Nicklin Hames setting

Nebraska's Nicklin Hames sets the ball during a game against UCLA at the Bob Devaney Center on Satuday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Nebraska volleyball, fresh off its first road trip of the season, comes home to play in the Ameritas Players Challenge. The three matches over Friday and Saturday are the Huskers’ easiest matches of the season so far, but will test Nebraska’s stamina as the team plays three matches in 25 hours.

The Huskers will start the weekend with a date against the High Point Highlanders at noon on Friday. High Point is 2-5 and just broke a five-match losing streak. The Highlanders swept a winless Furman team on Sunday, but Furman is the opposite of Nebraska skillswise.

High Point lost four of its five matches 3-0 which is due to an anemic offense. The Highlanders average a .171 hitting percentage and 11.1 kills per set, which is the worst offense Nebraska has seen this season.

The Husker defense is one of the best in the country and playing a much weaker offense gives them a chance to feast. Nebraska has allowed a .132 hitting percentage this season and knows how to punish inefficient hitters.

The Highlanders’ best offensive players, outside hitters freshman Annie Sullivan and sophomore Madison Smith, both hit below .3 and swinging at such a clip against the Huskers is fatal due to their elite defense. Freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles and freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik are two of the best diggers for the Huskers. 

The Huskers average 16.38 digs per set and the game should be a routine sweep for Nebraska. This will be a warm-up for the two other matches against Denver and Loyola Marymount.

Projected to be the Summit Conference champions according to Nebraska head coach John Cook, the Denver Pioneers are one of the better non-power conference teams in volleyball. The Pioneers are 5-1 to start the season, picking up their winning ways from last season’s 27-3 campaign. The Pioneers have made the NCAA Tournament for five straight seasons.

Despite the regular season success, Denver has not won an NCAA Tournament game, but a duel with Nebraska could change its bad fortune against top teams. The Pioneers utilize a group effort from their offense and defense. In their loss against No. 18 Hawaii, the Pioneers hit .085 and gave up a .290 hitting percentage in a four-set loss.

The struggling Denver offense will need to stand up against the impressive Husker offense in order to give itself a fighting chance at an upset win on the road. Denver hits .208 a game and averages 12 kills per set, which plays right into Nebraska’s hands. The Huskers outmatch the Pioneers, so their passing has to be exceptional. 

If the passing is there for Denver, Nebraska’s inconsistent play on offense will need to be taken advantage of by the Pioneers. Specifically, junior libero Macy Carrabine needs to lead the defense and create offensive opportunities through digs. 

Despite the seemingly easy idea, the Huskers are cleaning up their early season errors quickly. The match against San Diego showed Nebraska is not invincible, but Denver will need to play a much cleaner game.

The last match of the challenge comes against Loyola Marymount on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Lions received four votes in the AVCA preseason poll, but are now 3-3. They have had an up and down start, with two losses against Rice and were swept by Arizona.

Another weak defense should significantly boost Nebraska’s offensive stats and also develop more chemistry. The third match in 25 hours for Nebraska tests the Huskers’ stamina and could lead to more players seeing the court. 

The match looks to be a routine sweep, but is a test of Nebraska’s endurance for later in the season. Sophomore setter Nicklin Hames leads the offense in assists and her passing keeps her on the court far longer than most players. The match will be a good test to see how she and the rest of Nebraska fare in a third match against an inferior opponent.