By Lincoln Arneal
Nebraska changed half of its lineup for its second match of the day and the results were nearly identical.
Junior setter Anni Evans, sophomore outside hitter Ally Batenhorst and freshman middle blocker Maggie Mendelson replaced Kennedi Orr, Lindsay Krause and Bekka Allick, respectively, in the starting lineup and the top-ranked Huskers swept Tulsa 25-15, 25-12, 25-13 Friday evening.
NU coach John Cook said he doesn’t think he’s ever before swapped out half of a starting lineup during the same tournament.
“I had a lot of confidence that those guys would play smoothly, and they did a nice job,” he said. “It was fun to watch.”
Evans saw extensive time in two matches last season, but she split time with Orr in both. Against the Golden Hurricanes, the Waverly graduate had complete control of the offense.
The attackers hardly missed a beat as the Huskers finished with a .318 hitting percentage. Sophomore opposite Whitney Lauenstein was one of the biggest beneficiaries. She finished with 15 kills at a .429 clip with her former high school teammate calling the shots.
Evans said Cook told her that she would start on Wednesday and she was prepared to set the entire match. Afterward, she said she felt good about her performance.
“We’ve got a lot of reps in practice and my hitters make my job so easy,” she said. “Honestly, I just go out there and trust my teammates.”
Evans finished with her first career double-double with 36 assists and 10 digs. She had reached double figures in any category only once before with 12 assists against Kansas State last year. Her previous career high for digs was five against Iowa in 2021.
Senior outside hitter Madi Kubik also lit up the offense with 14 kills and a .414 hitting percentage. Senior middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord had eight kills on 13 swings, while Batenhorst added seven kills.
Mendleson struggled early on and recorded her first career kill in the second set. Her defense was solid with four blocks, including one solo stuff.
Cook said he was glad to see the 17-year-old stick with it even with a bit of adversity.
“I just asked her, ‘What’s the most nervous you’ve ever been in your life?’ She’s played a lot of big stuff. She goes, ‘You just saw it,’” Cook said. “Which is great, you know? I could tell, but you can see she gets after it. Nothing bothers her. She comes right back if she makes an error.”
The Huskers totaled nine blocks led by five from Hord. The Penn State transfer said she enjoyed playing with many teammates and watching them succeed.
“We have no person on our bench who’s going to come out and hurt us,” she said. “Anybody can come in and do amazing things.”
Sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez anchored the defense with 16 digs, while senior Nicklin Hames added 11.
Tulsa hit .038 as a team led by 10 kills from Kayley Cassady.
Cook told Evans she would get in some matches this season, but he is firmly against running a two-setter system.
“A two-setter offense takes out our exceptional back row because it limits your subs,” he said. “Look how many points Nicklin won for us tonight. Setting, digging, serving, passing. … With a 6-2, you would do that to try to get more kills but that’d be something we would be giving up. I don’t think we’re there yet.”
After watching nearly every player put up a solid performance in the first two matches of the season, Cook said he needed to sleep on it before he determined the starting lineup for Saturday’s match against Pepperdine.
However, with so much depth on display for the first two matches, Cook is encouraged by the early results.
“It’s a long season. We’re going to be in a lot of tough matches and we have to have depth and people that can come in. You just gotta have that in the Big Ten Conference and they got to feel confident coming in.”