New season, new look for UNO

Sophomore Kelley Wollak likes the offense UNO is running this season. “It’s the most creative offense I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “It really teaches us how to think about the game.”

Rose Shires had a surprise for her UNO volleyball team on the first day of practice Monday.

A new offense.

“It’s the most creative offense I’ve ever experienced,” sophomore outside hitter Kelley Wollak said. “It really teaches us how to think about the game. We’re calling the sets. We’re audibiling. There are so many layers to it. It’s unpredictable.”

Shires said early progress in the new system has been good as the team prepares for its Aug. 30 season opener at Houston Baptist.

“We’ve always been known for our ability to pass, serve and play defense, and to couple that with this offense ... it gives us more of an edge,” she said. “And no one in the Summit League plays this style, so preparing for us isn’t just a given. They’re going to have to spend extra time.”

The Mavericks weren’t completely unfamiliar with the new offense, though. They’d actually begun working on it in the spring.

But then Valerie Hecht, who had been fourth on the team in kills per set (1.5) and led the Mavs in blocks per set (0.9) last year, transferred.

“We had designed the beginning phase of the offense around her and then she left,” Shires said. “So we backed off.”

The Mavs, just 6-22 with an extremely young squad in their second year of Division I competition last season, played it straight the rest of the spring.

And then they picked up confidence-building spring victories over Iowa and Missouri State, and played well against the likes of Iowa State and Minnesota.

“I feel like we’re playing the right types of teams and beating that next level of team,” Shires said. “Granted, it was the spring, but these are the same kids. They took a big step from last fall to the spring, and they’ve taken a big step from the spring to this fall. And I look forward to what they can accomplish.”

UNO is in some ways even more youthful this season — it has no seniors and two juniors, and the departures include athletic kills leader Natalie Ebke (2.7 per set) and libero Amy Roberts. But four players who started as freshmen — Wollak (2.6 kps), setter Bailey Baxter (6.2 assists per set), setter-hitter Michaela Schimmer (1.7 kps, 3.0 aps) and outside hitter Megan Schmale (1.5 kps) — are all sophomores.

“Even though we’re young, I’ve yet to coach as mature of a team that can handle anything you throw at them,” Shires said.

That includes the new offense, which capitalizes on the Mavs’ transition from Division II.

“This is the most athletic we’ve been in over a decade,” Shires said. “We’re athletic and we’re above the net. We’re still not touching 10-5 or 10-10, but we’re above 10 (feet). We’re getting bigger, but we’re still fast and athletic.”

Shires joked that she needs to stand on a stepstool to get eye-to-eye with her four-player freshman class, all of whom stand between 6-foot and 6-2. Middle hitter Kristy Wieser of Lincoln Pius X is on track to make significant early contributions.

“We have upsized,” Shires said. “And all four freshmen are making big waves on the court.”

Shires said the new offense is similar to the system in place at Oregon, which is ranked No. 8 in the country.

“It’s the athletes’ responsibility, on the fly, to read the opponents’ block and make decisions and to have our setters take that information and turn it into a scoring offense,” Shires said.

And it suits the players just fine.

“It’s so fun, because there are basically no rules,” Wollak said. “We run what we see fit. Our coaches will help us, but it’s really us analyzing the game and attacking. We can get tricky.”

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