Sure, there is pressure on the players at the hitting positions for the Nebraska volleyball team to get kills.
But on a team where defense is such a major emphasis, the coaches are more likely to grimace over the blockers and back-row defensive players not working together to get a dig than the Huskers not getting a kill.
That brings a lot of pressure for the players tasked with digging the most balls, players such as libero Kenzie Maloney, setter Nicklin Hames, outside hitters Mikaela Foecke and Lexi Sun. And now, once again, defensive specialist Megan Miller.
Miller, a freshman from Alexandria, Indiana, played a lot at the beginning of the season, but then Hayley Densberger took over the defensive specialist spot for a few weeks. Now Miller is back as the DS, and earned great reviews from coach John Cook for a couple of big digs in the fifth set of the Huskers’ win against Penn State last week.
Miller is part of a Husker defense that has ranked No. 1 or 2 in the nation for most of the season. Nebraska’s .129 opponent hitting percentage is its best mark since .126 in the 2005 season.
Playing for a program where defense is so important, and in a conference where the Huskers go against so many great hitters, was a little scary at first, Miller said.
“The girls are bigger and faster and stronger, so getting the ball up is kind of scary, being able to get under one of those girls,” Miller said. "But now it doesn’t even faze me.”
Miller has 85 digs this season, with 35 of them coming over the past four matches, including a match-high 14 against Penn State. She also has 11 ace serves.
Miller didn’t play for five consecutive matches in October, but she started having better statistics in practice and earned back her regular spot in the lineup.
“I just knew that I had to do everything in my power to get better,” Miller said. “Hayley earned it in that moment, because obviously I wasn’t playing my best, but I knew if I gave all of my effort at some point then hopefully I could get that spot back.”
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Densberger has continued to play as a serving specialist.
Miller got back in the lineup by improving in serving and passing.
“In that position, that’s the No. 1 thing is passing,” Cook said. “(Miller has) been better since she’s been in there. The reason she wasn’t in there for a while is because she wasn’t. It’s all about the numbers.”
It was a big adjustment going from passing serves in high school to college, Miller said, but she understands why ball handling is so important.
“Coach Cook is really big on saying, ‘The dig makes the kill,’ so if you get the ball up and in the center of the court, then we have a much better chance of getting the kill,” Miller said.
Miller was an outside hitter on the varsity team for four years in Alexandria. But at 5-foot-6 she knew that playing defensive specialist was going to be her chance to play for a big-time program.
And while Densberger is the only Nebraskan on the roster this year, Miller is one of those farm kids that Cook has recruited because he likes their work ethic. Miller grew up on a farm, and showed cows in 4-H for 10 years. Growing up in Iowa, Foecke showed pigs.
Nebraska plays at No. 15 Michigan at 6 p.m. Saturday. The Huskers beat Michigan in four sets at the start of the Big Ten season.
Michigan’s past week shows how competitive the Big Ten Conference is. On Sunday, Michigan got a big win on the road against No. 5 Wisconsin. But just a few days later the Wolverines lost at home against unranked Maryland. It was the Terrapins’ first road win ever against a ranked team.