upset of tenth ranked Nebraska was the only game of the weekend I did not see but don’t worry I was watching a game that was equally frustrating for Husker fans if not more so. Watching the football team spot NIU two touchdowns and fail to recover was pain enough.
Statistically, the game was exceptionally close. The teams scored the exact same amount of points and a quick back-of-the-napkin calculation tells me that UNI edged out Nebraska by 0.017 in ViPR Point Efficiency. A razor-thin margin in statistics, but due to Nebraska dominance in the third set, not so close in actual win probability added.
Bri Weber once again stands out for Northern Iowa with fifteen kills and six errors on forty-five swings. Adding nine digs, four assists, three aces, and a block completed a very good day for Weber and led UNI. The three aces for UNI were not the only ones on the score sheet for the Panthers as Taylor Hedges added another three and one apiece from Heather Hook and Piper Thomas. Nebraska’s struggles in serve-receive were not alone as it appears that they struggled to pass and dig. Despite having one more dig and the same number of kills, Nebraska took five fewer swings than Nothern Iowa which suggest some control issues on the back side of Nebraska’s court. A team that had graded out as the best defensive team in the country by ViPR’s viewing coming into the weekend, Nebraska’s struggles on the back end of this match must be concerning to those hoping for a deep tournament run.
→ Kansas St. vs. UNI (2017-09-16)
Game 5. Kansas State would top UNI in what was a game of runs back and forth. Those runs led to a fairly high scoring affair by WPA standards as Bryna Vogel led the way. Vogel accumulated fifteen kills on thirty-six swings and committed only three errors. To that, she added twenty-three digs, six blocks, and an ace. Bri Weber once again led the way for Northen Iowa with twenty-two kills on sixty-two swings and eight errors. Weber completed her double-double with seventeen digs.
Both teams struggled to stop long runs from their opponents during this match and momentum shifted quickly and completely. After the first four tumultuous sets, the fifth set was a breather for Kansas State when they took control early and never let go of it. Their five-set victory completed the cycle between Nebraska, UNI, and Kansas State. Nebraska beat Kansas State on Friday afternoon and lost to Northern Iowa on Saturday afternoon. Northern Iowa beat Nebraska on Saturday afternoon and lost to Kansas State on Saturday night. And finally, Kansas State lost to Nebraska on Friday afternoon and beat Northern Iowa on Saturday night.
→ Nebraska vs. Omaha (2017-09-16)
Game 6. Nebraska concluded the Omaha Challenge by sweeping Omaha. After a hotly contested first set where Omaha had the chance to take the set, Nebraska cruised to comfortable wins in sets two and three.
Annika Albrecht takes top honors for the match with fifteen kills on thirty-two sings with three errors. Sydney O’Shaughnessy once again led the way for Omaha with twenty-three assists and nine digs.
Unfortunately, Nebraska’s story of the match was Briana Holman. The senior middle blocker went down with an ankle injury in the third set and was in obvious pain as she left the court. According to Coach Cook during his weekly press conference, Nebraska will be playing it carefully on just when Briana will be back. It appears to be an ankle sprain and Briana could be back at any time, but the staff will undoubtedly be cautious with the senior going forward.
Nebraska starts off the weekend continuing their storied history with Penn State on Friday at State College. The now fourteenth ranked Huskers will take on the second ranked Nitany Lions on BTN at 7 PM Central.
On Saturday, Nebraska will take on Rutgers.
→ Nebraska Conjures up a bit of Déjà vu Against the Visiting Bruins
The weekend was supposed to be a clash of conference title contenders. UCLA and Nebraska entered the weekend ranked eleventh and twelfth. The Bruins came in the the Devaney Center with the higher ranking and an undefeated record. However, I believe most would have tabbed the Huskers as the favorite. Playing in front of the sold out crowd of more than eight thousand, Nebraska would have the full-time services of Setter Kelly Hunter for the first time this season. Whatever advantages Nebraska had, they took them all and ran past their ranked opponents.
The first match was a surprise, I think, to everyone. Nebraska took a quick first set 25-15 and never looked back.
→ Nebraska vs. UCLA (2017-09-08)
Annika Albrecht’s attacking had been somewhat suspect, but on this night she was nearly flawless. Scoring twelve kills on twenty-five attempts with only two errors completed a performance that every Husker fan was excited to see. In the back row, Albrecht was no less spectacular. Tying the team lead with fifteen digs, Annika rightfully deserves first mention and hearty congratulations for a job well done.
Mikaela Foecke continued her strong year with a team thirteen kills and adding another thirteen digs. Foecke completed her third double-double of the year and has obviously proven her ability to be a six rotation player for Nebraska.
The “return” of Kelly Hunter can’t be overlooked. The Huskers’ senior setter acquired 44 assists and 10 service points on 16 serves. The only issue seemed to be Hunter’s connection with middle Briana Holman. Managing only five kills on eighteen swings with three errors off the UCLA block, Holman struggled to terminate in the opening match of the weekend.
On UCLA’s part, the night was not without a bright spot or two. Specifically, Madeleine Gates put a strong performance on the scoreboard. Gates totaled seven kills and seven blocks. Three solo blocks highlighted her scoreline and hitting 0.353 with a singular error in the box score was a silver lining in what was otherwise a fairly dark cloud.
Certainly, UCLA retired to examine the game tape and search for a way to reverse their fortunes on the second night of the weekend. It was not to be. In a bit of déjà vu the Huskers not only repeated their dominant win but improved upon it. Again starting off the night with a 25-15 win in set one, the Nebraska women led early, often, and by a wide margin.
→ Nebraska vs. UCLA (2017-09-09)
The second night was all Nebraska. Winning in straight sets by a combined margin of 24 points, the Huskers stated their case as a team to be reckoned with when Big Ten play starts on September 22nd in State College.
There were contributions to victory all over the court in a complete performance in front of 8,000 strong. Mikaela Foecke put another strong performance together with twelve kills on thirty-three swings with four errors, eight service points, eight digs, and an assist. Annika Albrecht followed a note worthy Friday night with a Saturday that was arguably better. Albrecht terminated on eight of seventeen swings with a donut in the error column. Adding 10 service points, two aces, six digs, and an assist completed an all-around performance for the senior. Jazz Sweet continued a strong freshmen campaign with ten kills on seventeen swings with one error totaling 0.529 and added three blocks just for good measure. Kelly Hunter led the Huskers in digs with fourteen and added 31 assists.
Four Bruins tied at seven kills, but three of them also tied with five errors. Kyra Rogers limited herself to two errors and hit 0.357. The only UCLA player to break the three hundred mark. Sarah Sponcil added 30 assists to the 28 she put up on the first night.
The night and the weekend were all Nebraska, and John Cook commented in the post-game press conference that he would not have believed you if you had told him the results of the weekend before the two teams met on the court. I would not have either. Nebraska outscored UCLA 150-107 on the weekend which equates to 58.3% of all points played landing for Big Red.
Numbers To Know
33: UCLA scored 33 service points on 109 serves. That equates to a Nebraska side-out percentage of 69.7%.
36: The Huskers scored 36 service points on Friday alone. Serving 74 times and scoring 36 points limited UCLA to a side-out percentage of 51.4% on the opening night of the weekend.
38: Improving on their Friday performance, Nebraska scored 38 service points on 74 serves on Saturday. Siding out on only 48.6% of attempts spelled the end of any revenge UCLA might have planned.
Next Up for Nebraska
Nebraska will head down to the road to Omaha and UNO’s Baxter Arena for the Omaha Challenge next weekend. The Mavs host Kansas State and Northern Iowa in addition to the Huskers with action beginning on Thursday with the host taking on the Wildcats of Manhattan Kansas. Each team will play three matches in round robin format culminating in Big Red taking on Omaha on Saturday night.
UCLA will be back in action on Wednesday against Loyola Marymount.
→ Husker Volleyball: First Weekend Roundup
The opening weekend proved very difficult for the Husker Volleyball team. Opening the season with two losses to Oregon and Florida won’t penalize the Huskers too much by the time the tournament comes, but if they want a premier win before conference play begins on September 22nd, it leaves few options. A two game set against Pac-12 UCLA on September 8th and 9th will be the only other opportunities to get a statement win over a traditional power. September 15th against a quality Kansas State team also remains before Nebraska opens conference play at Penn State.
Nebraska’s performance to start the season was not wholly unexpected. Losing four starters to graduation including three former All-Americans was always going to be hard to replace, but the added difficulty of Kelly Hunter being unavailable due to injury added another key loss to the current roster. Florida and Oregon came in with veteran rosters and the challenge proved a bit too much for Huskers this weekend. However, Nebraska showed flashes of the team they could be this year. It will take time and there are a number of things that the Huskers will need to clean up before tournament time, but that’s what the season is for.
→ Oregon vs. Nebraska (2017-08-25)
Nebraska started off the year against a veteran squad that has been reinforced with new talent. The game showcased many of Nebraska’s expected weaknesses coming into the season. Serve receive and passing were both quite shaky at times. Hunter Atherton filling in for the injured Kelly Hunter struggled to connect with several of her hitters, and Nebraska’s radio team of John Baylor and Lauren Cook commented believing that her sets to Briana Holman were a bit too low. That, in particular, is not surprising when you consider that last year John Cook commented on Kelly Hunter having a similar issue connecting with Holman. Holman, despite standing only six foot one, is an extremely good jumper and this has resulted in her setting being somewhat in consistent during her Nebraska tenure. Annika Albrecht, listed at six foot even, also struggled to terminate from her outside spot. Totaling nine kills, two of which came by way of block error, and seven hitting errors on thirty-nine swings is certainly not the day she was looking for.
There were also many positives in the game which, despite being a three sets to one loss, will be highlighted going forward. Albrecht despite having a rough day offensively showed her prowess as a back row defender. Sixteen digs and a nary an error in serve receive is a day that I believe the Huskers will take moving forward. Kenzie Maloney despite several miscues also had a solid day starting her first game of the season in the Libero spot. Replacing the departed Justine Wong-Orantes was never going to be an easy task, but Maloney has been a solid back row player for Nebraska the past two years including several starts wearing the off color jersey. It certainly wasn’t the day she hoped for, but it was no disaster either. Offensively, Jazz Sweet made her college debut in strong fashion terminating on fourteen of thirty-two swings while committing only two errors. That totaled an Attack WPA of 0.5093 which ranked second on the team. Michaela Foecke despite a slow start ended up acquiring thirteen kills on forty-nine swings while committing three errors. Totaling an Attack WPA of 0.6492 showed Hunter Atherton’s penchant for sending the ball Foecke’s way on high leverage points and Foecke’s own penchant for putting the ball down when it really counts.
→ Nebraska vs. Florida (2017-08-26)
The second game of the year came against a Florida squad who knocked off the de facto favorite for the National Championship in Texas. A squad that was also playing in front of a larger-than-normal home crowd. Florida comes into the season with a senior laden squad that is as experienced as they are talented. Rhamat Alhassan might, as the announcers continuously pointed out, be the best combination of height and leaping ability in the college game right now. However, in this five set match which featured a continuous line of blowout sets, Six foot eight inch Rachel Kramer stole the show. Acquiring twenty kills on only twenty-eight swings with only a single shot hitting the opposing block. Kramer was simply unstoppable for a large portion of the match and hitting an astronomic 0.679 totaled for a game best Attack WPA of 0.7650. An impressive total considering the dearth of high leverage points being played in a five set match. Every set played was a blowout in volleyball terms. Large gaps between the team scores happened early and often. Comebacks were not to be found.
Nebraska despite losing their second game of the weekend had a more solid day all the way around. The Husker starters were led offensively by Michaela Foecke. The junior managed eighteen kills on fifty-nine swings with six errors. Four of her errors came by way of opposition block. An imposing block from Florida caused a number of problems for the Husker hitters. Foecke’s performance, however, earned her the top WPA score for the game at 0.9808. An unusually low score for a five set match where players often come near or beyond the 2.0 mark, but as stated before, this was not a normal five set match.
Beyond Foecke, Jazz Sweet impressed a second time with a sixteen kill performance on thirty-one swings with six errors. Three of those errors hit the Florida block. Defensively despite several impressive serving runs by Florida’s Carli Snyder, none of the Huskers’ back row players recorded a reception error and five different players recorded sixteen digs. Kenzie Maloney led the way with eighteen digs and had a better more consistent day than she did against Oregon. It did appear that there was a lack of communication on the court as other Husker players stepped in front of Maloney on several occasions and collided with her at least once. Better communication might be one of the key needs and notes from the weekend. After Maloney, four Huskers tied at sixteen digs. Albrecht, Foecke, Atherton and DS Sydney Townsend created a log jam for second on the team in digs. Front row defense showed up as well as Briana Holman and Lauren Stivrins combined for 7 block assists. Foecke added four block assists herself.
Many of the issues from the Oregon match remained during the match against Florida. Albrecht again struggled to terminate facing a large Florida front line as did the Nebraska middles. The Husker passing while better was still inconsistent. These issues and others will need to be improved if Nebraska wants to make noise in the Big Ten this year.
Looking to the future, Nebraska will have games against UMBC, Oral Roberts, and Saint Mary’s when it returns to play next weekend in the Ameritas Players Challenge. Nebraska will be heavy favorites in each match giving them ample opportunity to work out some of their issues before UCLA comes to Devaney the weekend after.
→ So Where Are We Now
The start of the Big Ten season is upon us, but I want to start with a look back at what we’ve done so far this season. I’m going to look at all of the Nebraska teams that I’ve watched so far.
So where do we start?
This is Nebraska. We always start with football.
Umm . . .
Yeah, that’s my prevailing feeling. I’m not real excited about writing this particular wrap up. Both wins are fairly uninspiring, but a win is a win. Both losses were gut punches, but neither was an embarrassing loss.
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