LINCOLN — Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook knows as the skill of the Huskers’ opponents increases throughout the season, there won’t be room for his team to start slowly, as has been its habit early this year.
The 12th-ranked Huskers swept unranked Dayton 25-20, 25-21, 25-13 Friday night at the Devaney Center, but again had to overcome a sluggish beginning to put away the Flyers in the Ameritas Players Challenge.
Nebraska (6-1) hit .165 the first two games, using late runs in both Games 1 and 2 to close the sets, before putting together a more complete performance in Game 3 to finish the sweep.
“We’ve got to fix it and figure out to start out a little better and play smoother out of the gate,” Cook said, “because the ante is going up on the level of competition each match.
“We’ve got a lot of young players out there still trying to figure out how to get comfortable. They’re so worried about themselves it’s hard to become a great team. It’s a process we’re going to have to go through as we figure things out.”
Senior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson and freshman opposite hitter Amber Rolfzen each put together double-doubles for the second straight night. Robinson led NU in kills (12) and digs (17), while Rolfzen had 10 kills and 13 digs in front of 8,102.
Junior setter Mary Pollmiller handed out 34 assists, but admitted getting the Nebraska offense running smoothly is a work in progress, especially early in matches. With sophomore middle blocker Alicia Ostrander getting her first career start Friday, the Huskers’ lineup was entirely new from a year ago, and the unfamiliarity showed. NU finished the match with a season-low .208 attacking clip. It’s the fifth time in seven matches this season Nebraska has failed to hit better than .250.
“In practices we start drills right away and we’re ready to go,” Pollmiller said. “It’s not like it’s just something we’ve been struggling with. We just need to make sure when that whistle blows it means it’s game time. We don’t wait until 15-15 to put up a good fight.”
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Rolfzen had six of her 10 kills in Game 1, including four in a row to break a 12-12 tie. After Dayton cut its deficit to 20-19, Ostrander’s kill started a 4-0 run to boost Nebraska to a win in the opener.
After being tied 19-19 in Game 2, the Huskers went on a 6-2 spurt to end the game, led by three of Kadie Rolfzen’s eight kills in the match.
With a 2-0 lead, Nebraska’s offense came to life in Game 3. The Huskers hit .345 and got kills from seven players, including three from Pollmiller.
“I thought she started off really inconsistent tonight, but we weren’t passing great, so it’s hard to get in a rhythm as a setter,” Cook said of Pollmiller. “She was up and down, but by the middle of the second game to finish the match she set really well.”
Dayton couldn’t keep the ball between the lines. The Flyers finished with one more kill (22) than errors (21) and posted a negative attacking mark in Games 2 and 3. Alaina Turner led the Flyers with nine kills but had seven errors. The Huskers held Dayton’s leading attacker, Megan Campbell, to five kills and a .095 hitting mark.
The Huskers finish the Ameritas Players Challenge with a 7 p.m. match against No. 17 Iowa State on Saturday. ISU fell in four games to St. Mary’s in Friday’s first match, but the Cyclones figure to be the stiffest challenge Nebraska has faced this season.
Iowa State defeated Nebraska 3-1 in Ames last year, and Pollmiller said the Huskers need to waste no time getting in a rhythm in order to finish an unbeaten weekend.
“I hope that (fast starts) just doesn’t come with time, because we’re going to need it tomorrow night,” Pollmiller said. “I think we’re very capable of coming out and just going right away. We just haven’t been doing that. You could see that in Set 2. Against Georgia in the first set we played around. We can obviously fight back, but why make ourselves when we’re good enough to just start the game like that?”
Cyclones fall in four sets
Four St. Mary's players reached double figures in kills to lead the Gaels to a 25-21, 18-25, 25-19, 25-22 win against No. 17 Iowa State Friday afternoon in the Ameritas Players Challenge.
After struggling against Nebraska Thursday, St. Mary's middle blocker Madelyn Hutson had 13 kills to lead the Gaels, while Jordan Shaw and Kristina Graven each had 12.
Iowa State's Victoria Hurtt led all players with 21 kills and freshman outside hitter Ciara Capezio had 15.