LINCOLN — The Big Ten's volleyball schedule rarely does favors for any of the conference's teams with its Friday-Saturday format. Playing on back-to-back nights in a league loaded with ranked opponents takes some time for newcomers to get used to.
A team that has two or three freshmen usually can mitigate those growing pains with its experienced players. But Nebraska, which has 10 players who are navigating a Big Ten season for the first time, is getting a wholesale introduction into the peaks and valleys that can result from the rigors of the league's schedule.
Three weekends ago, Nebraska swept Minnesota on a Friday before going five games with Wisconsin the following night. And for the second straight weekend, the Huskers picked up a Friday night win followed by losing a Saturday match. Coach John Cook said Monday his team still is learning the mentality needed to play at a high level all weekend, as evidenced by Saturday night's home loss to Purdue.
“We have one player out there that's gone through the Friday-Saturday, back-to-back, and that's (middle blocker) Meghan (Haggerty). She plays half the time,” Cook said. “For everybody else, it's new. It's a whole new concept. You've got to learn to grind.”
Cook said effort level wasn't a problem in Saturday's 3-1 defeat, but as the match wore on, Nebraska's fundamentals began to break down. Blockers were a split-second late getting to the net, floor defenders an instant too slow from a dig.
Purdue's Catherine Rebarchak, Annie Drews and Val Nichol combined for 42 kills and a .440 attack percentage as the Boilermakers set a season high in attack efficiency by a Husker opponent. Monday, Nichol was named the conference's player of the week.
“We were just always a step behind and just couldn't make plays,” Cook said. “I don't know if last week we just hit the wall as a team mentally or what it was, but now we've got a little adversity. We find out how we come back and compete this week.”
Nebraska, which dropped five spots to No. 13 in this week's AVCA coaches poll, will not play on consecutive nights for the next three weeks. This week, the Huskers host 11th-place Iowa on Wednesday before traveling to No. 24 Ohio State on Friday night.
The Huskers (13-4, 6-2) sit in a three-way tie for second place in the Big Ten with Minnesota and Michigan State, one game behind league leader Penn State. The Spartans, who won their first six Big Ten matches, were the victims of a rough road trip last weekend, losing matches at Minnesota and Wisconsin.
That will be the road trip Cook will be preparing his team for two weeks from now. By then, the Huskers hope to have a better handle on how to grind through a Big Ten weekend, both physically and mentally.
“It's that time of the year,” Cook said. “It's hard to be good every night. It's really hard to be good every night. Our conference is so competitive, if you're just 1 or 2 percent off, you're going to get beat if the other team is playing well.”
NU to work on location of sets
The Huskers, who entered Saturday's match as the league's leader in blocks during conference matches, were outblocked by Purdue 10-8.
Five of those blocks by the Boilermakers came in Game 4, which Nebraska led throughout until Purdue closed the match on a 7-1 run that included three blocks.
Cook said after reviewing tape of the loss, setter Mary Pollmiller could have done better in her ball placement to avoid what is known as “trap setting,” or putting the ball too close to the net, which leaves hitters few options where to place an attack in the face of the defense.
“I'm going to show her that today (on film), so she can see the location of her sets and when she sets tight what happens,” Cook said.
Shakeup in AVCA top 10
The turmoil at the top of the AVCA poll continued last weekend, with five teams ranked in last week's top 10 dropping matches.
No. 1 Southern California was swept by Arizona, No. 2 Florida fell at Missouri, while No. 5 Michigan State, No. 7 Stanford and No. 8 Nebraska all dropped conference matches.
Texas moves back into the top spot in this week's rankings, followed by Penn State, Washington, Southern California and Florida.
With the upset of the Gators, Missouri continues to be one of the nation's surprise teams. The 11th-rated Tigers are 23-0 and lead the nation with a .378 attack percentage. Omaha Gross product Emily Wilson, a junior outside hitter, had 14 kills against Florida to lead Missouri to its first win over a top-five opponent in school history.
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