Nearly two years have passed since Husker volleyball last had the Bob Devaney Center filled with fans. The almost eight thousand attendees roared with excitement as No. 5 Nebraska squared off in their annual Red/White scrimmage.
“It was awesome, before the game we were shocked that it was actually happening and that we would actually have a full Devaney Center for the first time in two years,” senior outside hitter junior Lexi Sun said postgame. “When I was up there getting introduced, it brought me to tears just hearing the crowd, scream and cheer for us. To get another opportunity to be able to play this season just made me all the more thankful to be here tonight.”
The match ended in a 2-2 draw. The White team finished the night with 64 points, 52 kills and an attack percentage of .159. The Red team finished with 58 points, 46 kills and an attack percentage of .159 as well.
Throughout the night, players switched back and forth between teams. Sun led both sides in kills with 16, three blocks and an attack percentage of .333.
Junior outside hitter Madi Kubik had 14 kills, two blocks and an attack percentage of .016. Freshman outside hitter Whitney Lauenstein with 14 kills, finishing with the most kills among the newcomers. Highly coveted freshmen outside hitters Ally Batenhorst and Lindsay Krause each had double-digit kills, the two earning 12 a piece. Senior middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach rounded out the top six with 12 kills as well.
For head coach John Cook, tonight’s scrimmage showed a lot of good signs for the season.
“Sometimes a Red/White can be a little bit overly loud miscommunication and misfires,” Cook said postgame. “Tonight with so many young players, their communication was excellent. Their court coverage and covering their hitters, all those little things that don't show up in the stats, they did a really good job with that tonight. I’m happy where they’re at.”
Before the start of the match, Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts and Cook addressed the fans, thanking them for their appearance and confirming that volleyball was back.
“That was a highlight for tonight,” Cook said. “Seeing our crowd back in Devaney just felt like Nebraska volleyball again. The sea of red was very high level and there was a lot of good things going on.”
After trading a couple of kills to start the first set, the White team went on a 7-1 run to go up 9-3. However, the Red team came back with their own 7-1 run to tie it at 10. Following two more ties at 11 and 12, the White team did a rinse-and-repeat venture with a 7-2 run to make it 19-14.
Despite a valiant effort, the White team refused to let the Red team claw its way back in, taking the set, 25-22.
However, the Red team continued to fight as the second set went underway. The White team led throughout the second set, but the Red team stayed right behind it, never falling behind by more than three points. In a fierce battle, the Red team was finally able to snatch the lead deep into the second set after tying at 16 apiece.
The Red team made its attempts to take the second set but the White team tied the set at 21-21 and took a 22-21 lead.
The Red team didn’t back down, tying the score at 22, then 23, then 24. Finally, the Red team triumphed, taking the second set, 26-24.
“With all the nerves, playing together for the first time can be a little rough,” Sun said. “But, it was really impressive to see the competition and high level of play this early on in the season.”
Coming out of the intermission, both teams made the third set a dogfight with intense kills, stressful volleys, and wild digs. However, the White team slowly took control of the third set.
The momentum grew for the White team as it held a 21-11 lead over the Red with seemingly no signs of slowing down. Eventually, the White team ended the set 25-13 with a monster kill by Lauenstein that ricocheted off Kubik.
After the shortfall in the third set, the Red team entered the fourth set on a mission. In a flash, the Red team took an 8-2 lead. Notwithstanding, the White team didn’t let the Red team run away with the fourth set, cutting the lead to two.
That was until senior setter Nicklin Hames went down and needed to be helped off the court.
“It’s a bummer,” Cook said. “I don't know how bad it is, and it was kind of a freak play that happened. But, I still really don't know what happened.”
Following the injury, the Red team recovered its drive and continued to build upon the lead. Much like the White team in set three, the Red team soon had control with a dominant 19-9 lead. Even with the White team coming as close as seven, the Red team took set four, 25-17 ending the night.
Along with the team’s excellent performance, Cook was also proud to have fans back and cheering.
“There's no words to describe what it's like to be back in front of our fans,” Cook said. “Our players were very emotional. Walking in there, we all felt it.”
Nebraska will commence its 2021 season at the Husker Invitational from August 27-28, at the Devaney Center, where it’ll host Tulsa, Colgate, and Kansas State. The Huskers will open the invite against Tulsa on Friday at 11 a.m., followed by an evening match with Colgate at 6:30 p.m. before wrapping up the event Saturday at 4 p.m. against Kansas State.