By Lincoln Arneal
Watching the final two sets against Indiana was a wake-up call for Ally Batenhorst.
After Nebraska’s sophomore outside hitter played a lackluster opening set with one kill on eight attacks with two errors, she spent the remainder of the Huskers’ sweep on the sidelines.
Batenhorst returned to the starting lineup the next match and has played her best stretch of volleyball during the last three outings, including a career-high 15 kills against No. 5 Ohio State on Sunday.
NU coach John Cook said Batenhorst responded well to being pulled from the lineup.
“You can get all the psychology degrees, all the doctorates, all that stuff – the bench is the greatest motivator and teacher,” Cook said. “I put them on the bench. The bench sends the message up to the brain. ‘Get off the bench if you want to play,’ so get up and do good stuff.”
Batenhorst said when she gets sent to the bench it means she isn’t doing her job. Now she’s focusing on being the best version of herself and concentrating on what she can control.
“I need to step up and every day come into practice doing the best I can and every game I come into the game, doing the best I can for the team,” she said. “Being taken out of the game obviously set a fire under my butt.”
The turnaround started with a nine-kill performance against Northwestern, and then she backed that up with eight kills on a .316 hitting percentage plus five blocks versus Iowa.
Batenhorst was at her best in the first set against the Buckeyes. The Houston native recorded six kills on nine swings for a .556 rate. Three kills came during a 4-0 run that tied the set at 9-all.
She said the energy in the Covelli Center was high and they had to set the tone early.
“It was a really intense gym,” Batenhorst said. “We just came out and brought out as much energy as we could knowing it was a big match.”
SYSTEM SWITCH? — When asked if it was at the point of the season where they were committed to the two-setter system for the rest of the year, Cook was non-committal.
“There’s no perfect system, so we’re evaluating all that,” he said. “We’ll see how this week in practice goes.”
The Huskers ran a 5-1 system out of necessity on Sunday because they ran out of substitutes. Cook replaced Anni Evans with Kennedi Orr, who played her most extensive action in a month. Orr finished with eight assists, while Evans had just six in the opening two sets.
SET THE MIDDLE — One of the mantras Cook has repeated all season is that Nebraska needs to utilize the middle blockers more on offense.
Against Ohio State, Kaitlyn Hord and Bekka Allick combined for 43 attacks. Cook said he wants the middles to take 30 percent of NU’s swings, which would have meant more than 60 against the Buckeyes.
For the season, Allick, Hord and Maggie Mendelson have combined for around 21 percent of the Huskers’ total attacks.
“We just have to force it more. We get too predictable,” Cook said. “It’s a little more risky, but we just got to be better at it. The setters have to trust it.”
While playing for Penn State, Hord averaged 2.12 kills per set in her freshman season and a career-best 2.92 last season.
This season, Hord is averaging just 1.38 kills per set. Cook said she has a better connection in practice, but the lack of offensive production is not just the fault of the setters.
“It’s her spacing, the relationship, and it’s going to the same spot every time,” he said. “We’ve got to get better. … We’re gonna get her unleashed here at some point.”
DROP IN POLLS — The Huskers fell two spots to No. 6 in this week’s AVCA coaches poll, the lowest of the season. Louisville and Ohio State moved up to round out the top five behind Texas, San Diego and Wisconsin.
Purdue, who plays Nebraska on Sunday, dropped four spots to No. 19.
PLEASED WITH PERFORMANCE — Following the Huskers’ loss to Ohio State, Cook sounded in a good mood on his postgame radio show.
Cook said NU got plenty of lessons to learn from in the loss, but he is pleased with their progress to this point. If the Huskers come into practice and pout, then he would get fired up.
“They played at a really high level and we were right there with them and we had our chances,” Cook said. “We played some of the best volleyball we played all year. Game 1 might have been better than a national championship-level match. I mean, it was insane volleyball. So it’s hard to be disappointed.”
Batenhorst said they need to bring more energy and fight through adversity.
“We need to have the mindset that we’re going to take every point seriously and go out with as much effort as we can and just come together as a team,” she said.