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LINCOLN — In the Big Ten Conference, familiarity doesn’t just lead to contempt, but it also breeds anticipation.
To counter the extensive scouting reports from league opponents, the Nebraska volleyball team has added wrinkles to its offense during the second half of the season to keep it from becoming too predictable.
NU coach John Cook said the variations help win points in matches and make future opponents prepare for new twists.
“It gives us more things to do and more looks so teams can’t zero in,” he said. “We’re trying to be creative in that as the year goes on. We try to throw that in because we are playing teams in the Big Ten twice. It keeps them interested.”
Those new plays and alignments were on full display against Missouri on Saturday night. In the first rotation of the match, NU kept outside hitters Jazz Sweet and Lexi Sun at the pins opposite from where they usually attack. That leaves Sun at the right pin and Sweet, a left-hander, on the left. Three points into the match, Sweet’s first kill came from the left side.
Sun said she enjoys the challenge of learning to hit from a new spot. Even though she is not in her comfort zone, she trusts her abilities and swings away.
“Every hit is different and you have different shots,” Sun said. “Obviously, I don’t have as much experience on the right as I do the left, but I think it’s fun and interesting for me. It’s something new that I have to work at.”
Early in the third set, middle blocker Lauren Stivrins used another wrinkle as she attacked from the left pin like an outside hitter for a kill.
Besides hitting from unusual spots on the court, the Huskers have added new set plays to their repertoire.
In the fourth set against Missouri, Nebraska came out of a timeout leading 13-12 and ran a play in which middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach faked an attack at the left pin and then Sun ran behind her and setter Nicklin Hames. Sun pounded the kill from the middle of the net and helped spark a 5-1 run that gave the Huskers the momentum the rest of the way.
Those plays are designed to confuse the defense and give the Huskers more open shots, Sun said.
“It gives us new looks as hitters and then also it keeps the blockers guessing, not knowing where we are going to set the ball,” Sun said. “They are going to have to pay attention instead of just going to the same place for every single set.”
The Huskers have added new approaches to receiving serves. In Rotation 1, Sweet will sometimes loop behind the other players in the back row to reach her natural attack position on the right side.
Even with the new offensive sets and plays, Cook said the success of the offense still relies on how well it handles the unpredictable plays.
“It still is going to come down to can you kill out-of-system balls,” Cook said. “You can’t do anything different than that. You have got to go up and kill the ball against a full block and defense. Can you side-out when you need to? It still comes down to can you make big plays, but at some point, we got to change things up and mix things up a little bit.”
Four Huskers were named to the AVCA All-North region team, a prerequisite to being named an All-American next Wednesday.
Stivrins and Sun each earned her second honor from the region, while Hames, NU’s sophomore setter, and freshman Madi Kubik made the all-region team for the first time.
Kubik was also named the region’s freshman of the year, duplicating the honor she received from the Big Ten last week. Kubik is the Huskers’ sixth freshman to be recognized by the region, and the first since Kadie Rolfzen in 2013.
Cincinnati’s Jordan Thompson, who leads the nation with 6.4 kills per set, was named the region’s player of the year. Hugh McCutcheon of Minnesota was selected as the top coach.