By Lincoln Arneal
No matter how much talent Nebraska has on its roster, it can only play six players at a time.
So after signing several recruiting classes in a row stacked with elite prospects, NU coach John Cook faced the dilemma of managing playing time. He must field the most competitive lineup while keeping those on the bench engaged and ready for whatever opportunities arise.
As a result Cook and the players decided on the label of “game-changers” for the bench players. No matter if a player gets hurt or someone is having a tough night, everyone must be ready to contribute.
“At some point, we’re going to need you, and you got to be thinking you’re going to come in and be a game-changer, as opposed to come in and just play,” he said. “You gotta be a game-changer, and I’ve got a whole bunch of them that can do that.”
Cook said everyone saw a glimpse of the team’s talent before the season started in what he called the most competitive Red-White scrimmage.
“We got 14 players that could play,” he said.
After the first weekend, the No. 2 Huskers have used almost the same starting lineup for each subsequent match. NU may need more help from its bench during the Big Ten opener against No. 21 Ohio State on Friday night at the Devaney Center.
Defensive specialist Laney Choboy and outside hitter Lindsay Krause didn’t play against Kentucky on Sunday, but they both participated in practice on Wednesday. Cook was optimistic about Choboy playing this weekend but less sure about Krause.
Against the Wildcats, junior Ally Batenhorst earned the start and delivered 12 kills. Sophomore Maisie Boesigner joined the back row, providing defense and serving in the place of Choboy. The Norris graduate finished with six digs and an ace.
Boesiger said the mantra of game-changers stems from the belief in each other. The players support everyone no matter who is on the court.
“I think that’s something that’s really special about this team because it’s not a selfish team,” she said. “Everyone’s really excited and happy to cheer for one another and believe in each other – that really helps us be successful overall.”
Batenhorst said she knew for a few days ahead of the match that she would start, which allowed her to prepare for the increased playing time. The 6-foot-5 outside hitter said her goal was to play with energy and use her experience to impact the match.
“That’s something I’ve really taken to heart,” she said. “Whenever it’s my turn, I’m gonna go out there and give it all I have for the team.”
The Huskers are not just focused on making an impact in the absence of others, but to seek other opportunities as well. Junior setter Kennedi Orr embraced the role of serving specialist after not playing in the first six matches.
In addition to taking advantage of opportunities, Boesiger said the team also talks about going into the game and “ripping off the hinges.”
“Whenever an opportunity comes your way, you’re ready and you’re not going to be timid or back down or shy from anything,” she said. “You just want to go in, attack it to the best of your ability and rip the hinges off.”
Junior opposite Merritt Beason said the matches reflect what the team sees while training with each other every day. She wasn’t surprised to see Orr, Batenhorst or Boesiger thrive when given a chance to prove themselves.
“They do that every single day in practice,” she said. “I was just very happy for them – happy that they got a chance to show Husker Nation what they do in the gym every single day.”
New Look OSU
The Buckeyes return to Lincoln a much different team than a year ago. Ohio State lost four players to the transfer portal as fifth-year seniors.
Four freshmen – setter Mia Tuman, outside hitter Lauren Murphy, outside hitter Grace Egan and middle blocker Eloise Brandewie – have received significant playing time as OSU has searched for the right combination of players.
However, the Buckeyes still have their headliner – opposite Emily Londot. The 6-foot-3 senior is averaging 4.86 kills per set. She has taken 413 swings in OSU’s 35 sets, 237 more attacks than the second most on the team.
Beason said NU’s game plan will be to make life as difficult as possible for Londot and senior middle blocker Rylee Rader, but they won’t take the Buckeyes lightly, even as they come in on a six-match losing streak.
“They’re a great team, and they’ve done a lot of really good things the last few years,” Beason said. “We’re going in there like it’s a national championship match the same way we’re approaching every single match.”
The Longest Rally
Boesiger said during film review, the Huskers were amazed at everything that occurred during the 72-second rally in the fourth set against Kentucky. She said the rally captured their fight and how they were willing to do anything to keep the ball from hitting the floor.
“That rally was awesome,” she said. “It was crazy and it just kept going.”
On Tuesday, Cook joked that NU might have to run a few more wind sprints after all the players were exhausted and out of breath following the play. However, according to Boesiger, that threat didn’t come true in their first two practices of the week.
“We were like, ‘Hey, we won all the long rallies. What do you mean, we need to run more?’” she said.