In a unique season where depth could take on higher importance, the Nebraska volleyball team can feel a little better after Week 1.
For example, the Huskers played Riley Zuhn at right-side hitter in two wins against Indiana last weekend. Jazz Sweet, a three-year starter at that position, also is ready to play.
And Nebraska played three middle blockers — Lauren Stivrins, Kayla Caffey and Callie Schwarzenbach.
Zuhn, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Fort Collins, Colorado, played well in the most extensive action of her career. She had seven blocks and 14 kills with a .290 hitting percentage combined in two matches. Zuhn can be a game-changer as a blocker because of her height, Husker coach John Cook said.
Nebraska has talent at the hitter positions in Lexi Sun, Madi Kubik and Sweet, but not a lot of depth. There's only one backup for those three spots combined.
Zuhn helps the Huskers feel better during a season that tests depth in a couple of different ways. Nebraska will play most of its matches on back-to-back days, and there is always the possibility of COVID-19 causing players to miss matches.
Zuhn appeared in only 17 matches last season as a freshman, finishing with seven kills (.000 hitting percentage) and six blocks.
“Riley, last year we were moving her all over the place and now we’ve settled in at a position and we’re giving her opportunities to perform and she’s been playing great in practice, so the competition is good,” Cook said on Tuesday. “We only have four (pin hitters) so she’s got to be able to play both left and right.”
Cook said Zuhn was one of Nebraska’s most improved players in the strength and conditioning program.
“We’ve got to continue to see what she can do and develop her,” Cook said.
Sweet was about to enter the second match against Indiana last week right at the end of the third set, but the match ended before she could substitute in the rotation.
Cook wouldn’t say whether Sweet would start when Nebraska hosts two matches against Northwestern this weekend.
“We’ll see how this week of practices goes,” he said. “They’re competing.”
After Caffey played middle blocker in the first match of the season, Schwarzenbach started in that spot in the second match.
“We’re trying to be more flexible with our lineups and who we play than we have in the past,” Cook said.
Adding more to the setter’s tool bag: During the long offseason associate head coach Tyler Hildebrand — a college setter himself — and Cook worked on making some minor adjustments to Nebraska junior setter Nicklin Hames' game.
The goal is that Hames can help the Huskers run a more creative offense. That could include setting the middle blockers more than just the expected situations after a good pass or dig.
In the first two matches, Cook said Hames “fired some balls around.”
“We’re trying to make some adjustments with how she sets and let her be a little more creative and free with how she sets,” Cook said. “She’s been doing awesome in practice and the matches were the first time she’s done it live.
“At times she did really well, and then there were some misses for her, but long term this is going to make her a better setter.”
Still No. 5: The top seven teams in the AVCA poll were unchanged from last week, so Nebraska remains at No. 5. Creighton (2-0) moved up one spot to 14th. Hawaii stayed in the poll even though its entire season is canceled, but the Rainbow Wahine dropped two spots to 23rd.
Spectator restrictions at Devaney Sports Center: When Nebraska plays its first home match of the season on Friday there will probably be fewer than 300 people in the 8,000-seat arena due to the current COVID-19 restrictions in the Big Ten Conference.
That will include the teams and support staff, TV crew and the families of the players and coaches for both teams. Nebraska’s players and coaches get four passes each for family to attend. The opponent gets 64 passes combined to use for family members.
Friday’s match will be on TV on NET at 6 p.m.
Penn State’s season on hold: Penn State won’t play during the first two weeks of the season after pausing all team activities due to positive COVID-19 results among its Tier 1 personnel.
The Nittany Lions’ season-opening match last week against Michigan was postponed one day before it was to be played. Later, two matches against Ohio State scheduled for this week were postponed.
Nebraska isn’t scheduled to play Penn State until the final week of the regular season.