LINCOLN — After the last couple of preseason Red-White scrimmages, Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook’s need to review video to decide starters was a little perfunctory. With several multiyear starters in place, lineups were set. Roles were decided.
But this year’s edition of the annual intrasquad matchup will likely have Husker coaches poring over footage to figure out who has the edge in a couple of battles before NU, ranked No. 5 in the preseason, opens its schedule in Florida next weekend in the VERT Challenge.
On a Red team made up mostly of players with more match experience, redshirt freshman Lauren Stivrins made the most of her debut with 16 kills on .538 hitting to go with seven blocks, as the Red rallied after dropping the first set to beat the White team 19-25, 25-13, 25-23, 25-18 in front of 6,028 fans at the Devaney Center.
“She’s worked really hard to get in this position,” Cook said of Stivrins. “She’s at our M1 spot, meaning she’s next to the setter. You saw tonight how good she is in transition of getting up, getting available, getting behind (the setter) when the play is going really fast. That’s why you get her 26 (attacks).”
Most of Stivrins’ damage came in the second half of the match, when both teams settled down after a ragged start. The player from Scottsdale, Arizona, had seven kills on nine swings in the final set, finding a rhythm with redshirt freshman setter Hunter Atherton from Prospect, Ohio, whose time with the Red unit may come in handier than expected.
After the match, Cook said Atherton would see at least some playing time next weekend at the VERT Challenge because senior starter Kelly Hunter is still recovering from an injury the coach declined to specify. Hunter, a first-team All-American last season, may play in one of NU’s matches against No. 18 Oregon or No. 12 Florida, but not both.
“Her injury is still in the process of rehabbing and it’s not 100 percent yet,” Cook said, “so we’re risking potentially fatiguing her out and having her get hurt and reinjured.”
Atherton, who would be making her college debut next weekend, had 33 assists Saturday, and as the match wore on, became increasingly comfortable, Cook said. After committing 10 hitting errors with some shaky passing in the first set, the Red team hit .278 over the final three sets.
“We started communicating a lot more, which definitely helped,” Stivrins said. “We figured we play this team every day in practice, like why is it any different? We should focus on the game and not what’s going on around us, so we just focused in.”
Coaches put the two freshmen vying for the starting opposite hitter spot on different sides Saturday, and Anezka Szabo made a strong statement leading the White team with 15 kills on a match-high 46 swings. The 6-foot-3 left-hander from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, took confident swings much of the night, earning compliments from Cook.
“She’s been doing it the whole time she’s been here,” the coach said. “She’s like a different player than what I saw in club. She’s really blossoming.”
Said Szabo: “I just tried to think of it as a practice, I guess, and zone everything else out and just really put my game face on.”
Freshman opposite Jazz Sweet from Tecumseh, Kansas, finished with three kills and as many errors on her 16 attacks for the Red.
Mikaela Foecke finished with a double-double — 11 kills and 12 digs — for the Red to showcase her bid to be a six-rotation player this year. But the upperclassmen competing for the second outside hitter spot had their ups and downs Saturday.
Junior Olivia Boender got 42 swings for the White team, which played assistant coach Kayla Banwarth at setter, and finished with 13 kills and eight errors.
Senior outside hitter Annika Albrecht had six kills and seven errors, but showed off her all-around skills by adding 12 digs and four aces playing for the Red team. Earlier in the day, the team revealed on Twitter that Albrecht was named one of the two captains for the season, along with Hunter.
“I walked in the locker room for practice, and Coach had put a plaque on my locker,” Albrecht said. “It was pretty cool. It’s a really big honor and it’s something I’ve been working toward. Very exciting.”
Sitting next to Albrecht, Stivrins interjected: “Very well deserved.”
It was a sentiment everyone agreed on after the scrimmage. But little else is certain as Nebraska opens the season next weekend.
Not even for Cook, who when asked which players improved their chances of playing time, didn’t have a quick reply.
“I’ve got to look at video,” he said. “It’s tough because we’ve got to figure out a lineup and rotation to go with. I don’t know yet.”
Red………………….19 25 25 25
White……………….25 13 23 18
Red (Kills-Aces-Blocks): Stivrins 16-3-7, Foecke 11-1-4, Holman 6-0-7, Albrecht 6-4-3, Atherton 3-0-3, Sweet 3-0-4
White: Szabo 15-0-2, Boender 13-1-3, Slaughter 6-0-2, McClellan 5-0-4, Banwarth 3-0-0, Havers 1-0-2, Densberger 0-1-0
Set Assists: R 38 (Atherton 33, Townsend 3, Maloney 2), W 39 (Banwarth 33, Densberger 3, Boender 2, Slaughter 1). Total Digs: R 58, W 50. Attendance: 6,028