OMAHA — The expectations were lofty before the Nebraska volleyball season began, and they probably went up a little following the first week of the season.
Sunday, the fourth-ranked Huskers won their third match in three days with a 25-19, 25-21, 25-13 victory over unranked Notre Dame in front of 7,386 fans at the CenturyLink Center.
Nebraska opened the season Friday with a three-set win over unranked Saint Louis and knocked off top-ranked and defending national champion UCLA on Saturday.
Oh, sure, there were 20 serving errors in three matches, and Nebraska will need to improve its blocking. Still, coach John Cook headed back to Lincoln quite satisfied.
“I told the team in the locker room afterward that they ought to feel really good about their preparation this summer, their last 12 days of practice leading into this weekend, their effort (Saturday night) and then to be able to come back and maybe play as well, if not better today as we did last night,” Cook said. “They should feel really, really good about all the work they did leading into this weekend and getting off to a great start.”
A new AVCA poll will be released on Monday afternoon, and the Huskers will likely move up. Second-ranked Texas and No. 3 Penn State each have 3-0 records. UCLA is 1-1.
In the 2½ weeks since practice began, Cook said the Huskers have not had a bad session.
Once the matches started, the coach wanted to see if that preparation would carry over, and if the players could back up all the preseason talk.
“They’ve been talking a great game,” Cook said. “Unfinished business, learning from last year. They’re on a mission this year, they’re determined; they want to go for it. All those things they’ve been talking a great game, and I think they backed it up this weekend.”
Sunday, hometown Husker Gina Mancuso led the Huskers with 15 kills and Hannah Werth added 11 kills.
Hayley Thramer gave Nebraska another solid match from the middle blocker position with seven kills on 15 attempts with no errors. Freshman Meghan Haggerty followed her 17-kill outing Saturday with only three kills, but had a team-high six blocks.
The Huskers broke Notre Dame down in the third set with kills on 15 of 24 attempts and only one hitting error. What’s more, Morgan Broekhuis served three straight aces, part of her career-high four ace serves in the match.
Senior setter Lauren Cook had a couple of noteworthy efforts. There was a diving finger-tip dig in the first set that allowed NU to win a rally. In the second set, she tracked down a ball on the sideline and bumped it over her head across the court to Werth for a kill.
Cook had three kills, 35 assists and a pair of blocks. Her 12 digs were second-most on the team.
“I think these last two matches Lauren showed why she’s one of the best setters in the country,” John Cook said. “The little plays that she makes — seeing where the block is, finding hitters when we’re in chaos. She had two stuff blocks tonight. She serves very aggressively. We ran 32 points (Saturday against UCLA) in her rotation. That’s an entire game.
“If you really study the game, she does a lot of great things.”
Three different players have led the Huskers in kills through three matches, and Lauren Cook is again spreading the ball around to put the team in the best position.
Nebraska had a season-best .365 hitting-efficiency on Sunday, including an impressive .583 in the final set.
Against UCLA on Saturday, five Huskers had 20 or more attacks. UCLA had only two such players.
“I think the great thing about our offense in general is that we can attack from both pins, we can attack in the middle,” Broekhuis said. “When we put that ball on Lauren’s head she has options all over the court. If one person is being doubled, another person is going to put the ball away.”