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NU volleyball, 8.24

Right-side hitter Jazz Sweet scores against Riley Zuhn (16) and Nicole Drewnick (14) on Saturday during the Red-White Scrimmage at the Devaney Sports Center. 

The first two weeks of practice for the Nebraska volleyball team have been different from other seasons, and could help the Huskers operate at a higher level when they play their first match on Friday against Creighton.

Some years there are close competitions at several positions. And some years that includes the setter position, so there is more rotating of players with the top group. Some years there are freshmen competing for starting spots while also taking part in their first practices with head coach John Cook.

But this season has been different, with the probable starters all having played together since the spring, after freshmen outside hitter Madi Kubik and libero Kenzie Knuckles enrolled early.

Last season outside hitter Lexi Sun was injured to start the year, so Nebraska was working to get Capri Davis and Sami Slaughter ready to be her fill-in.

And Nebraska also benefited this year by getting extra practice during its summer trip to Asia.

So during the preseason, Nebraska has been able to work on things that it wouldn’t have been able to last year at this time.

“Instead of building the race car we were driving the race car from Day 1, so that’s the first thing,” Cook said on Monday. “The second thing is this preseason was three days longer than last year so it allowed us to put together a good training program in how we competed and how we trained and did a good mix of fundamentals, but really good competition days. I just feel like we got a lot more accomplished. We’ve had more time, and we’re so much further ahead.”

Not all college teams started practice on the same day — practice begins based on when classes begin. UNL began the fall semester on Monday.

Having several returning starters and some extra practices has led to a higher level of play in practice.

“I just feel like the level is way higher in the gym,” Cook said. “Now how that transfers to matches I don’t know. We’ll all find out together.”

Cook was impressed with how the Red Team featuring the top players played in the Red-White Scrimmage last week, noting how good that team’s .333 hitting percentage was.

“Typically it’s an ugly, error-filled night. That’s a really good sign,” Cook said.

Huskers No. 2 in Big Ten poll: Nebraska is ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten Conference preseason poll as decided by a vote of the league coaches.

Wisconsin is No. 1 in the poll. Minnesota, the league champion last year, is No. 3. Penn State is No. 4 and Illinois No. 5.

Last year, Nebraska tied for third in the league at 15-5.

Nebraska players Lauren Stivrins, Nicklin Hames and Sun made the preseason Big Ten team.

Nebraska is also ranked No. 2 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association national rankings.

New sets: With a second-year setter in Hames and some experienced hitters, the team is able to run plays that it wasn’t able to at the start of last year.

“We’re definitely more sophisticated offensively than we were last year,” Cook said.

Nebraska may be able to have its hitters hitting a larger variety of shots.

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“Now is it going to be a drastic thing? No, but it’s like a great baseball pitcher where they’re throwing fastballs, curveballs, sliders, and then all of a sudden they got a change-up or a knuckleball,” Cook said. “It’s just something to keep everybody honest.”

Worth quoting: “The line was all the way around the Devaney (Sports Center) second level. But we are not complaining.” — Cook, after the players signed autographs for about two hours after the Red-White match.

Big Ten preseason poll:

1. Wisconsin

2. Nebraska

3. Minnesota

4. Penn State

5. Illinois

6. Purdue

7. Michigan

8. Ohio State

9. Michigan State

10. Maryland

11. Indiana

12. Northwestern

13. Iowa

14. Rutgers

Meet the 2019 Nebraska volleyball team

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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