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Missouri vs. Nebraska, 12/1

Nebraska’s Jazz Sweet (12) celebrates a kill with teammate Nicklin Hames against Missouri during the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

Nebraska volleyball player Jazz Sweet is in her third year in the program, so she’s probably jumping a little higher, and hitting a little harder.

This is the second year with Nicklin Hames as her setter, and their setter-hitter connection is probably better.

But Sweet has another theory on why she’s improved as a hitter, and it’s pretty cool when you hear her say it. Now the junior right-side hitter says she’s a "tool belt hitter," which is a term not many Huskers have used publicly before.

“I’ve definitely built myself into a tool belt hitter,” Sweet said. “That’s something that I didn’t have before. So now I have a lot of tools I can pull out whenever need be.”

The unique phrase required more explanation.

“You just have a lot of tools in your belt. You have a lot of shots,” Sweet said. “So you can pull out whatever one you need at any time to fix any problem.”

So now instead of hitting a lot of cross-court shots, Sweet mixes in a tip and shots down the line or off the blockers’ hands.

Sweet is from Topeka, Kansas, and has been Nebraska's starting right-side hitter since 2017. She’s turned in an impressive start to her career, including making the All-Big Ten freshman team in her debut campaign. Being consistently good, however, is what prevented Sweet from being great. And that was the case again to start this season.

But at the end of the nonconference season, and to start the Big Ten season, Sweet consistently hit at a high level. 

Going into Friday’s 8 p.m. match against Michigan State at the Devaney Sports Center, Sweet ranks second on the team in kills with 126 -- and her hitting percentage of .299 is second to only middle blocker Lauren Stivrins (.362). 

A right-side hitter in the Big Ten Conference sustaining a .270 percentage for the season will draw ample contention for both all-conference and All-America honors, Nebraska coach John Cook said. 

Sweet is one of the older players for the fifth-ranked Huskers (11-2, 3-1 Big Ten) and that has added to her motivation as a player.

“I’m just doing whatever I can do to put this team in the best position to compete, and compete myself, and just get us to the best spot we can be when the postseason comes,” Sweet said.

One of the big questions going into this season was how Nebraska would make up the graduation of Mikaela Foecke. Sweet has tried to do her part.

“Since I don’t play (back row) defense, I want to have that go-to kill when we need it, or that push after 20 points (in a set),” Sweet said.

Sweet had a great start to the conference season. In the first match, in Champaign, Illinois, on Sept. 27, she recorded a career-high 18 kills with six digs and four blocks on .324 hitting to lead the Huskers to a comeback win over the No. 20 Illini. 

The next night, at Northwestern, she had 13 kills on a season-best .526 hitting percentage with three digs and a block. Then she had 13 kills and hit .524 against Wisconsin, but the Badgers won 3-0.

In conference matches, Sweet ranks seventh in the Big Ten in kills per set with 3.71. And her hitting percentage of .392 ranks second among outside and right-side hitters.

“She’s just turned it up a notch in the Big Ten,” Cook said. “We’ve been encouraging her to play with more fire and be more aggressive, and she’s finally embracing that.”

But Sweet says being more aggressive may not be what you think it is.

“Not more aggressive, just smarter about it. Having better vision,” Sweet said. “So taking the heat and making it a mindful hit, instead of just having heat on the ball.”

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

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Sports 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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