Nebraska volleyball gears up for intense weekend against No. 20 Ohio State and No. 1 Penn State

By Nedu Izu on October 26th, 2012

Through 10 conference matches, the Nebraska volleyball team has a 9-1 record in Big Ten play. That record puts the Huskers second behind Penn State’s 11-0 record, and ranked fourth in the nation with a 17-2 overall record.

Sure, their road trips to Iowa State and Penn State didn’t end the way they wanted them to – the two straight 3-1 losses broke up the team’s eight-match winning streak to start the season.

But instead of dwelling on the heartbreakers, the team chooses to keep focus on the big picture, according to NU assistant coach Dan Meske.

“We don’t buy into the whole win-loss record,” Meske said. “The Iowa State game for example – it hurt but it wasn’t a debilitating thing. We buy into what we can do to make a good year and get us to the national championship.”

And the No. 4 Huskers have shown their focus on reaching that destination.

The team has shown how much it believes in its 2012 theme ‘unfinished business’ by riding on two separate winning streaks already this season.

After having its first winning streak snapped with two consecutive losses in mid-September, the Huskers responded with nine straight wins to start off another victorious streak. Nebraska leads the conference in attacks with a .309 hitting percentage.

“Our outside hitters are doing a great job of managing the game,” NU coach John Cook said. “When we’re in trouble, we’re not making unforced errors.”

The team is also ranked third in both kills (963, 14.37 per set) and assists (894, 13.34 per set) in the Big Ten.

Meske said he credits setter Lauren Cook for the team’s offensive success.

“To lead the conference (in attack percentage) helps us a lot offensively,” he said. “Lauren’s distributing the ball really well and making us tough to scout.”

Lauren Cook is third in the conference with 749 assists, while averaging 11.18 per set. The 2011 All-American has also helped the Huskers to a conference-leading .309 hitting percentage.

Though the team leads the conference in the attacking percentage, its upcoming conference opponents aren’t too far behind.

This weekend the Huskers will host No. 20 Ohio State (15-7, 6-4) Friday and will face a tougher challenge when they play No. 1 Penn State (20-1, 10-0) Sunday.

“These are big matches. Our kids are fired up,” Cook said.

NU holds an all-time 10-3 series advantage against the Buckeyes, with its latest win coming Sept. 22 to earn its first conference victory of the season.

Though Meske described the OSU squad as undersized, he still said they’ll provide challenges to the Huskers.

“They move really fast and go all the way from the pin to middle of the court,” he said. “Any of them can attack during any point of the game. It’ll be a good test for us.”

And the Huskers’ next opponent won’t be any easier.

Penn State comes into Sunday’s match as the top-ranked team in the nation, a spot Nebraska held the last time the two met Sept. 19. In the match, the Nittany Lions handed the Huskers their first conference loss of the season.

Although its opponent’s style of play may be more predictable, the challenges Nebraska faces will be even greater, according to Meske.

“They have big athletic players that do multiple things,” he said. “They keep it simple but do it very well.”

What led to the team’s defeat in University Park, Pa., a month ago was the defense’s inability to contain PSU attackers. However, Meske feels the team has learned from its mistakes.

“We let a lot of shots from them land,” he said. “We know what to expect from them now, and they know what to expect from us.”

The Huskers two opponents will be its toughest back-to-back contests they’ve faced all season.

Though the team’s only conference loss came to Penn State, Meske said he’s hoping to see NU take advantage of the challenging weekend ahead against the two conference opponents.

“This team has a really good mindset of getting better everyday,” he said. “(OSU and PSU) are fun teams to play against and make you work. A lot of people think this will be the toughest weekend of the season.”

Husker fans can catch Friday’s 7 p.m. matchup against the Buckeyes on NET, while Sunday’s square off against the Nittany Lions will air at 2 p.m. on BTN.

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