Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Huskers Adjust Against Crafty Hofstra

By Brian Rosenthal

Just because Hofstra didn’t boast the size and power you’ll see on most Big Ten volleyball teams didn’t mean it wouldn't be a formidable foe for Nebraska.

On the contrary, the Pride’s slower pace and craftier play with a roster full of international players provided the Huskers an early challenge in the first round of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament on Friday night.

Once Nebraska adjusted, all was well, and the Huskers had a lesson learned in discipline and execution after a 25-19, 25-12, 25-15 sweep of the Colonial Conference champions before 8,358 fans at the Devaney Sports Center.

“I was really impressed with Hofstra game one,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “They came to play and played fearless and did some really nice things.”

No. 6 seed Nebraska (25-6) will host former conference rival Missouri (24-7) in the second round Saturday night at 7.

The Tigers, Cook said, will be much more comparable to a Big Ten foe, what with their physical outside hitters and experienced middle.

Hosftra, meanwhile, lacked that big, physical stature, but made up for it with creative, crafty plays. That explained how the Pride hit .333 in the first set against a Nebraska defense that entered with the nation’s No. 1 opponent hitting percentage of .130.

“If you’re not disciplined, they make you pay,” Cook said. “We got caught a little bit.”

Nebraska adjusted and began blocking and digging much better thereafter, breaking away from an 11-11 tie in the first set, and then winning the final two sets in more dominating fashion, holding Hofstra to .000 and .083 hitting.

“We came in knowing we are playing a great program and we wanted to really make sure we competed and played our best match of our season,” Hofstra coach Emily Mansur said. “We knew that was the only way we would really have a shot to put a nice match out there. Unfortunately, it didn’t go the way that we wanted.”

Perhaps Nebraska’s biggest adjustment was going lower on blocks. Sophomore middle Lauren Stivrins explained how Nebraska players were going too high, and Hofstra was using that to its advantage.

“They were kind of using us, and with craftier teams, you need to be low and over,” Stivrins said, “so went back to being disciplined and low and over, and slowed it down.”

Stivrins paced Nebraska with a match-high 12 kills, the first double-figure kill match of her NCAA Tournament career. Stivrins recorded her 12 kills on only 18 swings, hitting .500. Five or six of her kills came off tips and roll drops, meaning Stivrins was crafty in her own right.

“I think she’s unlike any other middle,” Nebraska sophomore hitter Lexi Sun said. “She has lots of options and uses her tips and stuff. The defense doesn’t know what’s coming.”

Sun, a transfer, had nine kills in her first Nebraska NCAA Tournament, as several newcomers shook off some early nerves in their first postseason experience.

“It’s good to get this one out of the way,” Cook said. “It’s like the first weekend we played Florida. Everybody was really nervous and out of it, and the next day we came back and played great.

“I just think you get it out of the way, now we can focus to playing a great match tomorrow.”

Missouri, ranked No. 24 nationally, swept Arizona 25-17, 25-22, 25-18 in Friday’s afternoon match.

“They’ll be a lot more similar to what we’re used to,” Cook said of the Tigers, now in the Southeastern Conference. “They played great today.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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