While the Nebraska volleyball team dodged a bullet Saturday night, pulling out a five-set comeback win against last-place Indiana, the Huskers' offense seemed to be firing on all cylinders.
Nebraska hit .335 against the Hoosiers, marking the third time in NU's last four matches the Huskers have had an attacking percentage of at least .335 despite passing that has been, at times, decidedly sloppy.
Those numbers speak volumes about the job senior setter Lauren Cook has done running the Nebraska offense. Cook was named the Big Ten Conference setter of the week Monday for the second time this year after leading the Huskers to a .346 hitting mark over a pair of road wins this weekend. Cook, the daughter of head coach John Cook, also received the honor on Aug. 27 after the season's opening weekend.
Lauren Cook has been the steadying force for a team that is still nailing down consistency on ball handling. Since hitting .209 in a loss at Penn State to open Big Ten play, Nebraska has won five straight while hitting better than .290 in each match. The Huskers' .305 attacking mark in conference play is second behind only Penn State (.309).
The emergence of Nebraska's middle blockers as offensive weapons, perhaps the biggest question mark coming into the season, has provided Cook with plenty of options to orchestrate a balanced attack that keeps opposing defenses guessing. Junior Hayley Thramer and freshman Meghan Haggerty each are hitting better than .360 in conference play. Both had 10 kills against Indiana on Saturday.
Another potential offensive option may have joined the conversation Saturday as freshman opposite hitter Alexa Strange fired seven kills on just nine swings over the final two sets against the Hoosiers. John Cook inserted Strange in place of starter Morgan Broekhuis after Broekhuis struggled with no kills in seven attempts over Games 3 and 4.
“What we were doing just wasn't working,” Cook said following the match, “and (Strange) was one of the options we had.”
The move was somewhat surprising considering Strange hadn't taken more than one swing in a match in nearly a month. Her most extensive action before last weekend had been in Nebraska's wins over Duquesne and Colgate in early September, when the San Clemente, Calif., native totaled 11 kills over 24 attempts.
Nebraska moves to No. 3 in coaches poll
One thing about a glut of Pac-12 teams occupying much of the top of the AVCA coaches' poll is there should be plenty of chances for other teams to move up as the West Coast squads knock each other off in conference play.
The Huskers benefited from the Pac-12 slugfest this weekend, moving up to No. 3 in Monday's poll following Oregon's first loss of the year. The Ducks, ranked second last week, fell in five games at Stanford, which moved up to No. 4. The Cardinal racked up 18.5 blocks in the win, led by 10 stuffs from freshman Inky Ajanaku, one of the favorites for national freshman of the year.
Penn State remained No. 1 after a pair of wins this weekend, but the Nittany Lions had to hold on for a five-set win at Illinois on Saturday. Undefeated Washington (15-0) moved up a spot to No. 2 and Oregon fell to No. 5.
This week, the Pac-12 gauntlet continues with Stanford hosting No. 6 USC and No. 7 UCLA, and Washington traveling to Oregon.
|BIG RED TODAY ON FACEBOOK|
|Join the conversation on the Big Red Today Facebook page.|
No. 10 Minnesota, No. 17 Purdue, No. 19 Ohio State, No. 22 Illinois, and No. 25 Michigan State are the other Big Ten teams in this week's top 25.
Tough road to Big Ten title
Following Saturday's nail-biter, John Cook didn't mince words in chastising his team for overlooking Indiana, which had not won more than one set in any of its first five Big Ten matches.
“You've got to be ready to play,” Cook said Saturday after the match. “I just think they thought they were going to walk in here and waltz these guys. This is Big Ten, baby. People bring it.”
The Huskers are tied for second in the Big Ten standings with Minnesota at 5-1, one game behind 6-0 Penn State. But each had their hands full this weekend.
The Nittany Lions had to fight off four match points Saturday before pulling out Game 5 18-16 at Illinois. The same night, the Gophers trailed 2-1 at home to Michigan State before coming back to win in five.
But no team discovered the potential pitfalls of conference play more than Purdue, which fell from No. 12 to No. 17 after losing a pair of home matches this weekend in straight sets.
Being swept by Nebraska could be forgivable, even considering Purdue returned almost every starter from a team that didn't allow the Huskers to reach 20 points in any set of a blowout win in West Lafayette, Ind., last year. But Sunday's 25-23, 25-23, 25-18 loss to Iowa was a shocker.
Before starting the weekend with a four-set win at Indiana, the Hawkeyes had lost 30 straight Big Ten road matches dating back to a 2009 win at Wisconsin. Iowa then dominated Purdue to win back-to-back league matches on the road for the first time since 2005.
Contact the writer: