LINCOLN -- Did the current Nebraska volleyball team just upstage Jordan Larson?
Larson, the former Husker who is still playing and one of the best volleyball players in the world, had her jersey retired during the Huskers’ match against Minnesota on Friday at the Devaney Sports Center.
If a player was ever the face of Nebraska volleyball, it’s her.
The Huskers were also pretty impressive Friday, sweeping the third-ranked Gophers 25-21, 25-18, 25-13. That gives the No. 8 Huskers two wins against top-five teams in the past two weeks.
Of course, she’s still Jordan Larson, so we’ll rank her and the Huskers 1A and 1B on Friday. The humble and low-key Larson would probably prefer to be behind the Huskers.
Nebraska played really well, with a .301 hitting percentage while holding Minnesota to .183 hitting. NU recorded 52 kills, while Minnesota had just 33.
Minnesota is known for the speed at which it runs its offense, and when it works, it’s impressive. Nebraska beat the Gophers’ speed with a balanced offensive attack — four players had at least 10 kills — and good defense for the dominating win.
Last week, Nebraska (10-3, 3-0 Big Ten) also played very well in a sweep at No. 2 Penn State.
This conference can humble you quickly, and that could happen when the Huskers play No. 7 Wisconsin on Saturday.
But for now, NU setter Kelly Hunter said the Huskers are making coach John Cook a happy man.
“It’s kind of weird to hear him quiet,” Hunter said. “He’s not as talkative, and it’s like sometimes during the match I kind of felt like he didn’t know what to say. Obviously, we weren’t playing perfect.
"I think he’s really proud of us. It’s not like we’re playing amazing, but we’re just playing point-by-point, and having a really quick mind-set and a really good mentality about it, and I think that’s something you can’t really coach. So I think he’s really proud of us for that.”
Nebraska’s balanced attack included 22 combined kills from middle blockers Lauren Stivrins and Briana Holman, with each getting 11. Annika Albrecht also had 11 kills, and the Huskers’ other outside hitter, Mikaela Foecke, had 10. Freshman right-side hitter Jazz Sweet had eight kills.
The balanced attack was a product of the good work the Huskers did passing Minnesota's serves. Assistant coach Kayla Banwarth told the players after the match that as a team they rated a 3.0 in passing on a four-point scale, which is “unheard of.”
Outside hitter Alexis Hart had 13 kills to lead the Gophers; freshman Stephanie Samedy had eight, and Regan Pittman added seven. But after that, the Gophers had a big drop-off.
“It’s hard to win with three players killing the ball,” Cook said.
Nebraska had five ace serves with only one serving error. Minnesota only had one ace serve.
The Huskers served tough, Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon said, which meant the Gophers couldn’t take advantage of their talented attackers as much as they’d like.
“They were just really clean,” McCutcheon said of the Huskers. “They executed well and they were consistently good the whole match.”
In the first set, Nebraska used some early success scoring on slide attacks from Holman and Stivrins to get out to an 11-7 lead, and the good plays just kept coming.
Kenzie Maloney served an ace, and Foecke tipped a shot over the top of two blockers one rally after she had was stuffed by those same blockers. Sweet scored on an out-of-system swing.
Minnesota fought back by winning five straight points to cut its deficit to 18-17.
But Nebraska got another big finish to a set, which has been a strength of this team. The Huskers won the final three points of the set on kills by Sweet and Albrecht. Minnesota hit out on set point.
The second set was tied at eight, but then the Huskers took control by winning 11 of the next 15 rallies.
During one memorable rally in that set, freshman Hayley Densberger from Malcolm kept coming up with big digs before Albrecht won the point with a kill for an 18-12 lead. Her teammates mobbed Densberger after winning the point, and Cook said Densberger “ignited” the crowd.
“Those were Justine-type plays that she made, and that’s why they got so excited,” Cook said, referring to former Husker All-America libero Justine Wong-Orantes.
In the third set, Densberger came up big again during a long serving run that put the Huskers up 9-4, and Nebraska was on its way to another sweep.
During the intermission, Larson’s jersey was retired. She’s the eighth player to receive that honor, and the first since the team moved to the Sports Center.
The fans knew what was coming, and gave Larson a huge ovation the moment her feet hit the court, even before she was introduced. The student section held up signs that said, “The Governor.” That’s a nickname given to her years ago by her USA teammates, because it felt like wherever they traveled in the world somebody knew, and wanted to talk with, Larson.
In her remarks to the crowd, Larson said she was happy to be a Husker, and that she’ll represent the University of Nebraska for the rest of her life.