St. Louis — If the first match of the season is largely an experiment, the 10th-ranked Nebraska volleyball team came out of its opener with mixed results.
Friday's 25-11, 25-21, 25-4 sweep of Louisiana-Monroe at the Marcia E. Hamilton Classic showed that the Huskers have a new set of what appear to be capable young starters as NU set a school record for the fewest number of points allowed in a match in the rally scoring era.
At the same time, the team's first match in three seasons running a 6-2 system didn't produce sparking offensive results.
“We're using this weekend as an evaluation to see if A) we're in the right system, and B) who do we need on the court and let some of these young kids figure it out,” coach John Cook said in a postmatch radio interview.
The two freshmen in Nebraska's starting lineup appeared to have it figured out in their collegiate debuts. Right-side hitter Amber Rolfzen from Papillion-La Vista South led the Huskers in both kills (8) and blocks (4), while libero Justine Wong-Orantes of Cypress, Calif., had a team-high 15 digs.
“Justine's been doing that every day in practice, so it doesn't surprise us,” Cook said. “She sees the game really well. She's in position. Her and (Kelsey) Robinson both see it really well.
“They're about standing there together when the ball's being hit like they know where it's going. I think we have a chance to be a really good back-row team with those two guys back there.”
Sophomore middle blocker Cecilia Hall of Sweden, another new starter, made a strong opening statement to maintain the starting role next to sophomore Meghan Haggerty in the middle with seven kills on nine swings against one error.
“Cece knows this is her shot and she's got to make the most of it,” Cook said. “It's good to see her do that. The setters have confidence in setting her. She's got to prove she can do that match after match now.”
However, Nebraska's .222 attacking clip for the match against a team that finished 5-18 last season didn't have the coach clicking his heels. Haggerty and starting outside hitter Kelsey Fien of Bakersfield, Calif., combined for seven kills and 10 errors on 30 attempts.
The Huskers had as many errors as kills (10 of each) in Game 2 when the teams were tied at 18-18 before NU ran off three straight points.
Setters Mary Pollmiller and Kelly Hunter each had 14 assists, but Cook said there is room for improvement for both.
“They were OK. They were a little inconsistent,” Cook said. “It's hard to run a 6-2 when you're used to running a 5-1, so we'll have to see if they can continue to smooth that out over the weekend.
“The communication between our setters and our hitters needs to get better. That wasn't very good today.”
Nebraska rebounded from the sluggish Game 2 with a record blowout in the final game. The Huskers ran off the first eight points, then closed the match on a 10-0 run. ULM's four points in Game 3 were a school-record low for a Husker opponent in the rally scoring era. The previous low had been seven points, most recently against Colorado in 2010.
Robinson had three of her team-high five aces in Game 3, adding seven kills for the match in her official Nebraska debut.
The previous record for fewest points scored in a match in rally scoring by a Husker opponent had been 37 by Alabama A&M in the first round of the 2005 NCAA tournament.
Nebraska (1-0) ............................ 25 25 25
Louisiana-Monroe (0-1) ............... 11 21 4
NU (kills-aces-blocks): A. Rolfzen 8-0-4, Robinson 7-5-0, Hall 7-0-1, Haggerty 4-0-3, Fien 3-0-0, Broekhuis 3-0-0, Ostrander 1-0-0, Pollmiller 0-1-0, Ethridge 0-1-0, Hunter 0-1-0, Wong-Orantes 0-1-0. Totals:
ULM: Pawlik 3-0-2, Ocana 2-0-3, Swartz 2-2-0, Garcia 2-0-2, Harrington 1-0-2, Marinova 1-0-2, Cullum 1-0-3. Totals:
Set assists: NU 31 (Pollmiller 14, Hunter 14), ULM 12 (Harrington 9).