LINCOLN — The nerves Kadie Rolfzen felt in her first collegiate start made a forceful kinetic transition into the volleyball Friday night at the start of Nebraska's first official match at the renovated Devaney Center.
There were some more jittery moments throughout the Huskers' debut in their new home — and with a new lineup — but the freshman outside hitter's 14 kills helped No. 13 Nebraska eventually gather its poise to finish off Villanova 25-14, 25-13, 20-25, 25-20.
Rolfzen added 11 digs for a double-double. The former all-stater from Papillion-La Vista South had sat out the team's opening weekend in St. Louis rehabbing a sore shoulder.
“She had to show it in practice, and then we had to make sure she wasn't sore and she was mentally ready to go and felt confident,” NU coach John Cook said. “After seeing how she responded after Wednesday's practice into Thursday, she actually had the look in her eye that she wanted to try this.”
It was a dream start for Rolfzen and the Huskers, who moved to a 5-1 system this week using junior setter Mary Pollmiller exclusively after playing a 6-2 lineup in the first three matches. Pollmiller had the NU offense clicking: The Huskers hit .444 in the first two games after the sellout crowd of 8,321 watched a prematch ceremony to name the new Devaney Center court after longtime coach Terry Pettit.
Cook said he decided after Tuesday's practice to go with the 5-1 with Pollmiller setting and freshman Amber Rolfzen as the starting opposite hitter, and the team worked out with the lineup in its last full practice Wednesday.
“It gives us a little bit more of a core group of leaders on the court,” Cook said. “People are out there playing the whole time instead of so many people coming in and out.
“Mary does a nice job of leading and keeping us organized. We've got three freshmen out there most of the time. We just felt like it's a little more organized for us right now.”
The lineup worked without a hitch in the early going. Kadie Rolfzen had 10 kills on 18 swings in the first two games, and the Huskers went into intermission up 2-0 after putting down 15 kills against one error in Game 2.
“It was just a feeling thing,” Rolfzen said. “Definitely at the beginning of this week, I was ready to go. Sitting out last weekend, it was great experience just getting ready to go. This week, I just went at it in practice, gave it 100 percent, and this is where it led me.”
But as Nebraska's passing broke down in Game 3 and the missteps carried into Game 4, the storybook ending to NU's first night in the Devaney looked like it could be rewritten. The Huskers had seven attack errors and were whistled for being in the net four times as Villanova (1-3) ran away with the third game.
A fifth game looked to be in play until the Huskers took over Game 4 late. Back-to-back aces off the bench by freshman Alexa Ethridge put NU up 19-18. After Villanova tied it 20-20, Kadie Rolfzen pounded her final kill, and senior Kelsey Robinson added two more kills as the Huskers ended the match on a 5-0 run.
Robinson also had a double-double with 13 kills and a match-high 19 digs for Nebraska, which finishes the weekend with 1 p.m. match Saturday against Georgia. The Bulldogs, coached by former NU assistant coach Lizzy Stemke, haven't dropped a game in their 4-0 start.
The prematch ceremony, the new lineup, the ease of the first two games, all of it could have contributed to the Huskers' late-match letup. But as the season progresses, Cook knows the margin for error gets smaller, and once the momentum goes, it might not be coming back.
“It was the old 'we got this one,' and let up,” Cook said. “Villanova came out and served really well. We lost our rhythm and lost our passing. All of a sudden they've got all the momentum. We're not good enough to come back and grab that like that.”
Villanova (1-3) ................................. 14 13 25 20
At Nebraska (3-1) ............................ 25 25 20 25
V (kills-aces-blocks): Berendt 9-0-5, Crutchfield 9-1-1, Edwards 7-0-4, Rembert 5-0-3, Carpenter 5-0-0, Pettit 3-0-3, Adams 1-0-0, Henley 0-1-0.
NU: K. Rolfzen 14-0-2, Robinson, 13-0-0, A. Rolfzen 9-0-0, Hall 8-0-4, Pollmiller 7-0-2, Haggerty 5-0-2, Fien 3-0-0, Broekhuis 2-0-3, Ostrander 1-0-1, Ethridge 0-2-0, Lyles 0-1-0.
Set assists: V 36 (Pettit 31), NU 53 (Pollmiller 36, Wong-Orantes 6).