The Devaney Center crowd holds its breath while Nebraska sets up its offense until it sees junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins begin her running start toward the net. The fans know what is coming next, but still react with surprise after yet another kill from the Stivrins slide.
The slide is a play that every volleyball team runs a variation of because it gives the middle blocker a running start for a kill. The difference between teams lies on how the slide is set up, which changes based on whether the pass is set up further away or kept very close to the setter.
After that comes the most recognizable part of the play: the attacker. The attackers give themselves a running start, usually speeding up until they kill the ball. The variations of the slide have made the play one of the hardest to defend when run right, and the speed of its execution makes it exciting.
At Nebraska, the slide has become a defining part of the volleyball team. More specifically, Stivrins has transformed the play itself.
Stivrins is so far the most efficient hitter in the Big Ten, hitting .460 and averaging three kills per set in Big Ten play. Her numbers are higher than last season despite having one of Nebraska’s best seasons ever at middle blocker.
Her rise is in part thanks to the highly effective slide play. The middle blockers are the position most likely to be used in the slide, since the outside hitters should rarely be running out of position.
Stivrins has taken the slide to another level by using a combination of length and speed to make it the most potent play in Nebraska’s arsenal. Stivrins is 6-foot-4, which gives an immediate size advantage over many outside hitters and middle blockers.
The size gives her a higher shot, but her speed is the real driver of success. Against Michigan State, the slide was ran for Stivrins and she faced a double team. Speed was the deciding factor as Stivrins’ quick hands helped the ball fly between two defenders and land for a kill.
That is one of many plays where the Stivrins slide is different than anywhere else. Plays such as that one beat the double team, and her slide has attracted double teams since the first match of the season.
“They [Creighton] were sending two blockers up with me,” Stivrins said. “One of the timeouts, our coaches said just set it anyways.”
Overall, Stivrins’ hitting percentage has taken a tiny dip from last season but the numbers are still at an All-American level, hitting .395. That is all despite a young team and a heavy reliance on Stivrins.
Stivrins is the second half of the slide, or the most visible part. The first half relies on two different parts: Nebraska’s defense and sophomore setter Nicklin Hames.
The Husker defense is where the slide actually begins. For Nebraska, that means to either force a bad offensive set by the opponent, or defend well enough to keep the offense in system. Either way, the slide is best run while Nebraska is in system.
Once the Huskers are on offense and in system, Hames controls who gets the final say in hitting the ball. A decision has to be made quickly as Hames receives the ball from the dig. That decision is what separates the good setters from the best setters.
There are various factors in who Hames should set to but the main factor is the looks given by the defense. Those looks are instrumental in how the Nebraska offense operates and can cause different players to shine, like in the Purdue match.
“They were scheming on her [Stivrins] every single ball, Lexi and I were one-on-one so many times,” outside hitter Madi Kubik said. “Lauren and Callie were pulling the block.”
There is no doubt that the Stivrins slide is one of the hardest plays to defend, so more teams are focused on limiting Stivrins first. Still, the extra attention on the slide has not deterred Hames from setting up Stivrins.
“For Lauren, I just try to get her the ball as much as possible,” sophomore setter Nicklin Hames said. “She’s only there for three rotations.”
Stivrins had 69 attack attempts last weekend, a season-high for her. Stivrins led Nebraska in attack attempts throughout the match against Indiana, a first this season. When Stivrins is on court, the slide is the one play every team is worried about, yet still unable to prevent, allowing her to have another great year.