By Lincoln Arneal
After two strange, COVID-19-impacted seasons, Stanford is back to its old habits.
In the spring 2020-21 season, the Cardinal went 2-8 and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. Stanford then made a quiet exit in the second round of the 2021 NCAA tournament with a sweep by No. 12 Minnesota.
However, the Cardinal avenged the loss this past weekend by knocking off the then-third-ranked Gophers Friday night. Stanford also owns a win over No. 13 Florida.
It’s fitting that only two teams ranked in the Top 10 for more than 500 weeks will square off as No. 2 Nebraska hosts the ninth-rated Cardinal Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Deveney Center.
“You can’t beat him if you don’t play him,” coach John Cook said. “We want to play these guys at Stanford. It’s a great program. They’re one of the teams that’s in the hunt every year for a national championship. We like playing them and it’s great competition.”
Stanford has owned the rivalry with NU lately, winning the last four matches, including last year’s meeting in four sets.
In that match, Nebraska experimented with its lineup and started three freshmen attackers plus freshman libero Lexi Rodriguez. Lindsay Krause, Ally Batenhorst and Whitney Lauenstein combined for 25 kills, 15 errors and a .111 hitting percentage.
Fast forward to this season, Lauenstein leads the Huskers with 3.74 kills per set and a .367 hitting percentage. Krause is third with 2.25 kills per set. Batenhorst is doubtful with an abdominal injury.
Cook was coy on how much progress NU’s attackers have made since that match a year ago. Cook liked facing a tough challenge as they prepared for the conference schedule. In addition, The Huskers take on No. 13 Kentucky, the 2020 national champion, Sunday.
“The ante goes up every week, and it goes up more this week,” Cook said. “We’ve got to have these tests to prepare for the Big Ten. I’ve liked how our schedule has gone and how it’s built. This is a big week for us in learning how to win against great teams.”
Stanford features senior opposite Kendall Kipp, who is averaging four kills per set on just nine attacks.
“She’s a great player, and she hits all over the court – front row and back,” Cook said. “She’s getting a lot of swings. She plays like a true opposite in the men’s game. Those guys are in there to hit and block and they don’t have to pass. She has to play defense, obviously, but she’s a very good defensive player for size.”
Stanford has lost twice this season – to No. 1 Texas and to No. 11 Penn State.
Senior Kaitlyn Hord, who transferred from PSU, said she planned to talk to her old teammates Monday night to get a scouting report. From what she’s seen on film, the Cardinal are tall and athletic.
Hord said she is looking forward to taking on Stanford with a packed Devaney Center.
“I’m actually really excited because I’ve never beat Stanford,” Hord said. “I have that picking me up, that fire behind my back.”
HUSKERS REMAIN NO. 2 — Nebraska lost one first-place vote but remained in second place behind Texas in this week’s AVCA Coaches poll.
While the top two spots remained steady, the rest of the Top 10 changed. Louisville, Wisconsin and Ohio State all moved into the top five. Minnesota fell to No. 6. Georgia Tech suffered its first loss of the year to Ohio State and fell two spots to No. 7. San Diego and Stanford entered the top group and skipped ahead of No. 10 Purdue.
The biggest riser was No. 11 Penn State, which moved up nine spots after wins against the Cardinal and No. 20 Oregon. Creighton, which lost in five sets to Nebraska on Wednesday, remained at No. 17.
1K KUBIK — On Saturday, senior Madi Kubik became the 24th Nebraska player to reach 1,000 career kills.
The 6-foot-2 outside hitter took the set from Nicklin Hames and powered through the Long Beach State block with the ball hitting the middle of the court to finish the second set.
Last year, both Lexi Sun and Lauren Stivrins reached the milestone.
“It’s really cool. I don’t think a lot of people have done this,” Kubik said on Monday.
Kubik said one of her most memorable kills came during her freshman year against Penn State. In the fifth set, with Nebraska leading 14-13, Kubik ended the match against the Nittany Lions with her 217th career kill.
Cook sent Kubik that video recently. “He was like, ‘Big girl swing,’” Kubik said. “It just made me think about that and how fast the last four years have gone.”
Cook said the bigger accomplishment would be for her to reach the 1K mark for both kills and digs. Only three players have made that exclusive club: Jordan Larson (1,600 kills/1,410 digs ), Kadie Rolfzen (1,564/1,255) and Hannah Werth (1,286/1,367).
Kubik has 751 career digs entering Tuesday’s match.
“Talk to me when she gets the 1,000/1,000 club,” Cook said. “That’s Jordan Larson territory.”