The Nebraska volleyball team doesn’t get to decide what its ranking is in the college poll, and the Huskers spending the first four weeks of the season ranked as the No. 1 or 2 team in the country was more a product of how the Huskers ended last season than what the team had done this year.
The ranking at the end of the year is a reflection of how you did in the NCAA Tournament, and that’s about how you start the next year, too.
Now Nebraska has dropped to No. 5 in the poll after a humbling, three-set loss against Wisconsin last week. Nebraska hadn’t been swept in its previous 84 matches, dating to the 2016 national semifinals against Texas.
It came against a good Wisconsin team that is playing better since the conference season began, and beat two top-five teams last week.
During its recent run of success Nebraska has been known as a team that improved a lot during the season and got really good in the final two months — Nebraska was ranked No. 6 when it reached the national championship match last year — and it's matches like the loss to the Badgers that can help Nebraska improve for the second part of the season.
“I hate losing, but I’m a really firm believer that a team that experiences that kind of adversity, it’s just going to make them that much stronger, and they’re really going to have to come together,” said Nebraska assistant coach Kayla Banwarth.
“I think learning about ourselves in this defeat will ultimately help us build up and be a stronger team.”
Banwarth and assistant coach Jaylen Reyes were on the Nebraska volleyball radio show on the Husker Sports Network on Tuesday in place of coach John Cook. Cook was attending a high school volleyball match to watch Husker commit Annika Evans.
Wisconsin was a force against the Huskers, hitting .376 for the best offensive match against the Huskers since 2011.
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It’s possible that Nebraska could lose some of the confidence it had built while starting the season with an 11-1 record, but Banwarth doesn’t expect that to happen.
“They’re on a mission to be great,” she said.
More swings for Stivrins: In the Nebraska-Wisconsin match, fans were treated to the play of what Reyes considers the two best middle blockers in the country with Wisconsin's Dana Rettke and Nebraska’s Lauren Stivrins.
One difference was that Rettke got 20 hitting attempts in the match, while Stivrins got 11. Stivrins is Nebraska's best attacker, and could help the Huskers if she could get more hitting attempts.
If Nebraska is going to set Stivrins more, the Huskers need to pass serves at a higher level. But Wisconsin also is able to set Rettke often after a dig, and Nebraska could try to do that more also, Reyes said.
“There are times when (Stivrins) can become more available to get set,” Reyes said. “So maybe that’s an extra set or two a night, and if we pass the ball a little better, there’s an extra set or two a night. Then you go from 11 or 12 swings to 15 or 16.”
Sweet still improving: Junior right-side hitter Jazz Sweet continues to be one of the highlights of the season. Her averages of 2.74 kills per set with a .302 hitting percentage are the best of her career by a wide margin.
Without All-American outside hitter Mikaela Foecke this season, Nebraska needed a player to take on a greater role.
“We need someone to do that this year, so someone has to step up, and I think Jazz realizes that and that’s something she’s willing to take on her shoulders,” Banwarth said. “Jazz is coming alive for sure, and when we need someone to put a ball away in a critical moment, she’s stepping up.”