If the Nebraska volleyball team is overconfident going into Sunday's rematch with No. 9 Minnesota after beating the Golden Gophers 3-0 in Lincoln a month ago, it's being well-disguised.
“We might've swept Minnesota when they were here, but that doesn't mean it will be an easy game when we go up there,” NU opposite hitter Amber Rolfzen said.
Of course, a player like Tori Dixon has a way of silencing bold predictions from opponents.
If not for the sterling season Nebraska's Kelsey Robinson is putting together, Dixon, Minnesota's All-America middle blocker, might be the current favorite for Big Ten player of the year. The Gopher senior is in the top 10 in the conference in hitting percentage (.398), kills per set (3.81) and blocks per set (1.34).
Dixon was largely contained when Nebraska swept Minnesota at the Devaney Center on Oct. 4 — she had 12 kills while hitting .286. But Nebraska coach John Cook said the Gophers have made strides in the last month and are finding ways to get their senior the ball besides on the slide attack, where Dixon is particularly effective.
“In serve receive, they'll set her high balls,” Cook said. “If they don't pass (well), they'll just set her a high ball because she's running a quick attack. Now, they'll just put her out at the antenna and say, 'Here you go.' ”
Sunday's 3:30 p.m. match, which will be shown on the Big Ten Network, features the second- and third-place teams in the conference. Led by Robinson, Nebraska has won five straight matches. However, Dixon and the Gophers have not lost at the Sports Pavilion all year.
But the match figures to be more than a meeting between two of the Big Ten's top stars. Minnesota (22-4, 10-3) has won four straight helped by contributions from other players who take some of the focus off Dixon.
No. 11 Nebraska (18-4, 11-2) silenced Minnesota's preseason All-Big Ten outside hitter Ashley Wittman in the first meeting, holding the Gophers' second-leading attacker to three kills with six errors. But Wittman still has big-match potential. She had 16 kills in Minnesota's five-set win at Purdue on Nov. 1.
Meanwhile, junior opposite hitter Adrianna Nora has blossomed into a major weapon for Minnesota over the last month. The Baylor transfer, who had only six swings against NU the first time around, is averaging 3.53 kills per set and is hitting .373 in the Gophers' four-match win streak.
“She's had some big matches, and then she's had some OK matches,” Cook said. “It just depends on the night, but we'll prepare hard for her.”
Nebraska will hope to counter Minnesota's big swings with one of the conference's best blocks. NU has not been outblocked by a Big Ten opponent this year, and the Huskers held the block advantage 9.5 to 2.5 in the teams' first meeting.
Rolfzen had four stuffs in that match in October, and was the main reason for Wittman's offensive struggles. The Husker freshman again figures to be matched up on the Gophers' left sides Sunday.
“It's probably my favorite part of every match,” Rolfzen said, “knowing that I get to go up against their go-to attacker and try to stop them.”
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