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.

Huskers work to address serving woes

By Lincoln Arneal

When comparing this year’s Nebraska volleyball team to some of the program’s all-time greats, the current Huskers measure up favorably in hitting, blocking and passing.

The one exception, however, is serving. The third-ranked Huskers have just 27 aces this season compared to 83 service errors.

“It’s tragic,” NU coach John Cook said.

Freshman Bekka Allick and sophomore Kennedi Orr have struggled to serve in their first full-time roles. Senior Kenzie Knuckles and sophomore Lexi Rodriguez have struggled, too. Those two have 16 and 15 errors, respectively.

Senior Madi Kubik, one of the weaker servers in past seasons, has graded out as the Huskers’ best this year.

All hope is not lost. Cook said NU should get a boost when senior Nicklin Hames returns from her injury. Plus, they will figure out how to balance aggression and passive serving.

“We weren’t very good at this time last year. When we got to the Big Ten (schedule) last year, we started to become a great serving team.”

The difference serving can make was demonstrated last week. Against Stanford, Allick missed a serve with the first set tied at 25-all. The Cardinal won the set on the next point.

In the exact same scenario at Kentucky, Allick got her serve in twice, and Nebraska won the set and swept the Wildcats.

Allick said she is focusing on taking her time while serving. Before, she felt rushed. Assistant coach Jaylen Reyes gave her permission to use all eight seconds.

“If we get violated for that, then we’ll just work backward from there,” Allick said.

Cook said Allick’s serves usually resulted in an ace or error. To improve her consistency, he’s worked on technical changes, such as keeping her elbow high and taking a little off her serve.

“It’s kind of hit or miss. We’re trying to get it to be hit, hit, hit, hit,” Cook said. “If you’re playing golf, you’re not going to hit the driver as hard as you can every time. You got to sometimes just put it down the fairway. She’s got to put it down the fairway.”

LARSON HEADS TO MIDLAND — Midland University announced Jordan Larson as a volunteer coach Monday. She briefly served as a volunteer assistant coach at Texas this summer before leaving the program.

She joined the Warriors, the top-ranked team in NAIA, with a 9-1 record. Larson’s first session came the day after their only loss against Hastings. Midland coach Paul Giesselmann said having her in the gym instantly changed the players’ mindset.

“We didn’t tell the team ahead of time, and when she walked into the gym, it was instantly quiet,” he said. “You could see the ‘wow’ factor she brings.”

She will work with the Warriors one day a week before returning overseas. Larson hopes to help in whatever way she can.

“When you look at the state of Nebraska, it’s unreal all the great volleyball programs we have,” Larson said in a release. “It’s a reflection on the standards we’ve set and how everyone involved wants their programs to be successful. It’s encouraging and fun to be a part of.”

Cook said he is excited to have the NU All-American back in the state and start her coaching career. He said Larson is ready to get into the coaching world.

“She told me her dream is to eventually live in Nebraska and coach in Nebraska so she’s starting to plant the roots for that,” he said.

Could that happen for the Huskers eventually?

“I could see her someday coaching here, most definitely,” Cook said.

NO FOOTBALL FOR COOK — Following the Huskers’ sweep against Kentucky, Cook was being interviewed by the ESPN announcers, and they were talking about NU’s defensive prowess.

He recalled his love for defense started when he coached football at Francis Parker high school.

“In San Diego, I was a defensive coordinator for football. I’m a defensive-minded coach,” Cook said. “If anybody wants to hire me to coach football, we’re gonna start with defense.”

Unbeknownst to Cook, news that Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chindader was fired was released just as the volleyball match started.

He clarified that he didn’t know about the opening at the time and has no interest in switching to coaching the Huskers on the gridiron.

“I feel bad for these football coaches,” Cook said Tuesday. “It’s a tough, tough business. I had no idea what was going on. Some people assumed I was lobbying to be the defensive coordinator. I’m not. But I want our team to play good defense.”

Huskers get well on the road, blast No. 13 Kentucky

By Lincoln Arneal

After failing to rise to the occasion against No. 9 Stanford earlier in the week, Nebraska heard about it every day in practice. 

So when the Huskers had another opportunity against a tough opponent, second-ranked NU seized the moment and delivered a 27-25, 25-20, 25-15 sweep over No. 13 Kentucky Sunday afternoon in front of 3,933 fans at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky.

“Winning that close (first) game just gave them this major shot of confidence,” NU coach John Cook said during a post-match TV interview. “I think we just rolled from there and wore Kentucky down.”

Nebraska (8-1) trailed 23-20 in the first set before stringing together its first scoring run of more than two points to earn a set point. The Wildcats rallied for a set point of their own, but the Huskers scored the final three points on two kills and a Kentucky service error. 

Cook said NU was making “boneheaded” plays early on, such as having the setter take the first touch on a free ball.

The key change came during a late timeout in the first set when Cook got after his team for the number of tips and roll shots they attempted. The Huskers had just eight kills on their first 29 attacks, but NU recorded six kills on the last nine rallies of the first set. 

“I called a timeout and said, ‘You guys, you’re gonna have to attack and win this. They’re not going to give it to you,’” Cook said. “It was just more of a mindset. We gotta go take it. We’re tired of losing deuce games … You have to be able to play your best when it matters most.”

With the Wildcats leading 17-16 in the second set, Nebraska went on a 6-0 run to take control. However, this run was more about Kentucky errors. The Wildcats missed on four attacks, including one block. 

Sophomore outside hitter Whitney Lauenstein finished the set with one of her match-high 11 kills. She also finished with a .370 hitting percentage with two aces and three blocks.

“I think this match was like, ‘Let’s play together and just play fearless,’” Lauenstein said. “Just go for everything. We’re on the road – like, ‘You can’t lose a road game. Come on. You gotta beat them.’ So we got to play fearless and go for everything.”

The Huskers dominated the third set as they jumped out to leads of 5-1 and 8-3. 

Even without senior setter Nicklin Hames, NU’s offense hit for .302, including .361 in the third set. Sophomore Kennedi Orr tallied 20 assists while junior Anni Evans added 16. 

Senior Madi Kubik and sophomore Lindsay Krause each totaled nine kills. Kubik added nine digs, while Krause terminated at a .304 clip. 

NU got the middles more involved as freshman Bekka Allicked recorded five kills on eight swings and Kaitlyn Hord had five kills, including the match clincher in her hometown. Allick also added six blocks, while Hord had four. NU won the battle at the net, out blocking UK 10-3. 

Sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez anchored the defense with 15 digs to go with seven assists. 

The Wildcats finished with a season-low .141 hitting percentage with 20 hitting errors. Reagan Rutherford paced UK with nine kills. Kentucky entered the match second in the nation with a .326 percentage. Cook credited assistant coach Jaylen Reyes for designing the defensive game plan and the players for executing it.

“(Defense is) the way you get to those teams that are used to killing a lot of balls. If they can’t kill balls, they start pressing,” Cook said. “They did it for however long this match lasted, the whole match, they were on it.”

After NU’s Quick Start, Sooners Leave Huskers In The Dust

By Steve Beideck

Once upon a time in Lincoln, Nebraska fans eagerly anticipated the next time Oklahoma would roll into town for a Big Eight or Big 12 showdown.

Everyone fortunate enough to have a ticket knew they would be treated to a competitive game, one that often-decided which team and its fan base would get to go to Miami for the Orange Bowl as conference champions.

Two Orange Bowl representatives were in Lincoln Saturday, but they were focused on only one of the combatants in the latest iteration of one of college football’s most historic rivalries.

That focus was on No. 6 Oklahoma, primarily because it wasn’t a competitive game.

After scoring on its opening drive Saturday, elevating the hopes of Husker fans in the Memorial Stadium crowd of 87,161, Oklahoma controlled the action for the final 56-plus minutes while rolling to a 49-14 victory.

“This comes back to me,” Interim head coach Mickey Joseph said. “It’s not my kids’ fault, it’s not my assistant coaches’ fault, this is on me. I’ve got to accept responsibility for it, and I have. We’re going to get better next week. We’ve got eight games left. We’re going to get ready to win some games.”

Oklahoma now has won the last three games between the two teams. The Sooners lead the all-time series 47-38-3. Nebraska still has a 22-19-2 advantage in games played in Lincoln after losing the 88th game in the series, and this was just the second loss for the Huskers to OU in the last nine games played in Lincoln.

The loss dropped Nebraska’s record at the start of its 133rd season of football to 1-3, a record that includes a 1-2 finish in the nonconference schedule. The final eight games of the season are against Big Ten foes.

Following a bye week, the week in which Nebraska would have traveled to Evanston, Illinois, to play Northwestern if the teams had not opened the season in Dublin, Ireland, the Huskers play two games in six days.

Indiana travels to Lincoln for the Huskers’ Oct. 1 homecoming game, which will begin at either 6 or 6:30 p.m. Then it’s a short week to get ready for the first true conference road game on Friday, Oct. 7 at Rutgers. That game will kick off at 6 p.m. CDT and be televised on FS1.

There’s plenty for the Huskers to work on during the bye week as Joseph will be able to make more adjustments leading up to the final eight games.

Joseph said the focus during the bye week – and even beyond, if necessary – is more drill work instead of team work.

“We have to do some individual work, some more drill work next week, less team work and get some fundamentals straightened up,” Joseph said. “More 9-on-7 drills, more turnover drills, less team work. Because the teamwork doesn’t matter if they don’t do the individual work.

“Nobody played very good with a score like that. We’re going to dissect this film. We’re going to find the kids who were doing what we asked them to do, kids that can tackle and that can block.”

Oklahoma made the necessary in-game adjustments to overcome being stopped on its opening drive, a stop that was followed by Nebraska’s only touchdown drive until the final four minutes of the game.

The Sooner offense racked up 355 yards of total offense in the first 30 minutes to put themselves in position to reset the program’s record 656 yards offense the 1956 Sooners hung on the Huskers nearly 66 years ago.

As both teams turned to their backups for the final 20 minutes, that 1956 mark still stands. The 3-0 Sooners had third-team offensive linemen in the game for the final few plays after the Huskers scored their second touchdown.

The final total for the Sooners, after taking a knee on the final two plays, was 580 yards on 84 plays. The totals were evenly distributed – 312 rushing and 268 passing.

NU gave up 642 last week in a 45-42 loss to Georgia Southern. Combine that with OU’s 580 yards, and that’s 1,222 total yards allowed by the Blackshirts the past two games.

Senior running back Eric Gray led the Sooners with 113 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns. Ten different players had at least one reception for OU, with Marvin Mims leading the way with four catches for 66 yards.

Quarterback Dillon Gabriel dissected the Nebraska back seven through the first three quarters, completing 16-of-27 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. The junior transfer from Central Florida, who hails from Mililani, Hawaii, also scored a rushing touchdown and finished with 55 yards on six carries.

It was Gabriel’s 61-yard TD run down the west sideline that muted any momentum Nebraska had after scoring its first touchdown. That score came just 1:49 after Casey Thompson finished the Huskers six-play, 77-yard opening drive with a 32-yard TD pass to Trey Palmer.

Oklahoma did what none of Nebraska’s first three opponents could do – slow the Huskers’ running game. In the first half, NU’s Anthony Grant was limited to 30 yards on 11 carries.

In Nebraska’s first three games, Grant averaged 142.7 yards per game. Ajay Allen was Nebraska’s leading rushing in the first 30 minutes, gaining 40 yards on nine carries.

Gabe Ervin Jr. finished as Nebraska’s leading rusher, gaining 60 yards on seven second-half carries. Allen finished with 49 yards on 11 carries while Grant gained 36 on 13. NU totaled just 163 rushing yards on 45 carries.

NU’s passing game netted just one more yard than the running game. Thompson completed 14-of-20 passes for 129 yards and one touchdown; he also was sacked four times.

Chubba Purdy saw his first action as a Husker quarterback. The Florida State transfer was 7-of-11 with one interception for 35 yards. Purdy also scored Nebraska’s second TD on an 8-yard run around the right end with 3:17 remaining in the game.

Joseph said Purdy played in the second half because he needed some reps, not because Thompson was hurt.

“I thought Chubba played OK when he got in there,” Joseph said. “He made some mistakes, but I thought he was aggressive and he gave us a chance to sustain drives.”

Does that mean there might be a change at quarterback on the horizon to give Purdy a bigger opportunity to show what he could do?

Would Joseph be bold enough to try what Jim Harbaugh did at Michigan at the start of the season, giving his top two quarterbacks a chance to start one game and decide on a starter for the final six games?

It’s the kind of decision an interim coach faces with the primary goal of finding the best way to win games.

And right now, Nebraska seems a long way from winning anything.