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Strong defense aids Husker volleyball’s work toward national title

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Defense wins championships.

The Nebraska volleyball team isn’t at the big stage of the 2012 NCAA Tournament yet, but the saying could ring true if the team continues on the victorious track it’s on right now.

The Huskers (25-6) have been aided by powerful swings to assist in sweeps against Maryland East Shore (25-14, 25-10, 25-18) and Northern Iowa (25-21, 25-16, 25-21). But don’t underestimate the players on the other side of the net, either.

While the offense hit for an average of .413 to assist in its first- and second-round victories, stealing the show, NU blockers have been quietly dominant on the defensive end.

Meghan Haggerty, Allison McNeal and Hayley Thramer have helped Nebraska hold its last two opponents to .083 and .191 hitting percentages, respectively.

Nebraska coach John Cook said the three middle blockers have played a crucial role in NU’s pursuit of the 2012 national title.

“Our goal is to be balanced,” he said. “We need them to run our game plan. When we have opportunities, we need to make (opponents) pay.”

In its first-round match against the Hawks, the Huskers held UMES to just a .094 hitting percentage in the first set. The defense would go on to derail them even more, tallying several more blocking assists to hold clamp its opponents to a -.083 percentage in the second set, the negative number coming as a result of errors by the opposing team.

Haggerty and Thramer, who lead the team with 135 and 106 blocks respectively, finished the match with three of NU’s six total. The other half came from their 6-foot-3-inch teammate off the bench.

“Allison came in and was paying attention,” Cook said. “She got right in and got a block right away. That’s what these kids need to do. When we have opportunities, we need to make (opponents) pay.”

The senior would go on a tear midway through the second set of the match, recording the first three rallies she participated in, registering a kill and two blocks. She would also go on to add another to finish the match with three total.

The Schulenburg, Texas, native said it felt great coming up big for her team to begin postseason play.

“Any opportunity I get, I’m always ready to go out there and play for my teammates,” McNeal said. “Like coach said, these are our last two matches at the Coliseum so we really need to cherish it and basically have as much fun as we can, good things will happen from there.”

McNeal finished the match with three kills, three blocks and a dig to assist Nebraska in 36 digs total.

That figure only jumped in the team’s next match.

In its final match at the Coliseum, the Huskers trounced the Northern Iowa Panthers, blasting away for a .371 team hitting percentage, while also tallying 41 digs.

“The game plan was to stop their middles and right side (hitters),” Cook said.

NU followed the plan to perfection right away, stopping UNI’s hitters by allowing them to hit successfully only .191 the entire match. Thramer’s team-high three blocks aided the home team to a total of five against the Panthers’ total of four.

In UNI’s first round match against the Kansas State Wildcats, Krista DeGeest swung .588, adding 11 kills to help her team live another day. She was in for a rude awakening in the second round. The NU defense shut her and her 350 kills on the season down to just five kills and a .231 hitting percentage the next day.

“That’s the key of the match right there,” Cook said. “She lit up Kansas State last night. They pass really well and are tough to defend. We did a really good job on her.”

After holding its past two opponents to a combined .137 opponent hitting percentage, Nebraska will continue its quest to a national title when they face Washington in Omaha Friday.

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