LINCOLN -- So, maybe Mikaela Foecke will be just fine in her new job this season for the Nebraska volleyball team.
It was only a few weeks ago when there were questions whether Nebraska would consider having Foecke go back to being a front-row-only outside hitter, where she could focus on being a great hitter.
This is the first time in her college career when the junior from West Point, Iowa, has been a full-time, six-rotation player, where she has to do all the skills, like pass and dig and be a back-row hitter.
Her first two seasons she was a front-row-only player, where she could come in and crush kills, and then head to the bench and catch her breath and analyze what the defense was doing.
There was a stretch of the season when Foecke’s attacking numbers dipped, but Nebraska coach John Cook stayed with the plan of developing Foecke into a full-time player. He knew it might take some time.
Now Foecke is feeling more confident in her new job, and it’s showing in her play. Foecke has led the Huskers in kills during each of the past five matches, all wins for the seventh-ranked Huskers.
When you’re worried about all the new things you’re required to do, you don’t play as confident and loose, Cook said, but Foecke is doing so now.
“It’s a nice time for her to be raising her level. We need it,” Cook said.
Earlier in the season Cook said there were matches where it looked like Foecke was moving in quicksand. It’s a whole different mindset when you’re a full-time pin hitter, and it takes time to acquire that mindset, Cook said. If being a six-rotation player was easy, more people would do it, but there are fewer than 20 players on Big Ten Conference teams regularly playing all the way around, like Foecke and Annika Albrecht do for the Huskers.
Cook felt like Foecke would get used to her new role on the team and see her hitting numbers improve, he just didn’t know when.
“I told you it was going to be a process going through this,” Cook said. “That’s why we talked about going from good to great, and trying to get to unstoppable."
In the past five matches, Foecke is averaging 4.38 kills per set with a .370 hitting percentage. In the five matches before that, Foecke had averages of 2.7 kills per set and hit .169.
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As the season has gone on, Foecke says she’s gotten more comfortable playing all the way around. And how well she is playing in the back row can have an impact on how she plays in the front row, Foecke said.
"I feel like if you’re struggling in the front row, you have a chance to pick it up in the back row, and vice versa," Foecke said.
In three of the past five matches, Foecke has only had one hitting error — getting blocked or hitting out — which is an impressive accomplishment considering she had at least 25 attempts in each of those matches, and is sometimes taking out-of-system swings that are easier to defend.
During that stretch Foecke says she’s done a better job of seeing where the blockers are. When you do that, Foecke said, you know where to hit, and where not to.
Foecke said she also had to get back to doing what she does best, which everybody knows is crushing kills, but is still pretty cool when you hear her say it.
“For a while you just have to be who you are, and so seeing the block and hitting hard is kind of who I am, so that’s just how you have to do it,” Foecke said. “For a few weeks I wasn’t looking for the block, and obviously that showed in the errors.”
Foecke leads the team with 263 kills, and needs just eight more to reach 1,000 in her college career. She also leads the team in ace serves with 22. She also has 179 digs and 37 blocks.
Cook said Foecke is doing a good job with all the new stuff she’s doing as an all-around player.
“She holds her own passing, and holds her own defensively, and, of course, gives us a threat (hitting) out of the back row. And she’s been a great server her whole career,” Cook said.
Nebraska hosted No. 22 Purdue on Friday to start a stretch of four straight home matches. Nebraska beat Purdue in four sets last month.
The Huskers are tied for first place in the Big Ten with four weeks remaining in the conference season. Being in the race for the conference championship is keeping the Huskers energized in the final month of the regular season, Foecke said.
“I think we’re just pushing forward, and one of our goals is to be a Big Ten champion, and we have that right at our fingertips and we just need to keep pushing for it, and getting after it every single day,” Foecke said.