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After first loss of season, NU volleyball drops in national poll; two more ranked opponents this week
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HUSKER VOLLEYBALL

After first loss of season, NU volleyball drops in national poll; two more ranked opponents this week

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Utah vs. Nebraska, 9.11

Nebraska's Lexi Rodriguez digs into a Utah hit on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at Devaney Sports Center.

A four-year scheduling agreement in college volleyball with Nebraska, Stanford, Kentucky and Louisville looks even better than when Nebraska coach John Cook helped set it up 2½ years ago.

Since then, Stanford and Kentucky have each won national championships.

“Us, Stanford and Kentucky have won the last six national championships. There you go,” Cook said.

Nebraska won national championships in 2015 and ’17, and Stanford in ’16, ’18 and ’19. Kentucky won last season.

And right now Louisville is ranked higher than any of the teams at No. 5.

All four teams are ranked in the top 20 — No. 5 Louisville, No. 6 Nebraska, No. 8 Kentucky and No. 16 Stanford.

The scheduling agreement between the teams in four conferences gets going this week, after being delayed one year due to COVID-19.

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Nebraska plays at Stanford on Tuesday (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network). Then the Huskers host Louisville on Saturday.

Kentucky plays at Louisville on Wednesday. Stanford is at Kentucky on Sunday.

The matches will always be played during the same week. Nebraska will play Stanford each season, and rotate between playing Kentucky and Louisville.

It’s similar to the VERT Challenge Nebraska played in for four years, but in this format, each team will get one home match every year.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Cook of the format. “But we got to play tough matches to get ready for the Big Ten.”

While Nebraska and Stanford have played often in the NCAA tournament or nonconference tournaments in Nebraska, Cook is taking the Huskers to Stanford for the first time in his 22 seasons. Nebraska hasn't played at Stanford since 1990.

Nebraska and Stanford last played in 2019 in a No. 1 vs. 2 showdown won by Stanford. Stanford has won its last three matches against Nebraska.

Stanford missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in program history, after having to rebuild from its title teams and having 12 matches canceled.

This season Stanford (4-2) has already played a challenging schedule with wins against Florida and Penn State, and losses to Texas and Minnesota.

“They’re good,” said Cook of Stanford. “But we need to get on the road and learn how to compete.”

In the poll: Nebraska dropped three spots to sixth in the AVCA poll on Monday following its first loss of the season, against Utah in five sets. Utah made a big jump from 20th to 10th. After losing to Nebraska on Wednesday, Creighton beat SMU, Illinois and Omaha later in the week. The Bluejays moved up two spots to 17th.

Looking to ramp up the offense: Nebraska’s defense has helped it win some matches to start the season, but that wasn’t enough in a five-set loss against Utah.

After the match against Utah, Cook said the Huskers have to figure out how to get more consistent on offense. Nebraska ranks 10th in the Big Ten in hitting percentage (.227).

At the hitter spots Nebraska hasn’t had players consistently hit for a high enough percentage. Both Lindsay Krause and Whitney Lauenstein have played right-side hitter. At outside hitter Lexi Sun, Madi Kubik and Ally Batenhorst have played.

“Our middles were none existent tonight,” Cook said. “You got to have a middle attack because typically your middles are going to hit really well. Nicklin (Hames) just stopped setting them and we got out of rhythm. Callie (Schwarzenbach) wasn’t really putting balls away tonight, and Kayla (Caffey) was struggling as well. So then it comes down to your left sides, and Ally gave us a spark but you can look at Lexi and Maddie’s stats, they hit zero. So you’re going to have a hard time winning matches when they do that.”

Briefly

* Former Nebraska player and assistant coach Kayla Banwarth got her first big win as the Mississippi head coach when the Rebels beat No. 15 Western Kentucky last week. It was the program’s first win against a top-15 team since 2010. Ole Miss has an 8-0 record, after going 1-19 during Banwarth’s first season.

* The crowd of 11,279 for Nebraska’s match against Creighton in Omaha last week was the 10th largest crowd for a regular-season match in NCAA history.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.

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Husker volleyball/women's basketball reporter

Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

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