Husker volleyball team has to be ready to adjust during rematch against Northwestern

LINCOLN — The game film of Nebraska’s October 20 sweep of Northwestern contained plenty for Husker coach John Cook to like.

His team hit .378 that night in the Devaney Center, more than 200 points better than the Wildcats, led by 14 kills from junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke. The Huskers also clamped down on Northwestern defensively, holding the Wildcats’ Symone Abbott, who is third in the conference in kills, to nine kills on 31 swings.

So while No. 5 Nebraska (24-4, 17-1 Big Ten) would be considered a clear favorite in the rematch with the Big Ten’s 12th-place team, the Huskers said Monday a second meeting with Northwestern (14-16, 4-14) won’t necessarily follow the original’s script.

To extend their winning streak to 12 matches and avoid a loss that could cripple their Big Ten championship hopes, the Huskers better be ready to switch things up on the fly.

“They’ll definitely be scouting us a lot better because they’re probably rewatching our matches, and they’ll know what to do to utilize our weaknesses,” said Nebraska libero Kenzie Maloney, who had a match-high 15 digs in the first match against Northwestern.

“We pick up on their tendencies more. What did we struggle with the first time? So we’re going to make these adjustments.”

One change Nebraska would like to make is getting off to a faster start. Sluggish opening sets plagued the Huskers in both matches last weekend. NU trailed Ohio State 23-22 before winning the final three points of Game 1 last Friday, and on Saturday at Maryland, the Huskers nearly let a 24-20 lead get away in the first set before grabbing another two-point win.

Northwestern also hung around in the first set in October, leading 19-17 before Nebraska scored seven straight points on Foecke’s serve to take control. Once Game 1 was secure, the Huskers weren’t threatened the rest of the way, jumping to a 5-0 lead in Game 2 and a 6-0 advantage in Game 3.

“I think the biggest thing for us is making adjustments from Round 1 to Round 2, and then, within the game,” setter Kelly Hunter said. “Just kind of knowing that you’ve seen them before is good, and then you kind of have them dialed in. You know what to expect.”

When asked about their opponents’ tendencies, the Huskers commonly demur, instead reflecting on their own side of the net. Senior middle blocker Briana Holman said Monday Cook challenged the team to use the final week of the regular season to fine-tune its own play a week before the NCAA tournament starts.

“He just continued to talk about having a growth mindset,” she said, “and not be content with where we are because there’s always room for improvements in multiple aspects of the game.”

Nebraska goes into Wednesday’s 7 p.m. match having bolstered its offensive numbers against a string of opponents in the bottom half of the league standings. The Huskers have hit .381 over their last five matches, raising their hitting percentage in Big Ten play to .297, which ranks only behind Penn State, which has hit an NCAA-best .355.

On Wednesday, an unfamiliar venue will add another wrinkle to the Huskers’ adjustments. With an ongoing renovation to Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena, the volleyball team has played its home matches this season at Evanston Township High School.

Cook moved the Huskers’ Tuesday practice out of the Devaney Center to the gym in Mabel Lee Hall, hoping to mimic the conditions Nebraska might play in on Wednesday night.

If that can get the Huskers comfortable a point or two earlier, Cook said, mission accomplished for a match Nebraska needs to win to have a chance at clinching at least a share of the Big Ten championship on Saturday against Iowa.

“Everything is stressful this time of year,” Cook said. “The ante is up. The ante is up big time, but that’s what makes it exciting.”

Volleyball: Nebraska at Northwestern

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Evanston, Illinois

Radio: 1600 AM, 105.5 FM

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