By Lincoln Arneal
Maybe the two-setter offense isn’t just a temporary experiment for Nebraska.
The second-ranked Huskers ran a 6-2 for the second-straight match and produced another stellar offensive performance Saturday night in a 25-13, 25-23, 25-21 sweep over Ole Miss at the Devaney Center.
NU (5-0) finished with a .330 hitting percentage with just nine errors after a .363 clip on Thursday night against Loyola Marymount. Last year, the Huskers hit .222 for the season.
“I think we handled it really well,” Cook said about the switch to the new offensive system. “They do a pretty good job and we’ve only played two matches in it. We hit great numbers. You hit those numbers and you got a really good chance to win.”
The bigger challenges start next week when Nebraska plays at No. 17 Creighton and Long Beach State before taking on No. 12 Stanford and No. 16 Kentucky.
Against the Rebels, senior Nicklin Hames and sophomore Kennedi Orr started as the setters. However, after she missed a few connections, Cook subbed in junior Anni Evans in the third set for Orr.
Hames finished with 18 assists, Orr added five and Evens had four.
Sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez chipped in seven assists and a team-best nine digs. Because setters only play the back row, they have a better chance to dig attacks, which means Rodriguez handles setting duties.
“All the hitters have trust in me that I’m gonna put up just as good of a ball as the setters do,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for me to get more sets to them.”
Madi Kubik is probably a fan of the new system after she played two of the best consecutive matches in her career. Before this week, she had recorded seven matches with a hitting percentage above .400 and added two more. She finished 13 kills with just one error against Ole Miss and hit .455 for the week.
She said with all the players going in and out, they have to focus on playing for each other and trust the setter, no matter who is the setter.
“It takes a lot of pressure and headspace off of worrying about play and just being able to trust each other and try and focus on what’s happening,” Kubik said. “That’s what allowed us to play pretty good this weekend.”
After Nebraska blitzed Ole Miss in the first set, using runs of 6-0 and 7-0 to pull away for a 25-13 victory. The Rebels regrouped and put up a stiffer challenge in the next two sets.
Ole Miss led 23-21 in the second set, but Whitney Lauenstein served out the last four points, the final two of which were kills by Kubik, to close out the set.
Lauenstein hadn’t served in a match this season and only sparingly did last season. With Orr struggling to serve, Cook switched to the sophomore opposite in the second set. She came through for NU with an ace and tough serves on the final stretch.
Cook said she fully trusted Lauenstein to deliver from the service line after serving great in practice.
“She thumps it. She’s up there high and that thing is coming down,” he said. “She’s been serving great in practice. I’ve had a lot of confidence in letting her go and she did a nice job.”
In the third set, the Rebels tied the set at 19-all, but the Huskers closed strong with a kill from Lauenstein before she teamed up with Kaitlyn Hord for a block on the next play.
Lauenstein finished with nine kills at a .350 clip to go with six blocks. Hord also recorded six blocks.
Ole Miss finished with a .184 hitting percentage, led by 11 kills from Anna Bair. However, the Rebels struggled to serve with 15 errors.
The match also marked the return of former Husker player and assistant coach Kayla Banwarth. Before the match, she received a loud ovation from the crowd.
“It was emotional and I didn’t think it was gonna be emotional,” she said. “I spent seven years of my life here so to be back and to be welcomed in that way was pretty special for me.”
Cook said he saw Banwarth wandering around Devenay earlier in the day reminiscing about her time at Nebraska. He said this trip would also help her team to see how much she poured into her time with the Huskers and won a national championship.
Banwarth said she had no complaints about the weekend and was proud of how her team competed. Even though Ole Miss started the season 0-4, Banwarth hopes the tough tests they received will help them in SEC play.
“I’m just really, really grateful to be here,” she said. “I always feel an enormous amount of gratitude for Husker nation, and the welcome that me and my team received. So thanks to everyone for being so gracious to us while we’ve been here. That was fun. My girls had a blast. I know (0-4) is sometimes not very fun, but I’m happy when I see my girls competing hard and going toe to toe against Nebraska.”