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Volleyball notebook: Huskers learned good lessons during first week of season

August 29, 2018

The Nebraska volleyball team came out of the first weekend of the season with a 1-1 record while playing against two top-20 opponents, and also got some lessons that may not have been able to be learned if the Huskers hadn’t played teams as good as Florida and Oregon.

The Huskers lost to Florida in four sets in the first match of the season, then swept Oregon the next night in the VERT Challenge. Nebraska had four true freshmen play, and coach John Cook says those players now have a better understanding of the urgency they must play with.

“You’ve got to take advantage of opportunities when you get them,” Cook said on Monday. “When you serve two points, you better get the third serve in. After a challenge, missing a serve is going to cost us two or three points. So I just think those teams make you pay when you make mistakes or you make mental errors, so I think that’s the biggest thing that they learned from this weekend.”

Playing in the same tournament last season Nebraska lost both matches. But the Huskers didn’t have setter Kelly Hunter for those matches. And this year Nebraska didn’t have outside hitter Lexi Sun due to an injury.

Nebraska lost against Oregon last season in the VERT Challenge. By beating Oregon this season, Cook said it could show that this year’s team is ahead of last season. It was also encouraging to Cook that after having 30 hitting errors Friday, that total dropped to 12 on Saturday.

[ WATCH: Cook talks about Huskers’ growth since Florida loss ]

Now Cook has his list of things the Huskers need to improve on for the second week of matches.

“Mainly it was errors, serving and passing,” Cook said. “Our block was good, our defense was good. And then (Callie Schwarzenbach, Capri Davis and Sami Slaughter) have got to want the ball, and expect to get it. … We got to get them wanting the ball, and if we do, we’re going to have a really balanced attack.”

Huskers stay in top five: Nebraska dropped three spots to No. 5 in the AVCA poll this week. Stanford stayed at No. 1, and Texas moved up to No. 2.

Northern Iowa, which beat Nebraska last season, is back to knocking off some top teams. UNI beat then-No. 13 Creighton and then-No. 5 Kentucky last weekend in the USC tournament to go from unranked all the way to No. 17. Creighton (1-2) is 15th.

Miller is another threat: In the win against Oregon, Nebraska got a kill from an unexpected source in Megan Miller, the Huskers’ 5-foot-6 freshman defensive specialist. Her back-row shot on a bump set from Nicklin Hames dropped in on the edge of the court for a kill. Miller could hit on out-of-system plays, or planned back-row attacks.

“We’re trying to make it an option,” Cook said of Miller. “She was a heck of an attacker. She played outside hitter for her club team and was ranked No. 1, and she had over 2,000 kills in high school. So she can get up and bang.”

Worth quoting: “Kayla’s the best. She was the Olympic libero,” said Nebraska’s Lauren Stivrins.

Nebraska has some work to do in improving its serve receive and back-row defense after the graduation of Annika Albrecht and Sydney Townsend. But Stivrins is confident that will happen, in part because of the Huskers’ assistant coach, Kayla Banwarth, who played in the 2016 Olympics.

Sun update: Sun, who hasn’t done much hitting in practice since the season began, probably won’t play again this weekend when Nebraska hosts the Ameritas Players Challenge.

NU may appeal ruling: Cook said the team learned on the day of the first match that senior backup setter and serving specialist Brooke Smith is not eligible to play this season after transferring from Kansas State this summer. Kansas State granted Smith a full release, Cook said, but the NCAA denied her immediate eligibility. Nebraska may appeal the decision.

VERT future: After four years of the same teams in the VERT Challenge, they’ll be a new group of teams if the tournament continues next season. In the four years, Florida had a 6-2 record, Texas was 5-3, Nebraska 4-4 and Oregon 1-7.

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