LINCOLN — When Hannah Werth first joined the Nebraska volleyball team, she said she looked to her older teammates to be the team’s compass, setting the direction and tone in which the team would travel.
Now a senior herself and a team captain, Werth said it’s time for the team’s upperclassmen to be the ones to point the way out of NU’s recent struggles. The Huskers have dropped three of four matches to begin the second half of Big Ten Conference play.
“We know, and we’ve seen the trials and tribulations,” Werth said. “We know they’re only going to make us better in the end. Just knowing that, keeping it in perspective and teaching the younger kids that this is not Nebraska volleyball. We are not playing like ourselves and we need to make changes and adjustments, and that’s all part of growing up.”
No. 9 Nebraska is trying to stop its second-half swoon this weekend, when the Huskers take on another pair of Big Ten foes at the NU Coliseum. Nebraska (18-5, 10-4 Big Ten) will host Indiana (11-15, 3-11) at 7 p.m. Friday and No. 21 Purdue (18-7, 9-5) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Huskers beat both teams on the road a month ago, but since that weekend NU has been plagued by inconsistency. Nebraska is 1-3 since beginning the second half of the league schedule, with the lone win coming against then-No. 1 Penn State. The Huskers dropped a four-set match at home against Ohio State on Oct. 26 and lost back-to-back five-setters on the road against Michigan and Michigan State last weekend.
Nebraska’s attacking percentage, once tops in the Big Ten, has dropped 20 points in that stretch thanks to a .209 hitting mark over the four matches. Those opponents combined to hit .272 against NU, 71 points higher than the Huskers’ average allowance for the season.
If there were easy solutions, the team would have found them by now, senior setter Lauren Cook said, but that doesn’t mean the Huskers have stopped looking.
“We’ve had problems starting off matches, and we’ve had problems finishing off matches. We don’t have an answer to it,” said Cook, another Nebraska captain. “We’re trying to figure it out right now. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s the middle of the season and we’re tired or we’ve had some injuries or what’s going on, but we’re slowly starting to get it back and find that rhythm again.”
In a fluid sport like volleyball, chemistry is key, and there are signs the Huskers still may be trying to fit together the players’ personalities.
Cook said the team held a pair of two-hour meetings last week to refocus for the season’s stretch run, and Werth acknowledged the team’s concentration hasn’t always been dialed in.
“It’s a team full of females, and we’re all 18 to 22 years old,” Werth said. “Any team in the country, I’m sure they have their ups and downs just like that. A lot of times, people forget we’re student-athletes. There’s a lot of things going on, and I think distractions got in the way. Off the court, on the court, just a lot of emotion going into it.”
Nebraska should receive a boost this weekend with Werth’s return from an ankle injury. The outside hitter, who is third on the team with 2.88 kills per set, twisted her right ankle late in the loss to Michigan and missed the Michigan State match the following night. She went through physical therapy early this week and said she would be able to play without limitations this weekend.
Five days since their last match, the Huskers should be as close to full strength physically as a team could expect to be with a month left in the season. But Werth said the team knows physical talent doesn’t always equal success.
She and her fellow seniors are embracing the chance to show they can be the compass that keeps the team from losing its way.
“Pressure is a privilege, and to have the responsibility is a blessing,” Werth said. “I just look at it as an opportunity, as well as the other upperclassmen and captains. I think we’ve done a good job of mandating what needs to be done and focusing on the court, as well as off the court. Making sure everyone is on the same page. When we have good chemistry off the court, we’re going to have great chemistry on the court.”
Contact the writer: