Orr Finding Ways to Impact Games With Her Serve

By Lincoln Arneal

When Kennedi Orr stepped onto the court last weekend, she felt like a deer in headlights. 

The junior setter was making her season debut against Long Beach State and starting a new role for her – serving specialist. 

After her first serve, Orr said she calmed down and focused on her new challenge. She said she’s excited about the new role. 

“I’ve never been a service specialist before, but I think it’s super interesting because on this team, there’s a lot of competitive roles,” Orr said on Thursday after practice. “For a serving specialist to be in a competitive role, I think is really cool.”

Orr and the fourth-ranked Huskers will return to the Devaney Center on Sunday night for their final nonconference match against No. 21 Kentucky. The match will be televised by BTN at 6:30 p.m. after nearly all the NFL action is done for the day. 

The Eagan, Minnesota, native scored seven points on her 12 serves against LBSU. Orr said she rebuilt her serve from the ground up. She has different footwork and arm swing, plus she’s also changed her mental approach. In the end, she’s put in a lot of hours practicing the skill. While others are working on serve receive, Orr said she’s on the other end line. 

Junior libero Lexi Rodriguez said she’s impressed with Orr’s progress. The co-captain said she also likes her classmate’s approach to finding a way to contribute to the undefeated Huskers.

“It can be kind of hard mentally to have that role,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t play for 20 minutes, and then you have to go in there and stick a serve. I think she’s giving it her all. She wants to make an impact, whether it’s from the service line or on defense and she’s been doing a great job.”

In addition to serving, Orr also had to adapt to taking first contact, something she usually avoids as a setter. She recorded five digs against the Beach and three more versus Stanford. Orr said she doesn’t have to change her mindset because she grew up taking pride in her passing. 

“I love defense. I always have,” she said. “I grew up on a team and a club in high school that defense was the No. 1 priority, and obviously it’s here too. We’re a great defensive team, so I’ve always prioritized it and found it super fun.”

Being a serving specialist wasn’t specifically mentioned to Orr, but she knew the importance NU coach John Cook placed on the skill. He’s long said the best six servers will see the court. 

Orr said being a serving specialist was part of her ongoing conversations with the coaching staff, but she didn’t know that she would step in until just before match time. However, she felt fully prepared to embrace her new role. 

“Coach is just really good about always keeping us ready,” she said. “We don’t really have a bench. We are more game-changers. Before every game, he’s like, ‘Game-changers, you gotta be ready to go no matter what.’ It’s not just like you’re going to be on this bench this game. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Bring on the Wildcats

Kentucky has struggled ro a 2-5 record, but none of the Huskers are not taking them lightly. UK has losses to No. 2 Louisville, No. 20 Purdue, Colorado State and a pair of setbacks to No. 10 Pitt. 

The Wildcats still feature three All-Americans on the roster – junior setter Emma Grome, senior outside hitter Reagan Rutherford and fifth-year middle blocker Azhani Tealer. Former NU assistant coach Craig Skinner will be looking for UK’s first win over the Huskers since 1983. 

Cardinal Boost

The win over fifth-ranked Stanford is the most significant accomplishment for the Huskers in the young season. 

The West Coast trip resulted in a long journey home and NU didn’t return to Lincoln until 4 a.m. Wednesday. Players took the day off from practice but were back at it on Thursday. 

Looking back, the key to the Stanford match was winning the first set 25-23. In the past few years, the Huskers have dropped close sets because of an inability to win tough points at crunch time. Against Stanford alone, NU has lost three sets by two points in recent seasons. Rodriguez said winning deuce games has been an emphasis every day in practice. 

“Winning that first set is probably the reason we won the entire game,” she said. “So it was really huge for us.”

Rodriguez said the win should help their confidence when they enter Big Ten play, which starts next weekend. She said NU can draw on its experience of going on the road and battling with a talented team. 

The win was the first ever for the Huskers at Stanford and snapped a five-match losing streak to the Cardinal stretching back to 2008. Rodriguez said she hopes the win at Stanford is the start of a trend this year for the Huskers, who also have long skids against Wisconsin (10) and Minnesota (five of the last seven).

“It was awesome,” she said. “There’s some rivalries I’m hoping we can squash this year. So to start out with that Stanford win, it was pretty cool.”

Reilly Impresses

Cook challenged Bergen Reilly before the Stanford match that she would be the best setter in the gym. Quite the challenge, considering Cardinal setter Kami Miner was a first-team All-American last season. 

After a shaky start, Cook said Reilly lived up to the billing. 

Orr also gave high marks to the freshman setter. She said Reilly has excellent hands and is technically sound, but what impresses her most is her demeanor on the court, especially as one of the youngest players.

“Bergen is very integral to how our team keeps their cool, especially in tough moments,” she said. “That’s super powerful. She’s really talented.”

Almost 700 Club

In the second set against Stanford, the Huskers played their best set of the season, winning 25-16. 

NU recorded 17 kills on 23 swings with just one error for a .696 hitting percentage while limiting the Cardinal to a .192 clip on 26 attacks.

Everyone contributed too. The Huskers jumped out to a 6-2 lead with the six kills coming on their six attacks with all five attackers recorded a kill. 

Cook credited Reilly for running the offense at a high level and setting up the hitters for success. Harper Murray led the way with seven kills on eight swings, while Merritt Beason added four kills on four attacks. Lindsay Krause tallied two. 

“Look at all the one-on-ones we had,” Cook said. “We were ball handling, passing well, and those guys were just flowing. It was probably the best game we played all year.”

Orr said she didn’t realize how well they played until after the match. 

“You don’t really think about things like that,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, I had no clue that we hit .700. You keep going until you get to the finish line.”

As a result, the Cardinal changed their rotation starting in the third set to match up the 6-foot-3 Caitie Baird on Beason. The Cardinal won the next set before NU closed the match in four. 

A TV Draw

Nebraska’s match against Stanford drew 466,000 viewers on ESPN Tuesday night, the most on the network for a regular season match. The following night, Kentucky and No. 2 Louisville attracted 318,000 views for the second-highest total on ESPN. 

No. 1 Wisconsin will play at No. 3 Florida on Sunday at 2 p.m. to round out all five Top 5 teams appearing on ESPN this week. 

Allick the Motivator

Bekka Allick is well known for sharing her emotions with the world. An interaction with Caroline Jurevicius on the bench was caught on camera while Lexi Rodriguez prepared to serve. 

Allick made a demonstrative move toward Jurevicius, which seemed to catch the freshman off guard. Jurevicius eventually pounded her chest and did a handshake with Allick. It’s all routine for the sophomore middle blocker. 

“She brings a lot of fire and that’s her every day,” Rodriguez said. “It doesn’t really change based off of if it’s a practice or a game or a ranked opponent or unranked. She’s bringing it every day.”

Cook said Allick wears her emotions on her sleeve and she is a fierce competitor. While it might seem overly emotional, she’s just showing her passion. 

Even during the Red-White scrimmage, Allick was talking to her teammates. Orr said she gets everyone pumped up. 

“Bekka’s crazy, but in the best way possible,” Orr said. 

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