Huskers Host Top-15 Teams This Weekend
The seventh-ranked Nebraska volleyball team opens its season this weekend with a pair of top-15 showdowns at the Bob Devaney Sports Center as part of the 2014 AVCA Showcase. The Huskers face 13th-ranked Florida State on Friday at 7 p.m., before taking on No. 3 Stanford on Sunday. In a change from the original schedule, Sunday’s match will start at Noon and will be televised live by the Big Ten Network.
Facing ranked opponents will be a common theme for Nebraska this season in the 40th anniversary of volleyball becoming an official varsity sport at NU. The Huskers will play 13 of their 29 regular-season matches against teams ranked in the preseason poll, the second-highest total nationally. Nebraska also will see its share of successful postseason teams, as NU will play 12 matches against teams that advanced to a 2013 NCAA Regional (round of 16) or further. Nine of those 12 matches will come during the Big Ten Conference season, while the Big Ten also has eight programs ranked among the top 16 teams in the preseason poll.
Before the Huskers turn their attention to the competitive conference season, a young Nebraska squad has a chance to make an immediate splash on the national scene this weekend. NU is the only top-10 team facing a pair of ranked opponents in the opening weekend. Sunday’s match-up with No. 3 Stanford is the lone top-10 match-up of the opening weekend.
Nebraska is opening the season against a ranked opponent for the first time since a sweep of No. 14 Kentucky in the 2010 AVCA Showcase at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha. The Huskers will be facing a ranked opponent in the season opener for the eighth time in Head Coach John Cook’s 15 seasons. Nebraska is 6-1 when facing a ranked opponent under Cook in the season opener. With two wins this weekend, the Huskers would open the season with consecutive victories over ranked opponents for the first time since 2008 and just the fourth time in program history.
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 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 Florida State Seminoles
Florida State earned a No. 13 ranking in the preseason AVCA poll after posting a 26-8 record that included a second-place ACC finish in 2013. FSU advanced to its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament last season, falling to national runner-up Wisconsin in the NCAA Regional Semifinal before earning a No. 11 final ranking.
Florida State ranked 19th nationally with a .266 hitting percentage in 2013, and the Seminoles were 37th with an average of 13.9 kills per set. FSU also ranked 22nd with 2.8 blocks per set.
FSU is led in 2014 by second-year captains Katie Mosher and Sarah Wickstrom, the Seminoles’ only seniors. The duo has guided Florida State to an 82-19 record the past three seasons.
Mosher tallied 506 digs in 2013, when she was a second-team All-ACC selection. Mosher’s dig total ranked fifth in FSU history, and her efforts earned her an invite to try out for the U.S. Collegiate National Team that toured China this summer. Wickstrom guided an FSU offense that led the ACC with a .266 hitting percentage in 2013. She recorded a team-high 854 assists in a two-setter system, splitting time with Hailey Luke (605 assists).
Nicole Walch returns after leading Florida State with 447 kills in 2013. Walch ranked 85th nationally with an average of 3.6 kills per set last fall. Sarah Burrington is back after pacing FSU with 174 blocks in 2013 - ranking 18th nationally with 1.4 blocks per set - while adding 226 kills. The Seminoles must replace four players who tallied more than 150 kills last season, including Elise Walch, who was second on the team with 330 kills.
Florida State is led by Chris Poole, who brings a 156-40 record into his seventh season at FSU. Poole has earned 19 wins over ranked teams. Before he arrived in Tallahassee, Florida State owned just nine wins over ranked teams in the first 27 seasons of the program.
Scouting the Stanford Cardinal
Stanford debuted at No. 3 in the 2014 preseason AVCA poll, earning a preseason top-10 ranking for the 33rd consecutive season, spanning the entire history of the poll dating back to 1982. The Cardinal finished as the Pac-12 runner-up in 2013, compiling a 27-6 record. Stanford saw its season end in the NCAA Regional Final, when eventual national champion Penn State knocked off the Cardinal in five sets. Stanford ended the 2013 season ranked fifth.
Stanford returns four starters, plus its libero, from last year’s squad. The Cardinal ranked among the nation’s top 30 teams last season in blocks per set (4th, 3.0), hitting percentage (4th, .308), assists per set (9th, 13.8), kills per set (10th, 14.8) and digs per set (28th, 16.8). Stanford returns 2013 All-America selections Inky Ajanaku (first team), Madi Bugg (second team), Jordan Burgess (honorable mention) and Kyle Gilbert (honorable mention). The Cardinal must replace middle blocker Carly Wopat, a two-time first-team All-American.
While Wopat led the team in kills (315) and blocks (156), Stanford returns three players who had more than 290 kills in 2013. Burgess tallied 309 kills, while Brittany Howard registered 304 kills. Ajanaku put down 291 kills and hit a team-high .438, the ninth-best percentage nationally. Ajanaku also finished second to Wopat with 148 blocks, ranking 21st nationally. Gilbert returns after ranking second in the Pac-12 with 5.0 digs per set in 2013, while Bugg will again lead the Stanford offense after averaging a conference-best 11.9 assists per set, a total that ranked seventh nationally.
Stanford is led by John Dunning, who has compiled a 368-67 record entering his 14th season with the Cardinal. Dunning ranks fifth nationally among all NCAA Division I active coaches in career winning percentage, just ahead of NU’s John Cook. Dunning has led Stanford to a pair of NCAA titles and four runner-up finishes.
- Nebraska features the fewest seniors (1) and most underclassmen (11) in school history this fall.
- With its preseason No. 7 ranking, Nebraska has appeared in every one of the AVCA’s 463 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 with its preseason No. 7 ranking.
- The Huskers are 224-0 under Cook when hitting .300 or better.
- NU is 364-14 (.963) when winning the first set under John Cook.
- Nebraska is 138-37 against ranked teams under Cook (.789).
- Just over one-third of Cook’s total victories at Nebraska (415) have come against ranked teams.
- Nebraska is 35-4 all-time in season openers, including 13-1 under Cook.
- Including this weekend, NU will have played five straight matches vs. ranked opponents dating back to 2013.
- The Huskers played nine of their final 14 matches in 2013 against ranked teams, going 6-3 in that stretch.
- Nebraska is the only top-10 team that will play two matches against ranked opponents in the opening weekend.
- Sunday’s match with Stanford is the only match of the opening weekend featuring a pair of top-10 teams.
- This weekend will mark the 202nd and 203rd consecutive sellouts. NU owns a 188-13 record during the streak.
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 setters and went on to record 1,279 assists. Pollmiller ranks third nationally in career assists (4,019), 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-mentioin 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 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 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.
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 4,019 career assists entering this season, 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.
Keil and Fien Hope Strong 2013 Finishes Aide Bids For 2014 Starting Roles
Junior outside hitter Kelsey Fien and sophomore middle blocker Melanie Keil are both competing for starting spots this season. While both players figure to see action in Nebraska’s rotation, their bids for starting roles were boosted by strong performances at the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
- Fien saw her most extensive action in three months in Nebraska’s sweep of Fairfield in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, totaling eight kills on 15 swings. Her eight kills were the third-highest total of her career, and Fien’s .467 hitting percentage and one error were both career bests among the seven matches where she has taken at least 10 swings.
- Keil produced 10 kills on 19 swings with six blocks while appearing in two of Nebraska’s four NCAA Tournament matches last season. She came up one shy of her career high with five kills apiece against Fairfield and No. 1 Texas. With Nebraska’s other middle blockers struggling against the top-ranked Longhorns, Keil produced five kills on nine error-free swings after sitting out NU’s previous two NCAA Tournament matches.
- Keil’s NCAA Tournament performance highlighted a strong overall finish to her freshman season. While appearing in 10 of Nebraska’s final 13 matches, Keil totaled 27 of her 32 kills and 21 of her 29 blocks in November and December. She was one of the Huskers’ best attackers against top competition, as she combined for seven kills in only 14 swings against Penn State and Texas.
Husker History in Season Openers
Nebraska is 35-4 all-time in season openers, including a 13-1 record under 15th-year Head Coach John Cook. The Huskers have won four straight season openers since suffering a 3-0 loss to No. 16 Michigan at the 2009 AVCA Showcase in Omaha. NU owns a 20-3 record when the season opener is played in Lincoln, and the Huskers are 8-3 when facing a ranked opponent in the season opener, including 6-1 under Cook.
Tough Schedule Begins This Weekend
Nebraska is scheduled to play 13 of its 29 matches this season against teams that were ranked in the preseason AVCA Top 25. NU will begin its tough slate immediately by facing 13th-ranked Florida State on Friday and No. 3 Stanford on Sunday.
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 playing 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 ranked teams 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.
During Nebraska’s summer trip to Japan and China, the players and coaching staff gathered and discussed captains for the upcoming season. The players unanimously selected Mary Pollmiller as captain, and Pollmiller then sought help in leading the 2014 Huskers. After Pollmiller’s request for additional captains, junior Alicia Ostrander and sophomore Justine Wong-Orantes were also named captains.