LINCOLN — Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook knows his young team is working on expanding its knowledge base during the spring exhibition season while some young players prepare to play big roles this fall.
But one thing the team already knows how to do is keep calm and get Kelsey Robinson the ball.
The senior transfer from Tennessee had 10 kills, including three on the last three rallies of the match, to help Nebraska put away Iowa State 25-20, 26-24, 27-25 in an exhibition match at the NU Coliseum on Saturday.
Robinson was the only Husker to reach double figures in kills on a night where the NU attack showed the growing pains that come with replacing the primary passers and starting setter off last year's club. The Huskers hit just .148 and had 12 fewer kills than the Cyclones, but grinded out close wins in the final two games, aided by Iowa State's miscues.
A snapshot came in Game 2, where the Huskers rallied from a 23-17 deficit with a 9-1 run that included points from seven ISU errors. For the match, the Cyclones committed 26 hitting errors, 10 service errors and were whistled for four net violations and two ball-handling errors. That accounted for 42 of Nebraska's 78 points.
“We're really not good at anything right now,” Cook said. “We're just OK at everything, but we're not really good at anything. But we're athletic and we compete. That's one of the things we got from beach was competing. We learned how to compete, and that's what we did tonight. You look at the stats and there's no way we should've won that.”
Nebraska clearly is working on becoming more of a polished product, but Cook said matches like Saturday against Iowa State will only help that process. The Cyclones returned multiple key weapons from the team that beat then-top ranked NU in four games last fall.
Sophomores Mackenzie Bigbee and Andie Malloy each had 13 kills to lead Iowa State.
“I'd pay money to have them play (Iowa State) every day,” Cook said. “I don't know what (Iowa State coach) Christy (Johnson-Lynch) thought, but for us, it was a great match. That team ball-handles so well and transitions so well, we couldn't kill the ball. We're not used to that. This was invaluable for us.”
What the match showed was the Huskers definitely have a player they can turn to in big moments. Robinson, who arrived in January from Tennessee, where she was the 2011 Southeastern Conference player of the year, is filling the void left by the graduation of All-Big Ten outsides Gina Mancuso and Hannah Werth.
It wasn't a sterling night for Robinson. She hit just .114 with six errors in 35 swings, but she wasn't shy about calling for the ball from setter Alexa Strange after Iowa State had set point leading 25-24 in Game 3.
“I just scream my butt off,” Robinson said. “If there was no crowd, you'd be able to hear me scream for the ball. I just want the ball. It's not like I go to Alexa and tell her give me every ball, but I'm just loud.”
Three rallies later, Nebraska had finished off the sweep. NU is 2-0 in the exhibition season and will host Creighton on Friday evening at the Coliseum.
“That's in her blood. She wants it,” Cook said of Robinson. “She struggled a little bit tonight offensively. She wasn't in rhythm with Alexa and she looked a little tired to me tonight. I don't think she was feeling well this week, but she won't ever say anything. She's one of those kids that's really tough.”
Opposite hitter Morgan Broekhuis and middle blocker Meghan Haggerty each added seven kills, and Nebraska outblocked the Cyclones 9-7, showing the Huskers may have the physical ability to increase the margin for error while the team finds its offensive footing.
“I think we're going to be a great blocking defense team,” Broekhuis said. “We've got the size, we've got athletic ability. We're young, and people might not expect a lot out of us, but we hold ourselves to a high standard. I think we're going to surprise a lot of people.”
If the Huskers do, it will likely be with no small contribution from Robinson. Before her addition, Nebraska probably was going to have to rely heavily on sophomore Kelsey Fien and freshmen Kadie and Amber Rolfzen at outside hitter. But now, the team has a veteran with the poise, experience and talent to allow the young Huskers to develop without the pressure of carrying an offense.
It's a responsibility Robinson has been quick to embrace, at no time more so than Saturday night.
“That was the player I was at Tennessee,” Robinson said. “I'm not afraid of that role and being on that stage. I just have big shoes to fill as far as Hannah and Gina and all the Husker outsides. Jordan Larson. You have to be able to put the ball away when it counts. Those are shoes you have to fill, but that's why I'm here.”
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