Posted 4 weeks ago
By John Axtell
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 sophomore libero Justine Wong-Orantes and Panhandle native and junior outside hitter Alicia Ostrander of Gordon-Rushville High School