The 12th-ranked Nebraska volleyball team hits the road for the first time this weekend with three matches at the Flyer-Raider Invitational, co-hosted by Dayton and Wright State. The Huskers open the tournament on Friday against Dayton at 6 p.m. (Central) at the Frericks Center, the Flyers’ home arena. The Big Red will then play back-to-back matches on Saturday against Bakersfield at 10 a.m. (Central) and Eastern Kentucky at 2 p.m. (Central). All three of the Huskers’ matches will be played at the Frericks Center, while other matches of the invite will be played on Wright State’s court at C.J. McLin Gymnasium in Fairborn, Ohio. The tournament field includes seven teams: Nebraska, Dayton, Bakersfield, Eastern Kentucky, Wright State, Bowling Green and IPFW.
The Huskers (0-2) are looking to bounce back from home losses to two top-15 opponents last weekend in the AVCA Showcase. NU opened the season on Friday at the Devaney Center against No. 13 Florida State and lost 3-1 after winning the opening set. The Huskers then hosted No. 3 Stanford on Sunday and dropped the match 3-0.
Friday’s match marks the second season in a row the Huskers will have faced Dayton. NU swept the Flyers 25-20, 25-21, 25-13 at the Ameritas Players Challenge at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Sept. 13, 2013. In that match Amber Rolfzen had 10 kills and 13 digs, while Mary Pollmiller dished out 34 assists. Nebraska held Dayton to a .010 hitting percentage. The Huskers will be meeting Bakersfield and Eastern Kentucky for the first time in school history.
Fans can listen to all the action with John Baylor and Lindsay Peterson on the 25-station Husker Sports Network, including B107.3 FM in Lincoln and The Wolf 93.3 FM in Omaha. Fans outside the state will also be able to catch the live audio feed on Huskers.com. Friday’s match against Dayton will have a free live video stream link available at Huskers.com. Saturday’s matches will be audio only.
Nebraska returns all but one starter from last year’s team, which finished with a 26-7 record and a No. 7 national ranking after a second consecutive trip to an NCAA Regional Final. The one loss is a big one, as outside hitter Kelsey Robinson was the Big Ten Player of the Year, a first-team AVCA All-American and a finalist for the Honda Award. While Robinson’s production will be missed, the Huskers still return the vast majority of their production from a season ago. Nebraska returns 96 percent of its assists from 2013, 73 percent of its blocks, 71 percent of its digs and 67 percent of its kills.
The Huskers also bring back 2013 third-team All-American Kadie Rolfzen, along with honorable-mention All-Americans Mary Pollmiller and Meghan Haggerty. Pollmiller is the lone senior on a 16-player Nebraska roster that features 11 freshmen and sophomores. NU’s one senior ties for the fewest in school history, while the 11 underclassmen tie for the most. Nebraska is also the only preseason ranked team with fewer than two seniors. As the lone senior, Pollmiller is one of three Husker captains for the 2014 season, along with junior outside hitter Alicia Ostrander and sophomore libero Justine Wong-Orantes.
Scouting the Dayton Flyers
Dayton enters the weekend with a 2-1 record after topping Bowling Green 3-1 and Middle Tennessee 3-0 at the Bowling Green Tournament on opening weekend. The Flyers’ lone loss came to Pittsburgh 3-0.
Dayton posted a 16-13 overall record last season and finished fifth place in the Atlantic 10 with an 8-6 record. Dayton has three starters and its libero back in 2014. Junior Jill Loiars is the top returning hitter, recording 258 kills in 2013 to rank second on the team. Junior setter Jenna Jendryk recorded 978 assists last season, and junior libero Janna Krafka led the team with 475 digs.
The Flyers have strung together 19 straight winning seasons and have appeared in the NCAA Tournament nine times, including six straight from 2007-12. Last season was the first in which the Flyers failed to reach the NCAA Tournament since 2006.
The Flyers are led by Tim Horsmon, who returns to the helm at Dayton this season after serving as head coach there from 2003-07. Horsmon led the Flyers to a 128-43 record in his five seasons before becoming the head coach at Maryland. Horsmon went 79-114 as the head coach at Maryland from 2008-13 and left last December to return to Dayton. While at Dayton from 2003-07, Horsmon led the Flyers to four NCAA Tournament appearances, reaching the second round twice and finishing 33-2 overall in his final season in 2007. Overall, Horsmon has 15 years of Division I head coaching experience and is 306-208 overall.
Scouting the Bakersfield Roadrunners
Bakersfield is off to a 2-1 start with sweeps over Mississippi State and Louisiana-Monroe and a 3-0 loss to Sam Houston State at the Sam Houston State Tournament last weekend. The Roadunners will play four matches at the Flyer-Raider Invitational this weekend against IPFW, Bowling Green, NU and Dayton.
Last year, the Roadrunners finished 21-12 overall and 12-4 in the Western Athletic Conference. Bakersfield reached the finals of the WAC Tournament. The Roadrunners must replace a pair of first-team all-conference selections and will look to 2013 second-team all-conference selections Molly O’Hagan and Mariah Alvidrez to do so. O’Hagan, a senior middle blocker, led Bakersfield in 2013 with 94 blocks and was second on the team in hitting (.327) and kills (356). Alvidrez, a senior libero, recorded the fourth-most digs in a season by a Roadrunner (609). Bakersfield returns four starters in all, including outside hitters Danika Youngblood and Kelsee Sawyer.
Giovana Melo is in her first year as head coach, replacing Jolene Shepardson, who took the head coaching job at San Jose State. Melo has Nebraska ties, having coached Western Nebraska Community College for six years, reaching five NJCAA Division I final fours and winning the 2010 NJCAA national championship. She posted a 262-20 record in six years at Western Nebraska CC.
Scouting the Eastern Kentucky Colonels
Eastern Kentucky went 3-1 at the Central Florida Invitational in Orlando, Fla., last weekend. The Colonels topped Northeastern (3-2), Florida International (3-0) and Western Carolina (3-0) but fell to host Central Florida (3-0).
The Colonels finished 18-16 in 2013 for their first winning season in seven years. Senior Dena Ott leads the Colonels, ranking fourth on the all-time EKU chart with 1,831 career digs entering the 2014 season. Ott needs 624 digs this season to break the school record of 2,454. She ranked 43rd in the NCAA last year with 4.9 digs per set. Alexis Plagens was named to the preseason All-OVC team after finishing second for the Colonels last year with 2.94 kills per set and 385 total kills. Senior setter Abbey Cvelbar was named Ohio Valley Conference Setter of the Week on Monday after posting 49 assists with 12 kills and only two errors in the win over Northeastern last weekend. In the other three matches on the weekend she tallied 31, 30 and 35 assists. Eastern Kentucky plays its home opener on Wednesday against Marshall before heading to Dayton.
Lori Duncan is in her 17th season as the head coach at Eastern Kentucky. She is 211-276 at the helm at EKU entering Wednesday’s match against Marshall. Duncan’s teams captured shares of Ohio Valley Conference regular-season titles in 2004 and 2005, and her 2004 squad won the conference tournament to earn the OVC’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
• Nebraska features the fewest seniors (1) and most underclassmen (11) in school history this season.
• With its No. 12 ranking, Nebraska has appeared in every one of the AVCA’s 464 all-time weekly polls.
• NU and Stanford are the only two programs to appear in every AVCA poll, dating back to its inception in 1982.
• Nebraska has spent a nation-leading 418 weeks in the top 10.
• The Huskers are 224-0 under Cook when hitting .300 or better.
• NU is 364-15 (.960) when winning the first set under John Cook.
• Nebraska is 138-39 against ranked teams under Cook (.780).
• Just over one-third of Cook’s total victories at Nebraska (413) have come against ranked teams.
• Dating back to last season, NU has played five straight matches against ranked opponents, a streak that will end this weekend.
• The Huskers played nine of their final 14 matches in 2013 against ranked teams, going 6-3 in that stretch.
• Last weekend’s matches marked the 202nd and 203rd consecutive sellouts for Nebraska volleyball. NU owns a 188-15 record during the streak.
Strong Start for Ostrander
Junior outside hitter Alicia Ostrander took advantage of her increased role in the Husker lineup in a big way on opening weekend. After redshirting in her first season at Nebraska and playing sparingly as a freshman and sophomore, Ostrander stepped right into the starting lineup in the season opener against Florida State and produced a career-high 18 kills to lead the Big Red. The 6-3 native of Gordon, Neb., entered the season with a career high of five kills against Saint Mary’s on Sept. 12, 2013. She more than tripled that last Friday and her 18 kills nearly equaled her entire kill total (19) of last year. For the weekend, Ostrander recorded a team-leading 23 kills.
Huskers Serve Up Youth in 2014
The 2014 Nebraska volleyball team is one of the youngest squads in the nation and arguably the youngest in program history. The Huskers’ 16-player roster features one senior (Mary Pollmiller), four juniors, six sophomores and five freshmen.
• The one senior on this year’s roster ties for the fewest in Nebraska history, as this marks the seventh time in the 40-year history of the program that a Husker team has had only one senior.
• Nebraska boasts 11 underclassmen on its roster, tied for the most underclassmen on a roster in school history. Nebraska’s 1978 roster featured 14 underclassmen and its 1979 roster featured 12 underclassmen, but NU fielded both a varsity and JV team both seasons, and the varsity roster consisted of fewer than 11 underclassmen.
• The Huskers feature the fewest seniors of any team that was ranked in the preseason AVCA Top 25.
• Of the more than 330 Division I volleyball programs, Nebraska is one of 48 teams featuring one or no senior.
• NU is one of 64 teams nationally with 11 or more underclassmen on its 2014 roster.
A Brief Look at the 2014 Nebraska Volleyball Team
Despite being among the youngest squads in school history, Nebraska returns plenty of experience from a 2013 campaign that saw the Huskers post a 26-7 record, advance to an NCAA Regional Final for the second consecutive season and finish the year with a No. 7 ranking. Although the Huskers feature the fewest seniors (1) and most underclassmen (11) in school history this fall, Nebraska still returns five starters - plus libero Justine Wong-Orantes - from 2013.
The lone player Nebraska must replace is a key loss, as Kelsey Robinson concluded her career by earning first-team All-America honors in 2013. She was also chosen as the Big Ten Player of the Year and a finalist for the Honda Award. Robinson led NU in kills (530), attacks (1,206) and aces (32) last fall, while ranking second in digs (229) and fourth in blocks (70). Despite Robinson’s graduation, Nebraska still returns plenty of production in 2014.
• Nebraska returns 96 percent of its assists from last season, led by senior Mary Pollmiller. After splitting time early last season with Kelly Hunter, Pollmiller emerged as the Huskers’ full-time setter and went on to record 1,279 assists. Pollmiller ranks third nationally in career assists (4,092), and she earned honorable-mention All-America accolades in 2011 and 2013.
• NU returns every middle blocker from the 2013 roster. Four Huskers saw action at middle blocker last season, and all four players were either freshmen or sophomores. The group figures to benefit from another year of experience, as Nebraska aims to improve upon its No. 14 national ranking in blocks last season. Junior Meghan Haggerty, an honorable-mention All-America selection in each of her first two seasons, paces the middles, while sophomore Cecilia Hall was an honorable-mention all-region pick as a redshirt freshman in 2013.
• Led by returning libero Justine Wong-Orantes, Nebraska returns 71 percent of its digs from last season. Wong-Orantes tied the Husker freshman record with 399 digs in 2013, and she is one of four returning Huskers who totaled more than 200 digs last year.
• Offensively, Nebraska returns more than two-thirds of its kills from a year ago, despite Robinson’s absence. Sophomore Kadie Rolfzen, a third-team All-American last fall, is the leading returner after she totaled 377 kills in 2013, the third-highest freshman total in school history. Her twin sister Amber added 244 kills and overall, Nebraska returns seven of its top eight kill leaders from last season.
• Nebraska returns three players who garnered All-America recognition in 2013, including third-team selection Kadie Rolfzen and honorable-mention picks Mary Pollmiller and Meghan Haggerty.
Huskers’ Lone Senior Among the Nation’s Best
Tri-captain Mary Pollmiller is Nebraska’s lone senior in 2014. The Huskers may only have one senior, but Pollmiller is one of the nation’s top setters. She is in her second season at Nebraska after spending her first two years at Tennessee in 2011 and 2012. Pollmiller was the 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year, and she has earned honorable-mention AVCA All-America accolades twice in her career, including last season (also in 2011). Pollmiller owns 4,092 career assists, a total that ranks third nationally. The nation’s top three active players in career assists are all Big Ten Conference setters.
Top Freshmen Look to Build on Impressive Rookie Seasons
Sophomores Kadie Rolfzen and Justine Wong-Orantes produced two of Nebraska’s top statistical freshman seasons at their positions in 2013. Rolfzen, an outside hitter, tallied 377 kills as a freshman, while Wong-Orantes produced a team-leading 399 digs.
• Rolfzen’s 377 kills and 3.46 kills per set both ranked as the third-highest totals ever by a Husker freshman.
• Rolfzen was named a third-team AVCA All-American as a freshman, and she was also the AVCA North Region Freshman of the Year and a first-team All-Big Ten selection.
• Wong-Orantes’ 399 digs tied for the highest freshman total in Husker history.
• In 2013, Wong-Orantes became just the third Husker freshman to lead the team in digs.
• This fall, Wong-Orantes will look to become the first player in school history to lead the Huskers in digs as both a freshman and sophomore.
Tough Road Ahead
Nebraska is scheduled to play 13 of its 29 matches this season against teams that were ranked in the preseason AVCA Top 25. NU began its tough slate immediately by facing 13th-ranked Florida State and No. 3 Stanford on opening weekend.
Nebraska is set to face four ranked teams in its nine-game non-conference schedule before playing nine of its 20 Big Ten Conference matches against ranked teams. The Big Ten placed eight teams in the preseason AVCA poll, with all eight teams ranked in the top 16.
• Forty-five percent of NU’s regular-season matches will come against teams ranked in the preseason.
• The Huskers are the only top-10 team that played a pair of ranked opponents in the opening weekend.
• Nebraska’s 13 matches against preseason ranked teams are the second-highest total nationally.
• The Huskers played a school-record 15 regular-season matches against ranked teams last season, a mark Nebraska could challenge this season.
• NU’s four non-conference matches against teams ranked in the preseason poll are the third-most of any top-25 team.
• Among the 13 matches against preseason top-25 teams are six matches vs. top-10 opponents.
• Nebraska will host the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the AVCA preseason poll.
• In addition to the ranked opponents, NU will play 15 matches - more than half its schedule - against 2013 NCAA Tournament teams, including 12 matches against teams that advanced to the round of 16.