LINCOLN — The Nebraska volleyball team's six-match winning streak survived four straight matches on the road before the Huskers arrived home to finetune some trouble spots heading into the final two weeks of the season.
"We had four road trips in a row, all to the Eastern Time Zone. That's not an easy thing to do," coach John Cook said Monday. "I figured out we were flying 16 hours total for two weeks. That's (like traveling to) Hawaii and back. That's not an easy thing to do."
Nebraska (22-4, 13-3 Big Ten) survived two straight close victories on the road last week. The Huskers eked out a five-set win at Michigan State last Wednesday, taking the final set 16-14. NU them committed 18 service errors in its 3-1 win over Maryland.
As the Huskers head into the second-to-last week of the regular season, Cook said cutting down on errors will become a major focus. He checked off a list of statistical categories in which Nebraska has shown improvement over a year ago — blocks, digs, opponents' attacking percentage. But the Huskers must raise their own attack efficiency, Cook said, if they want to achieve their final four dreams.
Nebraska is hitting .247 in Big Ten matches this year, compared to .241 last season. But that doesn't tell the entire story.
Opposite hitter Kadie Rolfzen has helped increased efficiency on the right side after moving from outside hitter early in the year, and twin sister Amber Rolfzen has delivered some offense at middle blocker after moving from opposite hitter.
Nebraska could still use a boost at outside hitter. Senior Kelsey Fien's .229 hitting percentage is down from the .303 she hit in conference play last year. Freshman Mikaela Foecke has had impressive moments, but at .201, she's hitting 47 points lower than Kadie Rolfzen did on the left last year in Big Ten play.
"I think the key is to try to make some improvements, which is tough to do this time of year," Cook said. "Can we make some improvement? And when I say improvement, I mean can Mikaela hit 25 points higher? Can Fien hit 25 points higher? Can we find one more kill on an out-of-system play? Can we block one more ball? That's the difference."
Nebraska spent extra time working in practice Monday on out-of-system plays. Outside hitters are usually a team's safety blanket, so the top attackers often find themselves receiving out-of system sets by default. They have to be ready, Fien said, and getting more repetitions in the scenario should make NU hitters more at ease when things breaks down.
Cook said to reach the final four, all positions have to be playing well at the same time, but history shows having elite pin hitters is practically a requirement. Getting one more kill per set from each outside may not seem like a big improvement, but a trip to Omaha may well hang in the balance.
"To be an outside at Nebraska, you obviously have to be pretty good," Fien said. "I think it's just a great challenge to have, honestly, and we can rise to the occasion."
Libero's status uncertain
Cook said he still was unsure whether libero Justine Wong Orantes would be available for Wednesday's home match against Indiana. The junior missed NU's match Saturday with Maryland after injuring her knee late in the win at Michigan State.
"If you saw it, you would think it was nothing," Cook said. "She just went down on the floor and played a ball. She's probably done it 100,000 times in her life. Just banged her knee wrong and landed funny."
Wong-Orantes did not practice Monday.
NU moves up in poll
Nebraska moved up to No. 6 in the AVCA coaches poll after a couple of top-10 teams lost this weekend. Most notably, No. 1 Penn State was swept by Minnesota on Saturday. That moved Southern California back to the No. 1 spot, followed by No. 2 Washington.
The Gophers moved up to No. 3, followed by No. 4 Penn State and No. 5 Texas.
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