LINCOLN — It’s appropriate that the Nebraska volleyball team will move into the renovated Devaney Center on Saturday hours before playing its first match as finishing touches continue to be put on the building.
The 7 p.m. Red-White scrimmage will largely determine the Huskers’ starting lineup for next week’s season opener and serve as the first test for a building that workers have raced to complete. Both the team and its arena hold much promise, but are largely unfinished products.
“No one really knows what to expect being on that court and seeing red all around,” sophomore middle blocker Meghan Haggerty said. “We’ll have to see on Saturday how it’s going to be.”
Both the Devaney Center and the Huskers, ranked No. 10 in the preseason coaches poll, will be unveiled in front of a sellout crowd of about 8,000 in a match that will feature higher stakes than a typical preseason scrimmage. Coach John Cook is still uncertain about several starting spots. He is counting on the capacity crowd and a star-studded opposing team of former Huskers to provide an atmosphere that will show him who is ready for prime time.
“There’s going to be a lot of pressure on them (Saturday), which is good. They need that,” Cook said. “That’s why you come to Nebraska, to play in those big matches with a sold-out crowd, playing a great team. I told them a lot of decisions are probably going to be made on who performs that night.”
Cook said he would be “shocked” if the current squad is able to take a game from the alumni team that features four former Huskers who play professionally. Olympians Jordan Larson and Nancy Metcalf and former All-American Gina Mancuso will play outside hitter, while former All-America setter Lauren Cook will run the offense. Former All-American Brooke Delano and former team captain Jordan Wilberger Sauer will be at middle blocker.
The scrimmage may be just the thing for Cook and his staff to decide a number of neck-and-neck starting position battles as an intense preseason stretch of two-a-day workouts comes to a close.
Cook said the Huskers would play a 6-2 system to start the scrimmage, which will allow both setters — junior Mary Pollmiller and freshman Kelly Hunter — to get ample time running the offense. The setters are nearly inseparable in statistics coaches have charted during the two weeks of fall camp and both test high in the team’s athletic performance index.
“They’re both really good athletes,” Cook said. “There’s not a lot of difference between them.”
The scrimmage also will likely decide a number of NU’s other starting spots.
Ľ At opposite hitter, two-year starter Morgan Broekhuis is competing with freshman Amber Rolfzen. Both could see plenty of time if the Huskers play a 6-2 system.
Ľ Nebraska is still looking for a second middle blocker to start next to Haggerty. Cook said the middles “aren’t where we want them to be just yet,” but had good things to say about the challengers, sophomores Alicia Ostrander and Cecilia Hall, and freshman Melanie Kiel.
Ľ Senior Kelsey Robinson seems to have solidified a starting spot at outside hitter and will be joined Saturday by sophomore Kelsey Fien, a powerful hitter from whom Cook wants more consistency. Freshman outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen will only play in the back row while recovering from an arm injury, though Cook said she has started to take live swings in practice.
Ľ Cook said freshman Justine Wong-Orantes has separated herself from the pack competing to earn the starting libero job.
The current Huskers will play two games against the alumni team and then at least one, and possibly two games, as an intrasquad scrimmage. All players will be available to sign autographs following the match.
The scrimmage puts a cap on a fall training camp where Cook said he pushed the team as hard physically as any in his 14 seasons as head coach.
“We’re going to be spectators like you guys, so we’re going to see how it evolves and who steps up,” Cook said. “That’s going to be as close to a regional, pressure-wise, as we’re going to get, or going on the road in the Big Ten.”