By Lincoln Arneal
Bring on the hostile crowd.
Nebraska is ready for it. The White Out. The loud student section.The mystique of Rec Hall.
The top-ranked Huskers are eager to tackle their next challenge this season with a road match in State College, Pennsylvania, where Penn State owns an all-time 329-36 record against Big Ten opponents. Nebraska (21-0, 12-0) faces the No. 16 Nittany Lions Friday at 7:30 p.m.
NU will also play at Rutgers on Sunday at noon in front of a different environment in Jersey Mike’s Arena. The Scarlet Knights do not charge admission, and the stands for Husker matches are typically filled with East Coast-based Nebraska fans.
After only hosting Penn State last year, this will be most of the Huskers’ first time playing in Happy Valley. Junior libero Lexi Rodriguez said she looks forward to playing at PSU, where NU won 3-1 two years ago. She said the key is to remain calm when everything around them is amped up.
“I remember it was super loud but I think we thrive in big, loud environments,” she said. “We don’t do as well when it’s really quiet. So I think it’ll bring the best out of us.”
Sophomore middle blocker Bekka Allick said she prepares mentally for the match by focusing on mindfulness and praying. She said while the crowd’s goal is to get in the opponent’s head, NU must stay grounded.
“My goal is to keep that tunnel vision between my team and the other team,” she said.
NU coach John Cook said the Huskers perform better away from the Devaney Center. At home, they might play tight because they don’t want to let down their fans.
“We play with less pressure on the road,” he said. “I just feel like the pressure comes off.”
While they prepare for the environment, the biggest difference will be using a different ball and playing on a wood court. The Huskers practice and play matches on Taraflex courts.
The Huskers swept Penn State three weeks ago in the Devaney Center. However, Cook expects both teams to adjust from the first matchup. The Nittany Lions aren’t overly complex with what they plan to do on offense. Senior outside hitter Jess Mruzik is 14th in the nation with 4.45 kills per set.
Cook said having a live scout will help. Seeing opponents in person is more valuable than watching them on video, he said.
NU will look different. It won’t have the services of junior outside hitter Lindsay Krause, who put up 13 kills in the first meeting. She is still out with an ankle injury. Cook said Wednesday that Krause was rehabbing twice daily and rode a stationary bicycle during practice.
Rodriguez said the Huskers need to continue playing confidently and deal with any adversity they encounter in the match.
Since falling to the Huskers, PSU is 2-2 with losses to Purdue at home and falling to Michigan State in five sets in East Lansing.
Despite the recent struggles, Cook expects the Nittany Lions to put up a fight this weekend. As the season gets later, he said NU’s margin for error gets smaller and they need to play with urgency.
“When they start throwing haymakers, we got to take it and then punch back,” he said. “This will be a great road test.”
The Huskers celebrated Halloween by wearing costumes in practice.
The outfits included the “Mean Girls” Christmas outfits (Maisie Boesiger and Maggie Mendelson), Jacob and Edward from “Twilight” (Andi Jackson and Caroline Jurevicius), Adam Sandler (Merritt Beason), Travis Kelse and Taylor Swift (Ally Batenhorst and Lindsay Krause), JJ Watt (Bergen Reilly) and Neymar Jr., (Kennedi Orr), Cousin Eddie from “Christmas Vacation” (Hayden Kubik) and a pregnant soccer mother (Laney Choboy)
Rodriguez missed practice on Tuesday because she was sick. She said she was disappointed because she had a Patrick Mahomes costume ready.
Allick, who dressed as Pitbull, said she enjoys dressing up on Halloween.
“We just kind of mess around for a little bit,” she said. “It was fun to see what everyone came up with.”
On Tuesday morning, Cook admitted he wasn’t much of a Halloween guy, but he said the costumes weren’t up to him. He ended up giving the best costume to Jurevicius as Edward.
While the Huskers were dressed up for practice, dozens, if not hundreds, of girls dressed up as them for Halloween, judging from social media posts.
Allick said it was an odd feeling to see little girls dress up as her, but she’s grateful that they admire her enough to emulate her look. She was interested to see everyone’s take on how they do her hair and whether they wear a headband.
Rodrigeuz said it was cool seeing messages from people with pictures of people dressed as her.
“It makes me so happy, and it’s so cute,” she said. “I love it and I’m happy that we’re the role models that they look up to.”
Collect Them All
Rodriguez signed a historic NIL deal on Monday with Panini, becoming the first female college athlete to get her own trading card.
“I think it’s a really cool opportunity,” she said. “It’s something different, obviously. Not a lot of athletes and women’s athletes have them, so it’s pretty cool to be the first with them.”
Three variants of her first card were made available. One single special edition card sold for $200 almost instantly. Another edition of five cards sold for $60. The base cards can be purchased for $10 individually or a pack of 25 for $100.
While Rodrigeuz doesn’t know a lot about trading cards, her grandfather is big into collecting them. And now he can have one featuring his granddaughter.
Ames Flips to Longhorns
One week before signing day, middle blocker Ayden Ames announced on Instagram she had switched her commitment from Nebraska to Texas.
Ames will stay in her home state now after she graduates next month from Prosper High School, which is on the north side of the Dallas Metroplex.
“After much consideration and several long conversations with my family, I have decided to re-open my recruitment process,” Ames wrote. “I’m proud to live in the Great State of Texas, and I cannot wait to play in front of Longhorn Nation!”
Ames committed to the Huskers in June 2023, 10 days after coaches could first contact 2024 recruits. She was a member of the gold-medal-winning U. S. junior national team at the U19 World Championships in August. She had the option to play in the U21 World Championships in September but opted out so she could graduate in December.
She is ranked as the No. 2 overall prospect in her class by PrepDig and is the 10th-best by PrepVolleyball.
The Huskers have three middle blockers on their roster in sophomores Bekka Allick and Maggie Mendelson and freshman Andi Jackson.
The Longhorns have four middle blockers on their roster, including senior starters Asjia O’Neal and Bella Bergmark. Marianna Singletary, a redshirt freshman, has only played in 10 sets this season, while freshman Nya Bunton has yet to appear in a match.
Signing day is Nov. 8, and the Huskers expect outside hitter Skyler Pierce of Olathe, Kansas, and Bennington libero Olivia Mauch to sign.
Mullen Commits to Trojans
In other recruiting news, Abigail Mullen verbally committed to USC on Sunday. Mullen is the top 2025 prospect according to PrepVolleyball and No. 2 according to PrepDig. The 6-foot-3 opposite hitter is a KC Dynasty club teammate of 2024 Nebraska commit Skyler Pierce. Another club teammate, setter Reese Messer, is also committed to the Trojans. She is the No. 2 2025 prospect, according to PrepVolleyball.
As a sophomore, Mullen recorded 486 kills on a .356 hitting percentage for Liberty High School in northeast Kansas City, Missouri. She won a gold medal at the U19 World Championships in August. Mullen’s sister, Ashley, is a setter for UCLA.