Huskers Sweep Long Beach State

By Lincoln Arneal

With one of his top outside hitters out, Nebraska coach John Cook could have played it safe and used the same lineup that defeated No. 17 Creighton.

However, Cook mixed up the lineup again and added another wrinkle to a deep and talented NU squad.

With sophomore outside hitter Ally Batenhorst out with an abdominal injury, Cook inserted freshman Maggie Mendelson on the right side and flipped Lindsay Krause back to the left pin. The result was another sweep as the second-ranked Huskers dispatched Long Beach State 25-16, 25-22, 25-14 Saturday afternoon at the Devaney Center.

Mendelson, who had been training as a middle blocker, practiced just once as an opposite before Saturday’s match. However, she had played the position with her club team before coming to NU.

While her stat line of four kills and two blocks weren’t overwhelming, Cook said Mendelson stepped up and performed well on short notice. Cook wanted to play Mendelson at the right pin to create matchup problems and a big block for opponents to deal with.

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AARON BECKMAN Nebraska vs Long Beach State

“I actually talked to her when we were recruiting her about potentially putting her in the opposite position,” Cook said. “That kid’s a competitor. You can have her do anything. You saw her compete and make all those kind-of-funky plays at the net. She’s flying around, popping one-armed balls up. She competes.”

It took a little time for Nebraska to get into the match as Long Beach took an 11-9 lead in the first set after three straight hitting errors. However, NU settled into its offense and didn’t commit another miscue for the rest of the set. With the Huskers leading 15-14, the Huskers won nine of the next 10 rallies, including six straight points served by junior setter Anni Evans.

With the second set tied at 10-all, Nebraska ran off four straight points thanks to three Long Beach errors and a kill from sophomore opposite Whitney Lauenstein. The Long Beach got as close as two at 24-22, but Madi Kubik slammed home her 1,000 career kill. The senior outside hitter, who finished with eight kills, is the 24th Husker player to reach that milestone.

The Huskers jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the third set to take control. After notching just two blocks in the first two sets, they recorded three during that run. NU finished with seven blocks, including four from Lauenstein and senior middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord.

Lauenstein also paced the NU offense with 12 kills on a .381 hitting percentage.

Freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick added eight kills and three blocks. Several  kills came on the slide play, which they had not run in a match since they switched to a two-setter system. With Mendleson in the lineup, it opened up the opportunity to run the attack.

“We saw an advantage and we really wanted to abuse that as much as we could,” Allick said. “I felt really confident in that role, and so I’m excited to have it back. It’s kind of terrifying having both Maggie on the B-(hit in the middle) and me on the slide.”

Evans finished with 17 assists, while Nicklin Hames added 15 and nine digs. Lexi Rodriguez led the defense with 15 digs.

Long Beach finished hitting .078 led by nine kills from Natalie Glenn. Former Nebraska player Callie Schwarzenbach finished with one kill and three blocks.

After the final point, the match turned into a family reunion with lots of hugs and tears. Several Huskers returned from the locker room to take a picture with Schwarzenbach and former NU associate head coach Tyler Hildebrand.

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AARON BECKMAN Nebraska vs Long Beach State

Hildebrand has an extensive volleyball resume from his playing days as an All-American setter, the men’s national team and coaching the United States beach team in the Olympics. Still, he said Nebraska holds a special place for him.  

He started to tear up almost immediately after they got off the airplane in Omaha. Hildebrand enjoyed the reception he received from the crowd during the starting lineup and all the support he’s received from the fans even though he’s on the other bench.

“That’s part of what is special about this place and the years I’ve spent here with everyone. There are two places that are emotional for me – Long Beach and Nebraska,” Hildebrand said.

“I’ve played or coached in every gym in the world and there’s not a gym that’s like this, with how (the fans) support.”

He wasn’t the only one getting emotional this weekend. NU coach John Cook said his team was crying before the match and afterward as they reflected on the relationships they built with their former coach and teammate.

Lauenstein said they went to the Long Beach hotel on Friday night, hung Schwarzenbach’s lifter of the year poster on her door, and waited to surprise her. She said moments like that illustrate how much of last year’s theme of “Our roots run deep” still fits the program.

“It just shows how much of a family we are,” Lauenstein said. “No matter where you go and they’re always going to be, they’re always in our hearts. We love Tyler and Callie. We miss them a lot.”

Huskers turn close game into runaway – finally

By Steve Beideck

Huskers Illustrated

While there is still so much to fix, the big dose of success Nebraska eventually earned Saturday helped calm the collective nerves of an anxious Husker Nation.

Tied 7-7 at halftime with FCS foe North Dakota one week after coughing up a pair of 11-point leads in a gut-wrenching loss to Northwestern, a few boo-birds began chirping from the Memorial Stadium stands.

It was not near the extent of the 2007 boos, nor to the level that rang down near the end of the Mike Riley experiment in 2017, but it was noticeable from the crowd of 86,590. Still, In the end, the Huskers overwhelmed North Dakota 38-17 to even their record at 1-1.

Nebraska coach Scott Frost said that while the overall performance produced a mixed bag, the Huskers did snap a seven-game losing streak dating back to last season, the benefits of which outweigh the negatives.

“A lot of good and a lot of bad,” Frost said. “We had a lot better rhythm in the second half. It’s better to learn with a win than a loss. There are a lot of things we can fix and become a better football team.”

The outlook wasn’t good heading into the intermission, especially with the Fighting Hawks having their way against the Nebraska Blackshirts on a 16-play, 80-yard drive that tied the score just 13 seconds before the break.

That march by UND gave the Huskers one of the most lopsided time-of-possession deficits they have faced in a single half – 20:38 to 9:22. The Huskers only had four offensive possessions in the first 30 minutes.

And remember, this was an FCS foe, which has a limit of 63  “equilivancy” scholarships – which means they can be divided up between more than 63 players – compared to FBS schools that can offer 85 full rides.  

Things got tense when Nebraska stumbled after taking a 17-7 lead early in the third quarter and allowed the Fighting Hawks to rally and tie the game after NU QB Casey Thompson threw an interception deep in Nebraska’s own end which led to UND’s second touchdown.

After that, Nebraska began to dominate on both sides of the ball. The NU offense responded with a five-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 46-yard touchdown run by running back Anthony Grant.

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior from Buford, Georgia, was Nebraska’s steadiest weapon throughout the entire game. Grant, who also scored Nebraska’s lone first half TD on a 19-yard run, led all players with 189 rushing yards on 23 carries.

Nebraska secured the victory with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns; one by running back Ajay Allen on a 14-yard run and the other on a 5-yard pass from Thompson to tight end Chancellor Brewington with 2:07 remaining in the game.

The Huskers finished with 437 yards of total offense. Thompson was 14-of-21 for 193 yards and two touchdowns. His other TD pass was a 1-yard toss to Nate Boerkircher that came on the sixth play of NU’s opening drive of the second half.

“Overall I thought the defense hung in there, but we can be better,” Frost said. “(There were) some dumb plays on special teams that I know are getting coached in the meetings. I’m listening to them.”

Still, Frost saw plenty of things to believe things will get better.

“My message to the team, I don’t mind sharing with you, it’s been an interesting campaign,” Frost said. “We have a lot of new guys on the team and on the staff. We’ve got some old guys who have battled through a lot of adversity and been a good team before and haven’t won.

“This team can be a great team, it’s not right now, and that was my message to them. That puts us in a perfect position to have the potential to be good but know that we have a lot of work to do and a lot of things to fix.”

Huskers Sweep LMU

By Lincoln Arneal

Last Friday, Nebraska coach John Cook was asked if he would consider using a two-setter offense. 

His answer was simple and direct. 

“No. Not right now.” 

Less than a week later, Nebraska unveiled a 6-2 system with Nicklin Hames and Anni Evans running the offense. The change of mind resulted in another Nebraska sweep. This time the second-ranked Huskers took care of Loyola Marymount 25-17, 25-16, 25-17.  

Cook said he’s talked with his assistants about making the move for a while and wanted to try it out. He went with those setters rather than sophomore Kennedi Orr, who has started two matches, because Evans is used to going in and out of games and Hames can handle anything thrown at her. 

“When you run a 5-1, your setter has to be really good and find ways to get your hitters kills,” Cook said. “Kennedi is still figuring that out. Of course, Nicklin has four years of experience and Anni is a very good setter. We wanted to look at it and see. We spent a couple of days working on it. My job is to figure out our best lineup that gives the best chance to win.”

Hames finished with 21 assists, while junior Anni Evans added nine as the Huskers finished with a .363 hitting percentage. 

Hames said before the season she was returning to take on a different role as a defensive specialist. However, she was open to the idea of a two-setter offense when it was implemented in practice on Monday. She hadn’t run a 6-2 system since her senior year of high school when she also was an attacker. 

“It’s definitely different than a 5-1,” Hames said. “You have to go in and try to keep the rhythm of the other setter. I thought me and Anni did a pretty good job of that. Anni set the sauce as we like to say – she set really good. It made my job coming in really easy to just keep the offense going.”

Cook said he also wanted to get all six attackers on the court. Outside hitters Ally Batenhorst and Lindsay Krause rotated for the first three matches, but tonight Batenhorst played outside hitter while Krause moved to the right pin, where she played all of last season. 

Batenhorst led the Huskers with 10 kills on 24 attacks, while Krause added four. Sophomore opposite Whitney Lauenstein finished with nine kills with a .368 hitting percentage.  Senior Madi Kubik put together a stellar night with eight kills on 14 errorless swings (.571) and nine digs. 

“Having all of us pins out there and having an opportunity for all of us to hit is really good for our team. I think it really helps our offense,” Batenhorst said. “The 6-2 is obviously different,  but coach says great ones adjust. It’s working out for us and we just kind of roll with it.”

The middles also had solid performances as senior Kaitlyn Hord hit .545 with seven kills and two blocks. Freshman Bekka Allick had five kills, two blocks and two digs.

LMU (1-3) finished with a .185 hitting percentage, the highest for a Husker opponent in the young season. Kari Geissberger finished with 10 kills

The Lions neutralized the Huskers’ block with a fast-tempo offense. NU finished with just four team blocks, including two triple blocks. Batenhorst said LMU runs its out-of-system offense in the middle of the court, which allowed their defense to gang up on hitters. 

Hames said the Lions’ offense is as fast as they will see all season. 

“If they’re in-system, they were a very challenging team to stop,” she said. “Hopefully, we don’t see that much speed this whole season, but I thought they did a great job with that.”

Previously, Cook said he was hesitant about running a 6-2 because teams use four subs every rotation because it limits subbing options. Nebraska countered that by having 5-foot-9 Kenzie Knuckles start in the front row before she served and Allick stayed in to serve. Both moves paid off as Knuckles recorded three aces and five digs, while Allick also added an ace on 11 serves. 

After a solid offensive showing, Cook was non-committal about which offense Nebraska would run against No. 16 Creighton next week. 

“I don’t know. I got to watch the video, practice tomorrow and we have another match on Saturday,” Cook said.  

The Huskers face Ole Miss Saturday night.

NU baseball vs. Iowa by Amarillo Mullen

Spring is in the Air

The Nebraska spring game traditionally is a real game and a showcase for Nebraska’s new talent, enabling a savvy fanbase to size up prospects for the future. Like much around Nebraska football, the spring game has changed.

This year’s game on April 9 still drew an uncommonly large crowd – but small by Nebraska standards – of about 55,000. There was no tackling in the first half. Many of the biggest names had little opportunity to electrify the fans.

The best news, according to coaches, was that nobody got hurt.

Still, the game did have new offensive coaches and some players who fans have been champing at the bit to see: new quarterbacks, receivers, defensive backs and even a punter.

Some position groups, such as the offensive line and defensive line, have question marks but also have players who have taken big steps forward.

To learn how it all stacked up, read on …

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