The Nebraska volleyball team played at a pretty high level during the first set of its match against Saint Louis on Friday.
The Huskers had kills on five of their first nine attempts, and by putting aside first-match jitters, did not have a hitting error while racing to an 11-2 lead.
Nebraska had a hitting percentage of .407 in the first set, well above the goal of .300, before cooling off some in the final two sets.
Nebraska went on to a relatively easy 25-13, 25-17, 25-18 victory at the NU Coliseum. Hannah Werth led the Huskers with 12 kills, and Gina Mancuso added 10.
The result was nice, but it’s probably what happened before the match that some people will more likely remember most. That, along with Saturday’s showdown against top-ranked UCLA.
A special moment honoring the Saint Louis team occurred before the match. Last week, former Saint Louis player Megan Boken was fatally shot in what police called a robbery attempt in St. Louis. Boken played for the Billikens from 2007-10, and was in town for an alumni match.
A moment of silence was held prior to the match. After fighting back some emotion, the Saint Louis players smiled as the crowd of 4,130 gave them a warm ovation.
During player introductions at each home match, the Huskers toss souvenir volleyballs into the crowd. But not this time. Instead, each Nebraska player and coach wrote a message on a ball, and gave them to a Saint Louis player.
It was a gesture NU senior setter Lauren Cook and Werth decided to do earlier this week.
“They’re going through a lot right now,” Cook said. “This is what we came up with, and I hope it meant something to them, because we feel for that team. They’re going through a tough time.
“We each wrote on a ball things like, ‘You’re in our thoughts; you’re in our prayers. Best of luck this season.’”
The Nebraska players from Boken’s home state of Illinois — Werth and freshman Meghan Haggerty — were most closely affected, and wrote No. 20 on their arm bands in honor of Boken.
“The girl that got shot and killed, I knew her from club volleyball because I’m from Illinois and our clubs trained together,” Werth said. “I actually got the opportunity to stay at her house. She was a great girl. She was two years older than me, but when I saw that on the news I just teared up. It could have been any of us. It really makes you realize that you've got to be careful wherever you are.”
Werth had some of her trademark big kills Friday, but she also mixed up her attacks. She had 12 kills on 23 attempts with no hitting errors for a .522 hitting percentage.
Last year, there was only one match in which Werth had no hitting errors. And against Creighton, she had more errors (eight) than kills (seven).
At least through one match, Werth showed she had a more versatile attack.
“I think Coach (John) Cook has really coached me hard and really good. And he’s been really patient with me,” Werth said. “I’m a very aggressive person, and I’m fortunate to have him help channel all my energy. I think he’s done a great job with me, but also all of the hitters. Also, (assistant coach) Dan Meske, I look to him all the time; just having that reinforcement is great.”
Allison McNeal and freshman Meghan Haggerty started at middle blocker, but Hayley Thramer and Cecilia Hall also played there.
“We did some good things,” John Cook said. “Saint Louis is a much different team than what we play against in practice and last Saturday in Red-White (scrimmage). UCLA will be more what we’ve been preparing for. I think it’s harder for us to get a rhythm and be smoother with Saint Louis.
“But we got a ‘W’; we got (all 14 players) in. Nobody’s redshirting, so we don’t have to ask that question again. The freshmen looked like freshmen. But I’d rather get them in now, so we can use them later. They got this out of their system.”
About 6,400 tickets have been sold for the Huskers’ match against Notre Dame on Sunday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha. That means several thousand tickets remain for the 1:30 p.m. match.
NEBRASKA 3, ST. LOUIS 0
St. Louis (kills-ace blocks-ace serves)--Niemiec 4-0-0, Gilbert 8-0-0, Bolt 0-0-0, Clarke 3-0-1, Marcum 4-0-0, Schumacher 0-0-0, Bonoma 0-0-0, Klostermann 0-0-0, Sniffen 0-0-0, Baumet 5-0-0, Church 0-0-1, Dinkelacker 3-0-0. Totals 27-3.0-2.
Nebraska--Cook 1-0-0, Mancuso 10-0-1, Broekhuis 9-2-0, McNeal 0-0-0, Haggerty 4-0-0, Werth 12-0-0, Dykstra 0-0-2, Zarda 0-0-0, Hubl 0-0-0, Ostrander 1-0-0, Fien 0-0-0, Thramer 0-0-0, Strange 0-0-0. Totals 37-6.0-3.
Assists--St. Louis 24 (Clark 19); NU 34 (Cook 27, Broekhuis 4). Dig leaders---St. Louis 43 (Clark 11); NU 44 (Cook 14, Werth 10). Hitting percentage--- St. Louis .030; NU .265. T-- 1:28. A--4,129.