Huskers Battle To Subdue Terrapins

By Lincoln Arneal

Nebraska tested one of coach John Cook’s adages that any Big Ten win is a good win. 

The Huskers slogged through a block party against Maryland, hitting .099 and getting blocked 17 times by the Terrapins. In the end, NU got the last word at the net as Whitney Lauenstein and Kaitlyn Hord recorded blocks on the final two rallies of the match. 

The third-ranked Huskers (12-1, 4-0) remained undefeated in the Big Ten with a 25-18, 25-23, 21-25, 25-22 victory Sunday afternoon in front of 2,113 fans at the XFINITY Center Pavilion, the second-largest crowd ever at the arena. 

“Maryland played really hard. They were very inspired,” Cook said. “Hopefully, we’re gonna learn some things from this match, but we did find a way to win.”

Anastasia Russ led Maryland with 11 blocks, while Rainelle Jones added seven. The Terrapins’ total was the most blocks by an NU opponent since Penn State recorded 20 in 2018. Those stuffs came in spurts as the Terrapins tallied 10 blocks in the second set and six in the fourth. 

NU middle blockers Bekka Allick and Hord were among the few bright spots for the Huskers. Allick tallied nine kills and hit .571 to go with four blocks. Hord finished hitting .333 with six kills and nine blocks. 

“(Hord) and Jones are two of the premier middles in the country for blocking and those guys put on a show today,” Cook said. 

Lauenstein led Nebraska with 11 kills but committed 10 hitting errors. She also added four aces, six blocks and seven digs. Senior Madi Kubik added nine kills and 11 digs and hit .167.

They weren’t the only hitters to struggle. Lindsay Krause (six kills, seven errors)  Ally Batenhorst (one kill, two errors) and Kenzie Knuckles (no kills, two errors) all finished negative.

“They’re a good blocking team and we made a lot of dumb shots,” Cook said. “Our setters were very inconsistent and our hitters had no rhythm today. They were just trying to find a way, and so it was a combination of all those things.”

After Nebraska cruised in the first set behind a 9-0 run served by Lauenstein, the Terrapins rallied. They started the second set with three blocks in the first six rallies and led 5-2 early. Then, when NU reached set point at 24-18, Maryland ran off five straight points on a service error and four blocks. 

The Huskers’ best-attacking set also resulted in the only set they dropped. NU hit .250 but was plagued by setting woes. Kennedi Orr committed four of her seven ball-handling errors. The Huskers also committed three service errors in the frame. 

Anni Evans finished with 19 assists, while Orr added 18. Cook said part of the problem was Orr was trying to jump set on high passes, which causes too many moving parts and leads to double touches. 

“On the high balls, she has to wait there and think about it and then she tries to jump set and time it and you can’t do that. You just got to use the ground,” Cook said. “We train that every day. Every day that she’s been at Nebraska, we train those high balls using the ground.”

NU appeared to have control of the fourth set, but the Terps went on a 5-0 run that included two blocks and two other Nebraska errors. However, the final three points were a Maryland service error and two Husker blocks. 

Sophomore Lexi Rodriguez anchored the defense with 19 digs, while Knuckles added 10 digs and two aces. 

Maryland failed to take advantage of NU’s shaky performance as it hit just .046 with 34 errors, only 13 of which came on Husker blocks. 

The Terrapins’ offense was predictable as its two outside hitters – Sam Csire and Laila Ivey – combined for 107 of their 152 attacks. Csire finished with 14 kills and 18 errors, while Ivey had 12 kills and 10 errors. Maryland setter Sydney Dowler finished with four kills and 35 assists. 

The Terp middle blockers (Russ and Jones) combined for just three kills on 16 attacks.

“(Dowler) basically set one ball all night to the left side,” Cook said. “Their middle attack was non-existent. … They run it really fast and she sets it out there, but we held them to .046, which is great.”

The Huskers Sweep Rutgers, Go To 11-1

By Lincoln Arneal

At least for one night, Nebraska’s serving woes appeared to be a thing of the past. 

The third-ranked Huskers aced Rutgers 12 times, twice their previous season high and the program’s fifth-most during the rally-scoring era, and committed just 8 service errors. Each of NU’s six servers recorded at least one ace. Sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez recorded three in the first eight rallies of the match. Sophomore setter Kennedi Orr also finished with three aces, including one on match point.

Behind its improved service game and its usual combination of elite defense and a lethal attack, NU cruised to a 25-13, 25-7, 25-15 sweep Friday night at Jersey Mike’s Arena.

NU coach John Cook said he thought the Huskers could have a good night serving because of how cold the gym was during their serve and pass practice earlier in the day. 

“The ball was really moving in here today,” Cook said on his postgame radio show. “At practice today, I warned them. First of all, we can get aces if we thump. And two, they are going to thump at us, so be ready.”

Rutgers entered the match giving up a Big Ten-worst 1.63 aces per set. Nebraska more than doubled that total. 

Behind Rodriguez’s serving in the first set, the Huskers (11-1, 3-0 Big Ten) dominated from the start. Later in the first set, freshman Bekka Allick served a 7-0 run to give NU a 16-5 advantage. 

The second set was even more of a route as the Scarlet Knights only sided out just once. Three of RU’s seven points came via Husker service errors. Rutgers committed three service errors in the match, but two of them ended the first two sets. For the second straight match, the Huskers didn’t allow an ace. 

The Scarlet Knights (7-8, 1-2) kept the third set closer and trailed 13-12, but NU scored 13 of the final 16 points of the match. 

Cook said NU’s performance was one of its best at Rutgers, which moved all of its matches this year to the same arena used by its basketball teams. A crowd of 1,226 was the largest home attendance this season for the Scarlet Knights.

“This is one of our best, if not best, efforts here at Rutgers,” Cook said. “Sometimes we come in here and don’t play very well…This is a good effort, and they had a nice crowd here today. I just think our players feed off of big crowds and when there’s nobody here.”

With its serving game setting the tone, the Huskers’ offense was sharp as they hit .405 for the match. Sophomore opposite Whitney Lauenstein led the way with 11 kills and a .391 hitting percentage. Senior outside hitter Madi Kubik added nine kills on 16 errorless swings (.562). Sophomore outside hitter Lindsay Krause was also error-free as she tallied five kills at a .455 clip. 

The middles got in on the action with six kills each. Senior Kaitlyn Hord hit .750 with three blocks. Allick notched two aces and a block. 

Rutgers’s offense struggled the whole night and tried to attack NU’s setters in the left-back position. Orr recorded 17 assists with nine digs.  Junior Anni Evans had 11 assists and four digs. Rodriguez stayed busy on out-of-system plays with six assists and nine digs. 

The Scarlet Knights finished with just 17 kills and a -.012 hitting percentage. Alissa Kinkela led the way with eight kills and was the only RU player to hit above zero. Taylor Humphrey finished with four kills but didn’t terminate a ball after the first set. 

The Huskers are back in action on Sunday with a noon first serve against Maryland (9-6, 0-3). 

“I’m going to challenge our captains to make sure our team is dialed in,” Cook said. “We experienced this at Kentucky – East Coast time, a little earlier than we’re used to, and Sunday. We know how to do it. We just have to make sure we can prepare to play.”

Williams Hopes Two-Sport Star Mendelson Will Hit Basketball Court Later Rather Than Sooner

By Lincoln Arneal

Tonight the Nebraska women’s basketball team will kick off its year with an open scrimmage and concert by Waka Flocka Flame. 

However, one of its most prized recruits – Maggie Mendelson – won’t be at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Instead, she will be 1,300 miles away in Piscataway, New Jersey, with the third-ranked NU volleyball team facing off against Rutgers at 6 p.m. at the Jersey Mike’s Arena. 

Mendelson, who entered college as the No. 4-rated volleyball recruit and No. 32 basketball prospect, is embarking on a rare double dip as she plays two sports for the Huskers. Just as she settles into her role as a contributing role for the No. 3 ranked volleyball team, she will also start ramping up for basketball. 

“They’ve all been in practice sending me videos and stuff,” Mendelson said. “It’s kind of sad that I’m not there, but I’m excited to be here (with the volleyball team).” 

In June, Mendelson worked out with the basketball team to learn its system’s basics. She left in early July to represent the U.S. national volleyball team in the U19 Pan Am Cup and finally joined the volleyball team for fall camp in August. 

The 6-foot-5 freshman entered the season fighting for a starting spot at middle blocker with classmate Bekka Allick. She started the second match of the season versus Tulsa, but Allick – who got a leg up by enrolling in January – emerged as a viable threat in the middle and hasn’t let go of the position. 

However, after Ally Batenhorst suffered an injury on Sept. 7, Mendelson switched positions to the right pin and has played as the second opposite hitter in NU’s 6-2 system. She is averaging 1.2 kills and .72 blocks per set in her new role.

Before making her debut against Long Beach State, she only worked as an opposite for a few days in practice before stepping into that role in a match. However, Mendelson played the position in high school and with her club team, so it isn’t completely foreign to her. 

“It’s a lot different than high school. The outsides are way bigger and swing a lot harder, so it’s definitely been a learning adjustment,” Mendelson said. “The new blocking system that they have out there for me is gonna work, and I just need to learn how to do it.”

Sophomore Lindsay Krause, who has bounced between the left and right pins this year, said she’s impressed with how Mendelson has handled moving around the court. Krause said she appreciates Mendelson’s willingness to do whatever she can to help the team. 

“We’re big on supporting our teammates, no matter what and through everything,” Krause said. “She’s taken it like a champ and we’ve all been with her every step of the way.” 

NU coach John Cook said Mendelson’s mindset and competitiveness are the secrets to managing her busy schedule and playing at an elite level.

That streak comes through late in sets when Cook said Mendelson is at her best. She scores most of her points after the set gets to 20 points. Against Ohio State, Mendelson slammed home the final kill in the fourth set and celebrated with an emphatic fist pump. 

“She’s still young, but we’ve thrown her into kind of a new spot. She doesn’t care,” Cook said. “She wants to play and she competes. That’s her gift.”

When asked how competitive she is, Mendelson said on a scale of 1 to 10, she is an 11. 

“I feel like I’m really competitive,” she said. “I feel like you have to be all in to be able to play at this level and against all these great teams that we’re playing. I know it’s almost a little too competitive, but I would say it’s a good thing.”

With the basketball season getting underway, Mendelson is about to get busier. On top of her academics and volleyball practices, the Ogden, Utah, native added basketball practices weekly with assistant coach Tom Goehle. 

While it might seem like a lot, it’s an old habit for her as she’s balanced playing both sports simultaneously for most of her life. 

“It’s kind of a whirlwind starting pretty fast, but I’m just grateful to be here and grateful that they’ve given me this opportunity,” Mendelson said. “I guess it’s always been a puzzle trying to get school, volleyball and basketball done, but I get it done somehow. Not really sure how all the time, but it gets done.”

Basketball coach Amy Williams said the basketball staff is having fun watching Mendelson contribute with an elite team during the fall. Williams keeps her updated about what the basketball team is doing and lets her stay updated with what they are working on. 

Williams called Mendelson an incredible athlete. She mentioned that she has great timing, springiness and that she’s coachable. As eager as she is to work with her, Williams said she hopes Mendelson doesn’t join basketball practice until late December. 

“When she is able to play in the national championship game with our volleyball team, then (she will) have a little bit of time to recover her body,” Williams said. “Once she reports back to women’s basketball, we’ll be welcoming her with open arms.”

Huskers Will Use Down Time To Connect On East Coast Swing

By Lincoln Arneal

During its weekend trip to the East Coast, Nebraska could spend time exploring the bright lights of New York City or go sightseeing around Washington, D.C. 

However, the third-ranked Huskers are more likely to spend time in a restaurant, coffee house or in the team hotel during their road trip to play at Rutgers and Maryland. 

“We’re still business, but it gives us time to connect, which I like. We have some free time,” NU coach John Cook said.

Cook uses these road trips to check in and connect with the student-athletes. He will eat meals with the Huskers, check in on their goals and watch video with them. When they are at home, schedules are much busier, so when they get a few days on the road, especially on the weekend, they can shift their focus to internal matters. 

This year, more than others, the Huskers will be making longer road trips during the Big Ten season. 

During the next two weekends, the Huskers will play two matches with a day in between. The host schools made the requests to move matches from Saturday to Sunday. 

Maryland football hosts Michigan State Saturday afternoon this weekend, so they pushed volleyball back a day. Next weekend, Michigan State is hosting its midnight basketball madness event on Friday, Oct. 7, so volleyball, which also uses the Breslin Center, was moved up to Thursday. 

Cook wasn’t sure if he preferred road trips with back-to-back matches or a day in between. 

The extra travel day allows them to spend a day prepping specifically on the back opponent and time to recover. It also incurs more hotel, food and transportation costs. 

However, playing the last match on Saturday allows players to completely take the next day off. When the Huskers play on Sunday, they take Monday off but still have classes. 

“From a coach’s perspective, I like it, but it’s a lot of time sitting in the hotel and sitting around,”  Cook said. “We’ll have to see. We haven’t done this before.”

Nebraska defeated Michigan State and Ohio State on consecutive days last weekend, but before that hadn’t played on back-to-back days since the season’s opening weekend. The Huskers only have one more doubleheader weekend – the final two matches when they host Wisconsin and Minnesota Nov. 25-26. 

While other schools shy away from playing volleyball matches on the same day as home football games, Cook embraces it. 

The NU volleyball program receives strong administrative support to make it happen and the players also prefer it. Plus the weekend doubleheader allows season ticket holders from central and western Nebraska to drive in and watch multiple sporting events. 

“What’s great is they come in for football, volleyball, make it a great day,” Cook said. “Spend the weekend in Lincoln. Hotels like it. (Bars) like it. So everybody’s happy.”

HAMES COMEBACK CLOSE? — Two weeks after leaving the Stanford match with a back injury, senior setter Nicklin Hames has not practiced. Cook said following the match she just needed time to get back to full strength.

Cook hopes she will return to practice this week as she worked with strength and conditioning coordinator Brian Kmitta on Monday. 

NU STAYS THIRD — The Huskers stayed No. 3 in this week’s AVCA poll behind Texas and Louisville. The top four remained consistent as San Diego also won both matches last week. 

Purdue was the week’s big mover as it rose six spots to No. 5. Ohio State rose one spot to No. 6 after losing to Nebraska and was followed by Minnesota and Wisconsin, who also lost a match last week. 

Penn State, which suffered its first loss of the year to Michigan, fell three spots to No. 12. The Wolverines weren’t able to break the rankings as they were the first teams listed among those receiving votes. 

SERVES GONE AWRY — In the 20 years before this season, no team had missed more than 16 serves in Devaney Center. However, this year that mark has been exceeded twice. 

Stanford committed 23 service errors in a four-set victory against the Huskers and then on Saturday, Ohio State tallied 19 errant serves. Nebraska wasn’t flawless in those matches either, as it committed 14 and 15 service errors. 

Cook said he was stumped about why errors were up this season. 

“I don’t know if it’s the curse of Devaney. It’s unreal. I mean, it’s mind-boggling,” Cook said. “One theory is we start off missing serves. So then the other team starts missing and then it just goes from there.”

NU is averaging 2.84 errors per set this season and has reached double-digits in seven of the 11 matches. In the past three seasons, the Huskers averaged 1.99, 1.98 and 2.0 miscues from the service line and reached double figures in just 11 of the 86 matches, and never more than five per season. 

While the servers are struggling, Cook said he was encouraged by the serve receive. The Huskers only allowed one ace in the eight sets against Michigan State and Ohio State. 

The Huskers have a lot of the same servers back from last year – Kenzie Knuckles, Lexi Rodriguez, Madi Kubik and Hames. Sophomore setter Kennedi Orr has stepped in for Hames and cut down on miscues that plagued her during the first weekend.

Whitney Lauenstein has replaced Anni Evans in the last few weeks and found success and is tied for the team lead with seven aces. Freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick has also been errant at times but began to work with Cook last week to fix mechanical issues to improve consistency. 

With all the errors, Cook said at times he tells his servers to back off on the aggressive serving.

“Sometimes you just have to get it over the net,” he said. “Get it in there and let us play defense.”

NU takes OSU in Five

By Lincoln Arneal

Based on the numbers, Nebraska shouldn’t have beaten Ohio State. 

The seventh-ranked Buckeyes finished with 18 more kills, 18 more digs and a higher hitting percentage. 

However, the No. 3 Huskers committed fewer errors and used an effective block to outlast Ohio State 25-22, 24-26, 19-25, 25-20,15-13 Saturday in front of 8,342 fans at Devaney Center. 

“That was a tough match to watch because we struggled,” coach John Cook said. “I told them there were three things that won that: heart, with each other, for each other and their grit that they displayed there because they could easily pack it in.”

Nebraska (10-1, 2-0 Big Ten) finished hitting .140 with 46 kills but helped its cause with a stingy defense that notched 15 blocks, compared to just five for OSU. Freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick led the way with eight blocks, including a stuff on the final point of the match with senior Madi Kubik. 

Kaitlyn Hord finished with six blocks, while Kubik added five. Even when the Huskers didn’t get points off its block, they touched a lot of OSU attacks and slowed them down. 

“We were blocking everything,” Cook said. “That’s one of the advantages of running a six two is we’ve got a lot of physicality at the net.”

OSU sometimes struggled to find the court. The Buckeyes (5-5, 1-1) committed 35 hitting errors, including 17 from Emily Londot, who also tallied 17 kills. OSU also was wild from the service line and had 20 service errors without an ace. 

Kubik said they struggled to side out during the match, but their defense kept them in rallies. She said the win should give them confidence that if they can play this well when they aren’t in peak form, when everything is clicking the Huskers can be unstoppable. 

“I think what’s so powerful about that match is that we know we can play badly and still win big games,” she said. “(We can) not play great volleyball all the time and just find a way to win ugly.”

The Huskers won the first set primarily on Ohio State’s errors. The Buckeyes missed on nine attacks, including three blocks by NU, and committed seven service errors – the last two were NU’s final two points in the set. 

Ohio State cleaned up some of its errors in the second set. It ran six straight points to take a 19-14 lead. The Huskers rallied with a 6-1 run to tie the set at 24-all. The set ended with back-to-back NU miscues (a setting error and a hitting error). 

It appeared that NU had regrouped and shaken off the close loss in the third set by scoring the first five points but the momentum didn’t last. The Buckeyes went on an 11-3 run, with NU’s points coming via two service errors and a hitting error. 

OSU led by 17-10 before NU started to chip away. The Huskers closed to 20-18 after a block by Maggie Mendelson and Allick, but Ohio State responded with four straight points before back-to-back service errors closed the set. 

After an eight-second violation on a Husker serve tied the set at 15-all, Nebraska won four of the next five rallies to pull ahead. NU also won four of the final five points as Linsday Krause and Maggie Mendelson delivered kills to force a tiebreaker set.

The fifth set was a slugfest as Nebraska and Ohio State combined for 65 attacks in just 28 rallies. It also featured 10 ties and six lead changes. No team led by more than one until Ohio State scored three in a row for an 11-9 lead. The Huskers rallied with a 4-0 run that included two OSU errors and a kill and block from Whitney Lauenstein. 

Lauenstein finished with seven kills on 32 attacks but delivered in the clutch with three kills in the fifth set. 

“We needed to play with our whole heart right there and everyone did it,” Lauenstein said. “Everyone was on it. You could just feel the entire Bob Devaney Sports Center was in. Everyone was playing with their heart.”

Krause added nine kills, but committed eight hitting errors. 

Cook said the setting was better than the Big Ten opener against Michigan State on Friday but is still a work in progress. Sophomore Kennedi Orr tallied 20 assists. Junior Anni Evans had 18. 

“I don’t think we’re anywhere near close to what we can be,” Cook said. “A lot of that will come down to setting. They are getting better. Once we get that, our hitters can get more confidence and take big swings and use the block. A lot of times tonight they’re just trying to keep it in.”

Lexi Rodriguez finished with a match-high 19 digs and recorded her first kill of the season in the fifth set after she dug an attack from Londot that sailed over the net and landed just inside the line. 

Nebraska was also effective in limiting OSU’s middle blockers. Adria Powell hit .000 with just three kills, while second-team All-American Rylee Rader didn’t record a kill until the third set on her 10th attack. She finished with five kills and hit .174. 

Jenaisya Moore led OSU with 21 kills on a .300 hitting percentage.  Gabby Gonzales added 15 kills. The Buckeyes also had four players reach double-digit digs led by 17 from libero Kylie Murr and setter Mac Podraza. 

At the end of the match, the Huskers celebrated with a dog pile, which Kubik admitted might have been caused by exhaustion as their legs were spent. 

Cook choked up a little while talking to the team after the match. He said they’ve been working on close matches and found a way to deliver in the clutch in one of the most intense matches of the season. 

“I got emotional just because I’m so proud of them and how they fought through it,” Cook said. “I’m nothing but proud of them. We work hard, and so it feels good when you are able to put in that hard work to make it worthwhile and to make it successful.”

NU Sweeps Michigan State, Cook Records 800th Victory

By Lincoln Arneal

In the first set against Michigan State, Nebraska looked like a dominant Big Ten title contender. The third-ranked Huskers hit .379 and won the set by 10 points. 

However, the next two sets were error-filled and sloppy as NU committed 15 hitting errors for a .167 percentage to go with seven serving errors.

Despite the lackluster numbers, the effort was enough to get by Michigan State (9-3) with a 25-15, 25-19, 25-23 sweep Friday night at the Devaney Center. 

Junior setter Anni Evans said they were making uncharacteristic mental errors such as not putting away overpasses, tipping too much and giving up points on shots they should be digging. 

 “Every team is gonna give us their best shot, and we need to be ready for teams not to just roll over after set one,” Evans said. “(It’s a matter of) just refocusing on our side of the net, playing Husker volleyball, and being confident going out there taking big rips.”

NU coach John Cook was skeptical that it would hold up on Saturday night when No. 7 Ohio State comes to Lincoln. 

“We’re gonna have to clean up a lot of stuff in the next 22 hours,” Cook said. “We’re going to have a great effort there. They do everything really well and they have some players that have given us fits, so we’ve got to get a really good job and pressure them.”

In the first set, the Huskers (9-1) took control early with a 10-4 advantage following an 8-1 run that included three kills and an ace from Madi Kubik. NU hit .379 in the set as five attackers recorded at least two kills. The Spartans scored just two points on their serve the entire set. 

The Huskers looked like they were going to cruise again in the second set leading 12-6, but MSU never folded, and their errors mounted up. NU committed eight attack errors and missed five serves in the set compared to just six kills by the Spartans. 

With help from the Devaney crowd, the Huskers closed the set and won five of the six final rallies, including two kills and a block from freshman Bekka Allick. 

“Husker Nation doesn’t disappoint with being in tune with where we’re at mentally as a team,” Allick said. “They can tell when we’re in a funk and it’s a reminder that they’re not the only one that notices that we’re falling behind. Whether it’s our energy or it’s our mojo, something needs to be picked up.”

Allick and fellow middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord each finished with six kills on a combined 24 attacks. Cook said they emphasized setting the middle blockers more, but NU still didn’t utilize them enough despite the increased production. Evans finished with 18 assists on 26 sets, while Orr recorded 14 assists on 56 sets. 

Cook said the main issue with the offense was the setter’s confidence. He told them they need consistent hittable balls and to trust in their training, especially after a good week of practice. 

“The more confident you are, the better you can set. If setters start becoming inconsistent, it’s hard to keep a good rhythm,” Cook said. “I’m sure we lost a lot more points in Kennedi’s rotations tonight than Anni’s. We have to be better. She has to be better.”

The third set was even more of a struggle as the Spartans tied the set at 22-all after a 6-0 run. Cook substituted Evans in to help calm the offense. Once again, NU delivered in the clutch by winning three of the final four rallies. 

“No matter how ugly it is, we just need to really fall back on each other,” Evans said. “It didn’t matter what the score was; I knew (my teammates) were going to help me out, and I was going to help them out. No matter how we win by two points, we just need to find ways to win by two points and we did that.”

Kubik led the Huskers with 14 kills, eight more than anyone else in the match while hitting .212. Lindsay Krause had six kills on 14 errorless swings, while Maggie Mendelson added six. Lexi Rodriguez led the defense with 13 digs. 

Evie Doezema paced the Spartans with eight kills, but she also had six errors. MSU finished with a .170 hitting percentage with 15 service errors. 

The victory marked the 800th career win for Cook. After the match, NU athletic director Trev Alberts presented Cook with a commemorative belt buckle to mark the occasion. 

He told director of operations Lindsay Peterson that he didn’t want any celebration of the achievement. Still, Cook said he appreciates the thought put into the gift, given his recent interest in horses and ranching. 

“That was very nice of Trev, or whoever thought of that idea,” Cook said. “Right now, that’s a very meaningful gift to honor something that I really don’t care about.”

Big Ten Slate Looms, but Huskers Ready to Roll

By Lincoln Arneal


Welcome to the grind. 

Starting Friday night, Nebraska kicks off the Big Ten schedule with 20 matches over 10 weeks. The schedule will be daunting with six league schools ranked in the Top 11, plus three others receiving votes. 

The Huskers start the Big Ten season by hosting Michigan State on Friday night before welcoming No. 7 Ohio State on Saturday. Both matches are at 7 p.m. at the Devaney Center. 

To sophomore Lindsay Krause, the grind means No. 3 Nebraska can’t take any days off. The Big Ten is the best volleyball conference in the country and every team is capable of upsetting a league favorite. For example, Maryland, which finished ninth in the league a year ago, opened Big Ten play by knocking off eventual national champion Wisconsin during the first weekend of the conference schedule last season. 

“We got 20 matches over the next 10 weeks to prove the kind of team we can be when it comes time for the NCAA tournament,” Krause said. “I feel like we all know the challenge it brings, and we’re all excited for that.”

NU coach John Cook relishes this part of the season. Nebraska is chasing its first conference title since 2017 and hoping to end Wisconsin’s three-year reign. 

“Some of the teams in the other conferences, they may not play another Top 10-ranked team for the next 10 weeks. We’re gonna be playing a Top 10 team every week,” he said. “We got to go from good to great.”

Freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick said she was a little anxious entering her first Big Ten season, but after playing No. 5 Stanford and No. 15 Kentucky last week, she’s feeling more confident.  

The loss to the Cardinal helped point out some areas Nebraska needs to clean up, such as their serving and offensive miscues late in the set. They also saw the challenges a big, physical team posed and learned how to adjust the attack. 

Allick said they applied some of those lessons against Kentucky, which helped them earn the sweep. Now in the Big Ten, Allick said they need to keep their head down, grind and respect every team across the net. 

“Like Coach says, any win in the Big Ten is a good win,” Allick said. “It’s coming this weekend, and so I’m excited.”

Last year when conference season started, Cook settled on a consistent lineup after rotating outside hitters for most of the nonconference matches. 

Nebraska has used a different combination of players for each match this year. Cook said he would like to settle on one lineup, but injuries have forced him to move players around. Setter Nicklin Hames is likely to miss this weekend’s matches, but outside hitter Ally Batenhorst could make a return from an abdominal injury. 

Krause has played both on the left and right side in the front row but doesn’t mind all the changes. The Omaha Skutt graduate said everyone knows that the nonconference schedule will involve experimentation as the Huskers figure out the lineup that helps them succeed. Her goal is just to keep a positive attitude and think about the big picture. 

“I will do whatever we can to win,” she said. “I just want to be on a winning team and if that means I’m playing right outside, cool. If that means playing outside, cool. If that means I’m not in the lineup, that sucks for me, but cool. I want to be on a team that’s gonna win.”

BIG PREP MARKS — Three future Huskers all reached significant milestones this week.

Harper Murray, the second-ranked 2023 recruit, reached 2,000 kills for Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Mich. The senior outside hitter averages more than six kills per set with a .434 hitting percentage. 

Sky Pierce joined the 1,000 career kills club at Olathe (Kan.) Northwest. The junior is the No. 2 ranked player in her class and is averaging 5.7 kills per set with a .350 hitting percentage.

Bennington junior Olivia Mauch tied a school record with 38 digs against Elkhorn. The No. 26th-rated prospect also eclipsed the school dig record with 1,358 career digs. 

NEARING 800 — After sweeping Kentucky, Cook now has 799 career victories and a win this weekend could be another coaching milestone. 

Since taking over Nebraska in 2000, Cook has won 637 matches with a .874 winning percentage, the best in the nation in that period. He amassed the other 162 wins in seven years at Wisconsin. 

Krause said she is impressed by the impact he’s had in his 30 years as a head coach. 

“It’s really cool to see him evolve over the years that he’s coached,” she said. “He’s been a different coach to every team and changed so much over the years.”

The Big Ten Season Starts Friday

All 14 Teams Will Be In Action

By Lincoln Arneal

After the nonconference season, the Big Ten Conference turns its attention inward as a 20-match marathon kicks off this week. 

Entering conference play, all 14 Big Ten teams are at least .500 or better. 

However, not all schedules are equal as Ohio State is .500 but has played seven of its eight matches against ranked opponents, including four matches against teams now in the Top 5. The Buckeyes set forth a challenging nonconference schedule and will play all eight regional finalists from a year ago to help them prepare for the Big Ten season.

“Looking back at the opening weekend of the Big Ten last year, we just weren’t ready,” OSU coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg said at Big Ten media days. “As (the schedule) all shook out, it got better and better and better. I said, All right, let’s go, and we’ll see what we’re about before we hit the Big Ten so that when we get to the Big Ten we’re ready to go.”

At the end of the year, the league has benefited from the grueling schedule come tournament time. A Big Ten team has advanced to the Final Four every year since 2006, including two teams in six of the past seven seasons.

Here is how the Big Ten teams stack up based on their performance entering conference play:

1. Nebraska (8-1, AVCA Poll, No. 3)

Best win: No. 13 Kentucky, 3-0, Sept. 18

Nebraska has tinkered a lot with its offensive system, but the Huskers still have the best defense in the league. They have wins over two ranked teams (three if you count the non-ranked Pepperdine team) but couldn’t get over the Stanford hump. Once they figure out who is playing setter or settle into a system, they could have a high ceiling. Getting more out of Kaitlyn Hord should unlock a more potent attack. 

2. Penn State (11-0, No. 9)

Best win: No. 11 Stanford, 3-2, Sept. 11

Under a new coach, the Nittany Lions haven’t shown any hiccups in the Katie Schumacher-Cawley era. They are one of six undefeated teams left in the NCAA. After getting through the first two weeks unscathed, PSU proved they are legit by knocking off a lethargic Stanford team and then surviving against No. 18 Oregon. They are buoyed by a pair of transfers, Zoe Weatherington (Utah) and Kashauna Williams (Long Beach State). 

3. Wisconsin (6-2, No. 6)

Best win: No. 14 Kentucky, 3-0, Sept. 9

If the Badgers don’t have to face the No. 16 ranked team in the country. They’ve lost to Baylor and Florida, who were both ranked No. 16 when they beat Wisconsin. They replaced a lot of players but have reloaded. Sarah Franklin (transfer from Michigan State) has been the best attacker, while they’ve run a two-setter system with Izzy Ashburn and MJ Hammill. Senior Danielle Hart is back after missing most of last year with an injury and is second in the nation with 1.81 blocks per set.

4. Ohio State (4-4, No. 7)

Best Win: No. 3 Louisville, 3-1, Sept. 4

The Buckeyes have been through a gauntlet to start the year. They started the season by losing twice to now-top-ranked Texas. They were also swept by now No. 4 San Diego and No.10 Pitt. OSU is the only team to beat Louisville so far, plus it has wins over BYU and Georgia Tech. We will learn how that will pay off in the Big Ten when they take on Nebraska on Saturday. 

5. Minnesota 5-3, No. 8

Best win: No. 13 Florida, 3-1, Sept. 4

The Gophers own three wins against rated teams, Florida, Oregon, and Baylor. They’ve suffered losses to Texas, Stanford, and Pepperdine, all on their home court. Out of eight matches, only one has ended in three sets, a sweep over TCU during the opening weekend. Taylor Landfair returned from an injury last year and is playing at an elite level. She’s second in the league with 4.35 kills per set. Perhaps it is a sign of their demanding schedule, but the Gophers rank in the bottom two of the Big Ten in all opponents’ statistics: kills, blocks, digs, assists and hitting percentage. 

6. Purdue (9-1, No. 11)

Best win: RV Utah, 3-2, Sept. 2

Eva Hudson has been a revelation for the Boilermakers. The freshman outside has already won three Big Ten freshman weekly awards. She leads the league with 4.85 kills and 5.51 points per set. She’s reached double-digit kills in every match and is hitting .323. Purdue could be good, but they’ve only played one top-notch team so far, losing to Louisville in straight sets. 

7. Northwestern (11-1, RV)

Best win: No. 24 Pepperdine, 3-0, Sept. 9

The Wildcats have played a fairly soft schedule but rose to the occasion and swept the Waves in one of their two matches against rated teams, losing to No. 13 Washington in four sets. Two other Northwestern players have won weekly awards, including setter Alexa Rousseau, the first NW setter award since 2013, and outside hitter Hanna Lesiak, the first player of the week award since 2015. In addition, Temi Thomas-Ailara is averaging 3.81 kills per set and was named the Big Ten player of the week as the Wildcats won the Chicago Cup last week.

8. Michigan (9-1, RV)

Best win:  RV Mississippi State, 3-1 Sept. 16

The Wolverines haven’t played any ranked teams and just three teams from major conferences. They lost in four sets to Duke but defeated Mississippi State and North Carolina. Jess Robinson is hitting a cool .534, tops in the nation, while Michigan leads the Big Ten with a .301 clip. Saturday’s match against Penn State might prove how much progress they’ve made.

9. Illinois (5-5, RV)

Best Win: Ole Miss, 3-1, Aug. 28

The Illini played a tough schedule with losses coming against Georgia Tech, Washington, and Marquette. However, Illinois stumbled against Illinois State and lost in five sets. Raina Terry has been a solid attacker, but the IIllini’s offense has been error-prone and has the second-worst hitting percentage in the league at .225.

10. Maryland (9-3)

Best win: Virginia, 3-0, Sept. 17

The Terrapins have played just four teams with winning records and lost three of those but fell in five sets twice. Rainelle Jones is doing Rainelle Jones things. After finishing No. 1 in the country in blocking last season, she is back on top with 1.83 blocks per set. While they lead the league in blocks and aces, they are last in kills and assists. 

11. Michigan State (9-2)

Best win: Louisiana, 3-2, Aug. 26

The Spartans won their first six matches of the season before hitting a stumbling block on Tobacco Road against North Carolina and Duke. MSU has eased into the Leah Johnson era as it has just two wins over teams with winning records. They’ve done it with defense, led by Texas transfer Nalani Iosia, leading the league with the fewest kills, assists and digs given up. 

12. Indiana 7-5

Best win: Texas A&M, 3-1, Sept. 16

The highlight of the Hoosiers nonconference might have been taking the first set off No. 21 Western Kentucky. Indiana knocked off Texas A&M in four sets before the Aggies upset WKU. Sophomore Mady Saris leads the team with 3.78 kills, the fifth best in the conference. 

13. Iowa (6-5)

Best win: Northern Iowa, 3-0, Sept. 17

The Hawkeyes also started over with a new coach this offseason and loaded their roster with transfers. Iowa has beat up on a soft schedule and has earned just two wins against teams with winning records this season. The offense isn’t overwhelming as no Hawkeye players average more than three kills per set. However, the defense has lots of opportunities.  Mari Hinkle leads the Big Ten with 4.76 digs per set. 

14. Rutgers (6-6)

Best win: The Citadel, 3-2, Aug. 27

Rutgers started strong by winning its first three matches (Fresno State, The Citadel and College of Charleston) to reach 3-0 for the first time since 1998. It didn’t get to four as it dropped the next match against Radford (now 4-8). After that, they pushed undefeated Towson to five sets, which No. 7 Pitt couldn’t even manage. It’s going to be another long season in East Rutherford, N.J. The good news is all home matches are free to attend.

Hames on the mend, possibly out for Kentucky

By Lincoln Arneal

Nebraska might be without Nicklin Hames this weekend.  

The senior setter left Tuesday’s match with an injury and NU coach John Cook said he didn’t know how long she would be out of action. However, based on his comments on his weekly radio show, Hames is unlikely to play in the Huskers’ match at No. 13 Kentucky at 2 p.m. on Sunday. 

“She’s out for right now,” Cook said. “So I don’t know. It’s one of those things. She just needs some rest. Time.”

After starting the season as a defensive specialist, Hames moved back to setting against Loyola Marymount earlier this month. She had started the previous five matches while the Huskers ran a two-setter offense. 

Against Stanford on Tuesday, Cook said he noticed Hames’ sets were getting lower and tighter as the match progressed. Finally, with the Huskers leading 20-18 in the third set, Hames told Cook that she was struggling to move and couldn’t continue. Sophomore Kennedi Orr entered the game and helped NU claim the set. She finished with eight sets in her first action in 10 days. 

Cook said he was impressed with Orr’s performance after standing around for almost two hours.

“She stepped up and really helped us when we needed it because we could have imploded right then or folded up,” Cook said. 

NU will rely on Orr and junior Anni Evans to run the offense with Hames unlikely to play. The Huskers work on both in practice because if they run out of subs in a set, they need to reverse to a 5-1. Cook said they could stick with the 6-2 or go back to a one-setter system depending on how practice goes. 

“If one setter can really separate and show that they can be a difference-maker and make all those hitters better, it’s better to always go with a one-setter offense,” Cook said. “If they are both a wash, then it’s better to go with a 6-2. We will see how practice goes tomorrow and the next day and decide. We can flip in and out of either one.”

BATENHORST ON THE MEND

Sophomore outside hitter Ally Batenhorts is getting closer to making a return, but Cook is still uncertain when she will be available. 

Batenhorst missed the Red-White scrimmage as a precaution with an abdominal injury. She then left NU’s match against Creighton after reaggravating it and didn’t play in the two subsequent matches. 

“She’s slowly coming back,” Cook said. “These soft tissue injuries (need) just rest. So it depends on how long it takes the body to heal, but she’s doing more and more every day.”

HORD HOMECOMING

 While Nebraska makes its first big road trip of the year this weekend, one Huskers player will be making a homecoming. 

Senior middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord will return to Lexington, Kentucky. Hord said she is excited to have some friendly faces in the crowd while playing in her hometown. 

Hord first learned Nebraska would be playing on the Wildcats’ home court while she took an official visit there earlier this year. Eventually, the former Penn State All-American committed to the Huskers in January. 

“Hopefully all my family comes. I mean, they better come,” she said. “Now they don’t have an excuse not to see me play. So I’m very excited to see some old friends.”

FIXING THE SERVE

On Tuesday, Stanford and Nebraska set a new low for serving futility. The teams combined for 37 errors, which set a Nebraska record for a match during the Cook era. Stanford’s 24 errors were a new high for an NU opponent during that time frame. 

Cook was not pleased with the showing, so the Huskers spent even more time working on serving. He calls their serving the most important drill they do every day in practice. He guided them through their pre-serve routine by verbalizing it to a teammate. Cook compared it to shooting a free throw or kicking a field goal and finding a way to develop consistency no matter the score.  

“It’s just trying to get them to trust their routine and trust what they’re doing,” Cook said. “Technically we worked on a couple of things today to help some of them out so they’d be more consistent. It’s a fine-tuning process because you’re just always living on the edge. If you serve too tough and it goes out or if you serve too easy, then you’re going to pay for it. 

LEAVING THE GOOD LIFE

Sunday’s match at Kentucky will be Nebraska’s first time leaving the state, but not its first away match. 

The Huskers’ only match outside the Devaney Center this year was in front of an NCAA-record crowd of 15,979 at the CHI Health Center. While it was officially a Creighton home game, most of the crowd was cheering for NU. 

Both teams enter the match following home losses. The Wildcats (5-3) are coming off a five-set setback to No. 3 Louisville, while Nebraska suffered its first loss of the season against Stanford on Tuesday. 

Because of the odd schedule of matches on Tuesday-Sunday, NU altered its regular practice schedule. The Huskers took off Wednesday before returning to the gym on Thursday to prep for their last nonconference game. 

“The ante goes up every week, and it goes up more this week,” Cook said. “(Kentucky) will be a great road test for us leading into the Big Ten. They’re a team that’s in the hunt right now.”

Lauenstein Embracing Her Role As Numbers Jump

By Lincoln Arneal

Meet Whitney Lauenstein, the Assassin. 

It’s not the real Whitney, just her on-court alter ego. However, opposing defenses and hitters should beware of her new intention to kill every ball and smother every attack. 

Nebraska’s sophomore opposite hitter developed the new identity this offseason to help put her in the needed mindset to become one of the Huskers’ most lethal attackers. So far, the results are impressive. In 2021, Lauenstein totaled just 62 kills in 67 sets. After three sweeps this season, she is halfway to that total and averaging 3.44 kills per set with a .353 hitting percentage. On defense, she has 13 blocks after recording 21 all of last season.

“I have to be really calm and quiet and just go up and kill it and block it,” the 6-foot-2 Lauenstein said of her on-court persona. “I embrace it. I like it. I think it gives me a role on the team. I think that really feels good, because last year, I didn’t know my role as much.”

The next challenge for Lauenstein and the Huskers (3-0) will come on Thursday night when NU hosts Loyola Marymount at 6 p.m. at the Devaney Center.

Lauenstein has always been blessed athletically. She came to NU after winning an all-class gold medal in the 300 hurdles as a senior at Waverly. Now, she’s grown more comfortable as a volleyball player. 

NU coach John Cook said he’s noticed the leap from Lauenstein. He said the next step is for her to have the confidence to take over matches and make big swings in crucial moments.

“She’s very quick. She flies. She’s fast off the floor. She has a very fast arm. Those are a lot of things you can’t coach or develop,” Cook said. “She has those and we can refine them, but yeah, she’s got some talent there to work with.”

On top of her physical tools, Lauenstein has worked to develop her mental approach. She uses a meditation app to help her focus on breathing and remain calm in tense moments. 

Also, she’s finally embraced her position as an opposite hitter. After playing middle blocker and outside hitter in high school, Lauenstein switched to the right side as a freshman, where she competed with Lindsay Krause.

“I was in denial for a long time,” she said. “I played outside my whole life. I didn’t want to switch it up in college. I feel like I finally peaked and didn’t want to switch up and then have to start all the way at the bottom again. This summer, I was like, ‘Okay, right side, let’s go.'”

Part of Lauenstein’s evolution is to not just rely on her power, which is usually quite effective. She’s mixed in hitting shots off blocks, tipping the ball and off-speed shots to keep the defense guessing. She said she’s learned to react to what is in front of her rather than just swinging away. 

On Saturday, Pepperdine held set point in the opener following a hitting error by Lauenstein. However, setter Kennedi Orr went right back to Lauenstein, and she read the defense and hit a roll shot to the middle of the court that tied the set that the Huskers eventually won. 

Orr said while Lauenstein plays with a lot of energy, it is contained and used positively.

“She has a lot of composure, and she doesn’t let her emotions get the best of her,” Orr said. “That’s so much growth for her and that’s such a special characteristic to have in a teammate.”

Cook said he thinks Lauenstein is on a mission this year. She’s put in the time to improve and was named the program’s co-lifter of the year on Friday. 

When asked what her mission is, Lauenstein said she wants to be on the floor for the season’s final match and not have to watch another team celebrate. 

“Last year, I just got to watch all my teammates and how we played in the national championship, and I just don’t really want that to happen again,” she said. “I want us to see happy faces after winning it and holding the trophy and like wearing the hats and the confetti falling on us.”

HUSKERS FALL ONE SPOT — Despite finishing the opening weekend with three sweeps, Nebraska fell to No. 2 in this week’s AVCA coaches poll. Texas won six of seven sets against No. 8 Ohio State to move up one spot.

The Huskers increased their point total by 14 to 1552, but it wasn’t enough to hold off the Longhorns. NU lost one first-place vote, while Texas collected the first-place votes from Wisconsin (12) and Louisville. 

“Texas went and had two great wins at Ohio State. So they deserve it,” Cook said. “They proved it. We played some good teams, but Pepperdine was not ranked in the top 10 so I’m assuming that’s it. But hey, great, let them have it.”

The Badgers, which lost to Baylor in Fort Worth, fell to No. 6. Louisville, Minnesota and Georgia Tech rounded out the Top 5.

The biggest climbers were Baylor, which went from No. 16 to 9, and San Diego, which jumped 10 spots after defeating then-No. 6 Pitt. UCLA, which lost to Utah State, fell 11 spots to No. 23, while fellow Pac-12 member Washington split a series at Arkansas and dropped six spots to No. 14. 

BACK TO WORK — Nebraska was back at work Monday gearing up for its second week. Cook said the team had plenty to work on and dubbed the day “Fix-It Day.” 

“Footwork, positioning, where we start in our serve receive patterns, blocking technique. You want me to keep going?” Cook said before continuing. “Defensive positioning, being in the right spots, they got a big lecture about serving yesterday. That was a few of the things.”

Cook brought up serving as one area of focus this week. The Huskers are last in the Big Ten with just nine aces in nine sets, compared to 25 service errors, which was the fourth most of any team in the league.

“Serving is the one time it’s you and the ball,” he said. “You don’t need a setter or you don’t need anything else. It’s just you and the ball. So you have to have the mindset that you’re going back to create a point for your team.”

PASSING GRADE — After starting two matches this season, Orr said she would grade herself out at a B. 

She said she was a little nervous in the first match against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, but settled down and found a rhythm. Even though she played in two matches as a freshman, Orr considered last weekend her first true outing as a Husker. 

Cook said he wants more even play from Orr as NU enters the second week of matches. While Orr averaged almost nine assists per set, NU’s offense struggled for stretches, especially against the Pepperdine block. 

“(Consistency) would look like every set is the same. It’s consistent tempo and consistent location,” he said. “For a setter, she was a little inconsistent this past weekend.”