Huskers hit the road, expect the unexpected vs. Iowa volleyball

November 9, 2018

After two home wins last weekend, including a five-set victory over No. 7 Penn State, Nebraska will start its second four-match road trip of the Big Ten season at Iowa on Wednesday night. The Huskers beat the Hawkeyes 3-1 in Lincoln on Oct. 3.

Following the trip to Iowa City, the Huskers will visit two straight top-15 opponents, playing at No. 15 Michigan on Saturday and at No. 12 Purdue on Nov. 16. NU is 3-3 in Big Ten road matches this year, with all three losses coming to teams ranked in the top 10.

What to know about Iowa

Iowa has lost six of its past seven Big Ten matches coming into Wednesday night, with the only win coming over last-place Rutgers. The Hawkeyes rank in the bottom half of the league in most statistical categories, including hitting percentage, opponents’ hitting percentage and blocks.

Nebraska coach John Cook said Monday that the only predictable thing about playing Iowa is to expect the unexpected. The Hawkeyes’ unconventional patterns on offense can leave opposing defenses jumping at air. Cook said he’s prepared to shelve the scouting report from the teams’ first meeting in Lincoln.

“They’ll have something different,” he said. “They might have a different lineup, who knows? We always, in our scouting reports, we go through it, but then say, ‘And be prepared to make adjustments.’”

For all of Iowa’s quick motion, the Hawkeyes’ offense is still carried by their two outside hitters. Junior Cali Hoye leads the team with 3.82 kills per set. Senior Taylor Louis, a preseason All-Big Ten pick, is right behind her at 3.73 kills a set. The pair combined for 23 kills in Iowa’s loss to NU in Lincoln. The rest of the Hawkeyes combined for nine.

“Taylor Louis is a big-time hitter, and Cali Hoye has had some huge matches,” Cook said. “Then, Brie Orr is a really good setter. They’re a little unorthodox in some things that they do. But in the big matches they’ve had, those left sides (Louis and Hoye) have gotten hot.”

In October, Nebraska won three sets against Iowa comfortably, but the Hawkeyes’ 25-23 win in Game 2 was the first set Iowa had taken from the Huskers since 1987, ending a run of 18 straight sweeps by NU.

What to know about Nebraska

November is a month in which, historically, the Huskers have revved up their engine for the NCAA tournament in December. NU has a .903 winning percentage all time in November. Senior captains Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney are 25-1 in November in their careers.

The Huskers’ 2-0 start to the month last weekend couldn’t have come at a better time after they dropped five of their final seven matches of October, with all the losses against top-10 teams. Foecke and sophomore outside hitter Lexi Sun combined for 31 kills in Friday’s win over Penn State and totaled 33 in October’s win over Iowa, with Foecke’s 20 kills leading the way.

Nebraska is still looking for a reliable third scorer with opposite hitter Jazz Sweet’s recent struggles. It may be emerging in the form of sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins, who had 13 kills and hit .522 against Penn State. Stivrins’ .406 hitting percentage leads Nebraska and is second in the Big Ten, behind only Wisconsin All-American Dana Rettke.

But it was Stivrins’ defense that earned her league recognition on Monday. She had 18 blocks in NU’s two wins, including a career-high 10 stuffs against the Nittany Lions, to earn the Big Ten’s defensive player of the week award.

Nebraska leads the league in blocks in conference matches (2.93 per set) and is holding Big Ten opponents to .144 attacking, the lowest mark in the conference. Iowa hit a season-low .071 against the Huskers in Lincoln.

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