LINCOLN -- Kelly Hunter was back full-time operating a one-setter offense, and the Nebraska volleyball team has the look of a top-10 ranked team again.
With the senior setter moving closer to full-strength after missing the first two matches of the season with an injury, Nebraska swept both matches of a two-match weekend series against UCLA.
On Saturday, Mikaela Foecke had 12 kills to lead 12th-ranked Nebraska to a 25-15, 25-19, 25-17 win against the No. 11 Bruins at the Devaney Sports Center.
NU has won five straight matches by sweep, after starting the season 0-2.
Nebraska had a .301 hitting percentage Saturday, and held UCLA to .133 hitting. Both teams had a similar number of hitting attempts in the match, but UCLA had 10 fewer kills, in part because of the Huskers’ 48 digs.
“We dug some really tough shots,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “I saw some balls dug I’ve never seen dug before from our team.”
For several months Cook has been intrigued about the prospect of playing a program like UCLA on back-to-back nights. On Saturday, he was shocked at how well it went. The Bruins only scored more than 20 points in a set one time in two matches.
“If you would have asked me two days ago if we would beat these guys 3-0, 3-0, I would have never believed it,” Cook said. “Not only did we play well (Friday) night, I thought we took it up another notch tonight. And UCLA played better.”
While some of the players are different, NU being in a one-setter offense with Hunter makes the Huskers look more like the team that won a conference championship last season. Running that offense allows the Huskers to sub in more serving and defensive specialists such as Sydney Townsend and Haley Densberger, who can impact a match.
“You saw our floor defense is significantly better. Our passing is significantly better,” said Cook of being back in a 5-1 offense.
The Huskers probably take a step back in blocking in that system, and it puts more pressure on the front-row hitters to be good, with one less hitting option at times.
Nebraska also benefits from having the skill of Hunter, a second-team All-American, and her experience playing most of the match. She had 31 set assists and 14 digs Saturday.
Hunter helped several of her teammates have good matches. Jazz Sweet had 10 kills on 17 attempts, and Annika Albrecht eight kills on 17 error-free swings.
Nebraska had five players with at least five kills, and Hunter thinks the Huskers are inching closer to the balanced attack that has helped NU so much in recent seasons.
“I feel like we have hot hitters in every position, and I could set the ball wherever I want at any time and it will be a kill,” Hunter said.
From the first match to the second match of the weekend, Cook said the Bruins changed where they started in the rotation, and tried to set the middle blocker position more. UCLA did a better job blocking the Huskers’ middle attack.
NU ran a few plays Saturday that it hadn't the previous night.
“We ran what we call a combination,” Cook said. “So we ran crossing patterns, and that’s another thing that freed up Jazz. So we ran two players in the middle of the court, and of course everything focuses on them, and then we set to Jazz. And we ran what we call up the gut. We did that a couple of times tonight. We didn’t always set it, but it freed up somebody to get an easy kill on the pin.”
Hunter was impressed to see what Albrecht did in her biggest weekend as a front-row attacker. In the second set she had four kills on eight attempts.
“It’s always really cool to see her go off, because she has such a heavy arm, and she really rips it,” Hunter said.
Cook is also really impressed with Densberger, the freshman walk-on from Malcolm, who served tough when NU won five consecutive points in the third set.
“Her serving numbers might be the highest on our team, how we grade serving,” Cook said. “She’s really giving teams fits.”