LINCOLN — Hannah Werth still enjoys hitting the snot out of the volleyball. Even when it sometimes lands back on her side of the floor.
“You can see me get bounce-blocked every once in a while,” Werth said. “I’ll look at Coach, he’ll be like, ‘Hannah!’ I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I know,’ but it’s in my blood that I just want to swing away.”
It’s hard to take the bludgeon out of the hands of a player nicknamed “Hannah the Hammer,” but in her senior season, the Nebraska outside hitter has been more choosy about when to try to blast through a block and when to use a more disciplined attack.
While being the hammer is fun, Husker coach John Cook has said Werth has learned how not to be the nail.
“Hannah can pound it, but when the block is there, she gets blocked,” Cook said. “Hannah is figuring it out; there’s a lot of ways to get kills. You don’t have to bounce every ball.”
While Hannah the Hammer still shows up frequently, Werth is more likely this year to dip into an expanded repertoire of tips, roll shots and off-speed attacks that might not result in kills, but also won’t be blocked back to the floor or sail out of bounds. As a result, the Springfield, Ill., native is enjoying the highest hitting percentage of her career.
Her .296 mark is 50 points higher than any other season and is part of a team-wide increase in efficiency that has given No. 4 Nebraska (15-2, 7-1 Big Ten) the best attacking percentage in Big Ten play at .317.
During their seven-match winning streak, the Huskers have hit at least .291 in each match and topped the .325 mark five times. The firepower is a pleasant surprise to Cook, who is used to winning matches with a suffocating block and floor defense.
“Last year, we might go a whole month and not hit .300,” Cook said. “The one thing we’re doing a great job of is we’re not making a lot of errors. Our attackers and (setter) Lauren (Cook) are really managing the game well, and I think that’s a sign of our experience.”
But old habits die hard. Against conference opponents this season, NU is allowing teams to hit .214, third in the league. A respectable number to most, but still not quite to coach Cook’s liking.
In the past 10 seasons, the Huskers have led their conference in opponent hitting percentage nine times and finished second the other year. They haven’t finished the season allowing a hitting percentage higher than .153 in the past decade.
“I can’t sleep if teams are hitting over .200 against us,” Cook said. “I’m a defensive guy.”
“We’ve played seven ranked teams out of the last eight matches or something like that. We’re putting up big numbers, but teams are putting up big numbers, for my comfort zone, against us.”
Lauren Cook repeats with conference honor
Monday morning announcements honoring Lauren Cook are becoming a habit. For the second straight week and third time this year, the senior was named the Big Ten’s setter of the week.
Cook, the daughter of coach John Cook, guided NU to a .355 combined hitting mark in wins against Wisconsin and No. 10 Minnesota.
Lauren Cook also added a career-high eight kills in Sunday’s win against the Gophers and averaged 11.6 assists and 2.3 digs per set for the weekend.
Nebraska drops to fourth in coaches poll
Despite a pair of Big Ten wins this weekend, Nebraska dropped one spot to No. 4 in the AVCA poll.
Pollsters jumped No. 2 Stanford and No. 3 Oregon over the Huskers after both teams picked up impressive Pac-12 wins.
The Cardinal (16-2) have won 14 straight and beat No. 6 UCLA and No. 7 USC in Palo Alto, Calif. Oregon (16-1) moved up from fifth after handing No. 5 Washington, last week’s No. 2, its first loss Saturday.
Penn State remains the top-ranked team and received 55 of 60 first-place votes. The Big Ten has six teams in this week’s poll after Michigan State dropped out.
Fans upset about television outage
Fans watching Sunday’s Nebraska-Minnesota match were left in the dark when ESPN2 lost its signal feed late in the fourth set. The network was unable to broadcast the end of the match.
John Cook said he was inundated with calls, text messages and emails from angry fans who couldn’t see the conclusion of the match. The coach compared the situation to the infamous “Heidi Game” in 1968, when NBC cut off the end of a football game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets, which ran longer than its time slot, to begin airing the made-for-TV movie “Heidi.”
The Raiders rallied to win in the final minutes after the game went off the air, prompting a deluge of complaints from viewers.
The Nebraska athletic department said it was told that ESPN lost power in its remote truck right around 4 p.m., which was the end of the broadcast’s time slot for the match.
“The question is, did it go out on purpose? Or was it a Heidi Bowl?” Cook said. “That’s the question of the day.”
When one reporter speculated the network deliberately stopped showing the match, the coach replied, “Yeah, that’s what I think, too.”
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