One thing’s for certain. Nebraska certainly isn’t easing into its first Big Ten conference schedule. The Huskers welcome the No. 5 Penn State Nittany Lions to the NU Coliseum on Wednesday night in their first Big Ten conference match.
Nebraska (7-1) is fresh off a 3-0 sweep of No. 12 Iowa State at the Devaney Center last Saturday during which the Huskers held ISU to a .087 hitting percentage and 36 kills. If Nebraska is to win Wednesday night, the numbers suggest that it will come down to hitting percentage. Nebraska ranks first in the Big Ten in opponent hitting percentage at a scant .102. What’s more, the Huskers are 7-0 this season when holding opponents below .200 hitting. Conversely, they’re 0-1 when opposing teams hit above .200.
|Penn State at Nebraska|
|Kills Per Set||13.08||13.50|
|Assists Per Set||11.89||12.63|
|NCAA Team and Individual Statistics|
How do the Nittany Lions stack up? The Nittany Lions are averaging a .283 hitting percentage, while holding opponents to an average of .149.
The Huskers enter the match with three players among the Big Ten’s top 10 in blocks. Hayley Thramer is first (1.65), while Jordan Wilberger is third (1.50) and Morgan Broekhuis is ninth (1.23).
Penn State is coming off of three wins at home over the weekend, sweeping both Long Island and Rutgers before defeating Florida Gulf Coast, 3-1 to improve its record to 7-3. The Nittany Lions are led by sophomore outside hitter Deja McClendon who has 137 kills so far in 2011 (3.70 per set). Sophomore middle hitter Katie Slay was named the Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. She recorded 1.9 blocks per set in three matches last weekend. She matched a career high with 10 total blocks against Florida Gulf Coast.
Freshman setter Micha Hancock has 334 assists for the Nittany Lions in 2011, averaging 9.28 per set.
Penn State is the highest ranked team to come to the NU Coliseum since No. 2 Texas on Sept. 26, 2009. Nebraska lost that match 3-1. The Nittany Lions have met four top-20 teams in 2011, including No. 2 Stanford, No. 8 Texas, No. 12 USC and No. 15 Oregon. PSU holds a 1-3 record against those schools, beating USC 3-2 on Aug. 27.
Penn State head coach Russ Rose said that he knows what lies ahead Wednesday.
“We’re going to be stepping up pretty big in the level of competition so we’ll see how we do against the conference teams,” Rose said. “I think the conference teams are going to be much more physical than the teams we saw this [past] weekend.”
Nebraska’s biggest advantage may be where the match is taking place. Penn State middle-hitter Ariel Scott has heard about how overwhelming and how intense the packed house of Nebraska’s home court can get.
“[Communication] is going to be a huge factor,” Scott said. “They’re going to have so many fans it’s going to be really loud, so that’s probably going to be one of the biggest things. We need to always be talking to each other, at the net be calling out hitters and the same with passers I’m sure. It’s going to be crazy so it’s going to be really important.”
Penn State and Nebraska have met 17 times, with Nebraska leading the all-time series 11-6. The last time the two schools met was on Dec. 18, 2008 in the NCAA semifinals at the Qwest Center in Omaha. Penn State was pushed to a fifth set for the first time all season and won the match 3-2 (25-17, 25-18, 25-15, 25-22, 15-11) in front of a record crowd of 17,430 fans.
Incidentally, if you’re only able to catch some of the match (it will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network), you’ll probably want to make sure to see the first set. Under head coach John Cook, the Huskers are 309-9 when winning the opening stanza.
Don’t be late.