There were enough signs with Nebraska freshman Madi Kubik to think that once she got a handle on how to play outside hitter in college volleyball that it would click and her career would really take off.
The freshman graduated from high school early, and was a starter during Nebraska’s spring match. Kubik played well during the team’s summer trip to Japan and China.
But then the season began and it didn’t always go smoothly. There were matches in which Kubik was getting blocked or hitting out too much. She had two matches when her hitting percentage was .000.
Then you had to begin to wonder if it would click for Kubik this season, where she would consistently have good or great matches.
Nebraska coach John Cook remained confident that would happen.
“That’s why I recruited her,” Cook said. “We gave her a $250,000 scholarship, so, yeah.”
And once things clicked for Kubik -- sometime in October -- they really did. Now there are matches where it looks like she’s been in college for a few years.
In a win against then-No. 20 Purdue, Kubik’s 22 kills were 11 more than any of her teammates. When Lexi Sun struggled against Iowa, Kubik had 19 kills to help Nebraska avoid a major upset.
During the first 14 matches of the season Kubik had just a .177 hitting percentage, but for the 13 matches since she’s hit .246. She’s given Nebraska another strong hitting option it will need as the Huskers work to make a fifth straight NCAA Final Four.
Kubik’s improvement as a hitter can be attributed to two main reasons: confidence, and adding more shots to her repertoire.
“I think confidence is a big thing,” Kubik said. “And I think really working on having a large amount of shots and being able to hit balls around the whole floor, and not just having one shot, so it’s harder for a team to scout.”
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Kubik has gotten help from the team’s sport psychologist, Brett Haskell, on confidence and being able to stay composed during the chaos that comes with playing in long rallies during matches, and in loud arenas.
“It’s just being able to play in a way that I’m not worried about all of the outside stuff, and I can focus on point-by-point,” Kubik said.
When you have confidence it can make a huge difference, she added.
“I would just say wanting the ball and expecting to be set and knowing that I have the capabilities to get a kill, and bring energy to the team by doing that,” Kubik said.
In high school Kubik’s size and strength meant she could get kills with just a few types of shots. Against the great teams you play in the Big Ten you have to work harder than that.
And now her favorite shot is one she’s just recently added, a short shot to the opposite side of the court.
“I think it’s sick when you go (zone) four to (zone) four, that chop shot. It’s so hard to defend,” Kubik said. “It’s kind of a beach volleyball shot. We kind of started adding that midseason, just working on it in practice. (Wisconsin’s Molly Haggerty) has that shot. So we’ve been training on digging that, so we have to hit it to dig it.”
Kubik’s array of shots were on display last week when Nebraska earned one of its biggest wins against Minnesota. She had a match-high 20 kills and hit .292.
“She put on a clinic in Minnesota,” Cook said. “Tips, the cut shot. She’s got all the shots."
Kubik was awesome in the fifth set of that match, which the Huskers won 15-3. She had seven kills on nine attempts. Kubik also had the block that gave the Huskers a 7-3 lead.
“She really took over," said Nebraska captain Lauren Stivrins in an interview on the Big Ten Network. "When she blocked (Stephanie Samedy) in that last set I turned to her and I said, 'Madi, you just won us the game.’ That was a game-changer, and we needed that. She stepped up big time for us.”