Kenzie Maloney had a tough job this season taking over for Justine Wong-Orantes as the libero for the Nebraska volleyball team.
Wong-Orantes was a four-year starter and a first-team All-American last season. She was so good at what she did, digging big shots, covering the Huskers’ hitters when they took big swings and setting when the Huskers were out-of-system.
Maloney, a junior from Louisville, Kentucky, who had played the previous two seasons as defensive sub, has done just fine in her first season as the libero, Nebraska coach John Cook said.
“I think she’s a stud, and is doing a great job,” Cook said. “I look at the best liberos in the Big Ten, and I’m not sure who I’d put in front of her.”
Maloney has a team-best 346 digs. She made a lot of serving errors early in the season, but has cut down on that, and has 15 ace serves since the conference season began. She also has 83 set assists.
“I think Kenzie has been really solid,” Cook said. “I’ve seen her confidence grow over the season, and one way we can evaluate that is her serving. Early on she was really struggling serving, and now she’s really serving tough and has put up great serving numbers. She’s become a much better setter when Kelly digs."
Practices still good: Since practice began in August, Cook has talked about the Huskers going from good, to great, to unstoppable this season. He thinks the team is still on that path, and that feeling comes in part from how well the team has been in practice.
“I really feel like this group has made a big investment in getting better each time they come in the gym,” Cook said.
Cook used the example of Saturday’s practice. The Huskers got moved out of the Devaney Sports Center due to the state volleyball tournament and practiced at Mabel Lee Hall instead. An average practice wouldn’t have been a shock.
“But they really got after it,” Cook said. “I told them I’m just really impressed with how you came in and worked. That could have been kind of a sloppy, mess around. It’s a Saturday at noon, the (Nebraska) football game is on. They just came in and really got after it.”
The Huskers served really well in that practice, Cook said, and it showed up the next day in the match against Rutgers, when the Huskers had nine ace serves and just one serving error.
“That’s what you want this time of year, and if that happens we can go from good, to great to unstoppable,” Cook said.
Recruiting assist: The Huskers signed a four-player recruiting class last week. Joining the Huskers for next season will be setter Nicklin Hames, outside hitter Capri Davis, libero Megan Miller and 6-foot-4 middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach.
Hames is the No. 4-ranked player in the class according to PrepVolleyball.com, and could be a great college setter, Cook said.
“She has great location, she has a great volleyball mind, she is one heck of a competitor,” Cook said. “She’s kind of a combination of Lauren Cook and Kelly Hunter.”
The recruiting of Schwarzenbach is an interesting story, with an assist from Gene Busboom, the father of former assistant coach Dani Busboom Kelly.
“(Gene) was down in Cortland somewhere and these guys were saying, ‘Hey, there is this big girl in Kearney, Missouri,’ that they know about,” Cook said. “So Dani’s dad told Dani about this girl, so we tracked her down and went and saw her at a club tournament.”
Schwarzenbach wasn’t on the Huskers’ radar before that. But they watched her play with her club team, invited her to come to a summer camp, and offered her a scholarship. Now she's ranked as the No. 10 recruit in her class.
So now that Busboom-Kelly has moved on to be the head coach at Louisville, what college coach will be getting the recruiting tips out of Cortland?
“Probably Dani,” Cook said.
* After Minnesota lost last week to Purdue, Nebraska (22-4) moved up one spot to No. 5 in the new AVCA poll. Creighton (22-5) is ranked No. 13.
* Nebraska has won 26 straight matches at the Devaney Center over two seasons, the longest active home winning streak in NCAA Division I. Western Kentucky is No. 2 on that list at 20 straight, and LIU Brooklyn is next at 15.
* Taylor Landfair, who is maybe the best player nationally in the high school sophomore class, has committed to Minnesota, according to her club team, Sports Performance Volleyball Club of Chicago. The 6-foot-4 outside hitter had made a few visits to Nebraska.