LINCOLN — Kelsey Robinson and Amber Rolfzen each admitted to having jitters before the Nebraska volleyball team's spring exhibition opener Saturday. But if their play was any indication, Husker coach John Cook won't likely feel nervous using the newcomers in any number of ways when the official season comes this fall.
With a number of players experimenting with a variety of roles, the Huskers opened the spring schedule beating South Dakota 25-8, 25-15, 21-25, 25-20 at the NU Coliseum.
Robinson, a senior outside hitter transfer from Tennessee, led the way with a game-high 20 kills, added 10 digs and showed off a powerful jump serve in front of 1,555 fans, who got their first glimpse of Robinson and highly touted freshman twins Amber and Kadie Rolfzen.
Robinson was the offensive workhorse Saturday — her 42 attempts were twice as many as any other Husker player — and though the 2011 Southeastern Conference player of the year has played in plenty of college matches, she said Saturday's exhibition match still felt like something special.
“I never was able to watch a match in the Coliseum when I was getting recruited, so it was kind of just one of those things I would watch on TV when I would watch Nebraska play,” Robinson said. “Running up (out of the locker room), I got the chills. I don't think I've ever felt that way for a college match, and I've been playing college for three years. It's just surreal.”
Robinson's experience was evident in organizing a starting unit with four other new starters. Amber Rolfzen, who just began playing on the right side when the team started indoor practice this week, had 13 kills on a .476 attacking mark. Kelsey Fien, a reserve outside hitter last year, added 10 kills as another left-side starter, and sophomore setter Alexa Strange handed out 48 assists.
South Dakota sophomore Kendall Kritenbrink, an Omaha Gross graduate, led the Coyotes with 16 kills and nine digs.
Rolfzen's match may have opened the most eyes. The Papillion-La Vista South product had kills on her first six swings, and didn't look like a player who had just started regularly playing opposite four days ago. Rolfzen said she had played on the right only briefly as a member of the U.S. Junior National Team, but has come a long way in a short time.
“When I first started, it was really awkward,” Rolfzen said, adding that the different approach that comes with playing on the right side versus the left initially threw off her footwork. “But I enjoy hitting right-side hitter now. It's actually awkward playing on the left now.”
Rolfzen played right-side hitter in three of the four games Saturday, while Morgan Broekhuis, who has started at opposite hitter the last two seasons, played in Game 3. Cook said the freshman's brief time as an opposite with the junior national team was enough to plant the seed in his mind to see what she could do there in college.
“I think she's got a great feel over there,” Cook said. “She's a heck of a blocker, so we'll see. She can play left side, too, but I wanted to see what she could do today. That was one of the experiments today. She's only done it on three days of practice.”
Kadie Rolfzen, who also will train at left-side hitter, played all four games as the team's libero, totaling 10 digs. Cook said he would rotate outside hitters at libero this spring to hone their passing skills and added that Robinson or Amber Rolfzen may wear the libero jersey in NU's upcoming spring matches.
“I want these guys to understand what a libero has to do mentally, because I think it will help them see the game differently and see themselves as great defensive, passing players,” Cook said. “I thought Kadie did very well today. She's only played that position three days. Two days ago she was crashing into everybody. It was a disaster.”
Cook said neither Robinson nor the Rolfzens are likely to play libero in the fall, as the Huskers will add three incoming freshman defensive specialists.
In total, the Huskers expect to have nine players this fall who were not on last year's club. That roster turnover will certainly be a challenge, Robinson said, but with the versatility displayed Saturday, Nebraska will not be short of talented options.
“We mesh very well. We've had a better start than I think we expected to have,” Robinson said. “Our practices have been very intense. We have a lot of athletes on our team, if you notice. We have kids that can touch 10-feet-4. Everyone is really athletic. We can only go up from here, obviously.”
South Dakota ........................... 8 15 25 20
At Nebraska ........................... 25 25 21 25
USD (kills-aces-blocks): Kritenbrink 16-1-2, Dimke 8-0-1, Aschoff 8-0-0, Firtko 4-0-3, Kroll 3-0-1.
NU: Robinson 20-1-3, A. Rolfzen 13-0-2, Fien 10-0-1, Haggerty 7-0-3, Strange 6-1-0, Thramer 4-0-4, Hall 4-0-0, Broekhuis 1-0-1, Zarda 0-1-0.
Set assists: USD 38 (Kroll 33, Hastings 2, Kritenbrink 1, Haug 1), NU, 59 (Strange 48, K. Rolfzen 4, Fien 2, Robinson 2, Zarda 2, Haggerty 1).
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