Let’s crunch some numbers.
We’ve roughly reached the midway point of Nebraska’s 2022 season, and that means the team has already put up a good sample size of numbers in the box score. While numbers don’t tell the entire story in the ever-complicated world of volleyball, a lot of interesting storylines can be gleaned from Nebraska’s season statistics. A variety of lineups, offensive systems, and injuries have led to a fascinating distribution of individual stats.
So, let’s bring in a few storylines here. We’ll be checking out a mixture of player- and team-based stats as we try to paint a picture of where things stand heading into the season’s midpoint.
Top of the Chart
It’s no surprise that Nebraska prides itself on consistent lockdown defense. That area is the focal point of the team’s success yet again, as the Huskers lead the nation in opposing hitting percentage with a 0.115 mark.
Nine of Nebraska’s prior 2022 opponents–Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Tulsa, Pepperdine, Long Beach State, Kentucky, Rutgers, Maryland, Michigan State, and Penn State–have all posted their season-low single-match hitting percentage against the Huskers. It’s a testament to the team’s ability to adapt to a variety of schemes and tempos offered by this wide range of opponents.
This top-ranked opponent hitting percentage is accompanied by ranks of fifth in blocks per set and 83rd nationally in digs per set. Even when the Huskers aren’t getting stuff blocks for the stat sheet, the team has been efficient at creating block touches and “unforced” hitting errors that contribute to the nation’s best opponent attacking clip.
Offensive distribution was often a major talking point at the press conferences I attended as a student reporter. I learned to expect it. Things still haven’t changed, and this year’s 6-2 system adds another layer to this discussion.
Last season, outside hitter Madi Kubik emerged as the unquestioned focal point of the Nebraska offense. Kubik averaged just over 10 attempts per set, which amounted to nearly 1,200 swings over the course of the 2021 campaign. The next-highest swing total on the Nebraska roster was Lindsay Krause‘s 725. Indeed, some of that disparity can be attributed to Nebraska’s frequent swaps at the L1 position between Ally Batenhorst and Lexi Sun. Still, Kubik carried a heavy load for a Nebraska team that made the NCAA championship match despite a disappointing .222 season hitting percentage.
This year’s dynamic has shifted slightly with a new system and new personnel. Kubik still takes the highest volume of swings for the Huskers, but not to the disproportionate degree of 2021. The senior left side is now averaging just over eight and a half attempts per set, down from the double-digit totals from last fall. Most notably, Nebraska’s 6-2 system has diminished the frequency of Kubik’s back-row pipe attacks with three frontcourt attacking options available in every rotation.
The emergence of sophomore Whitney Lauenstein on the right pin has also taken a lot of offensive burden off of Kubik’s shoulders this year. Nebraska’s stat sheet alone illustrates just how dramatic Lauenstein’s ascent has been. After appearing in just 67 of the 121 sets that the Huskers played last year, Lauenstein has been a permanent fixture in the 2022 lineup and is just 50 swings shy of Kubik’s team-leading total. Lauenstein’s .260 hitting clip is also a much more efficient output than Nebraska had at the position a year ago.
Sophomores Krause and Batenhorst are both hovering at about two kills per set so far this year. It’s been an event start to the season for both athletes, with Batenhorst recently returning to the lineup after an injury and Krause flipping between the left and right pins throughout the year. True freshman Maggie Mendelson has also spent time at both middle blocker and opposite and is pitching in a kill per set when she’s in the lineup.
Speaking of middle blockers, Nebraska likely wants to keep working on getting the middles more involved in this year’s system. It’s a position with entirely new personnel following the departures of Kayla Caffey and Lauren Stivrins, both of whom pitched in at least 2.3 kills per set last season. Bekka Allick and Kaitlyn Hord are yet to eclipse a two-kill-per-set season average despite having a comparable hitting percentage to last year’s starters.
- Nebraska is significantly outpacing the rest of the conference in allowing service aces. The Huskers have yielded 30 total service aces in 57 sets played, which almost equates to giving up one ace per two sets. The next-best mark in the Big Ten is Penn State’s 60 reception errors in 69 sets. Nebraska, Penn State, and Wisconsin are the only Big Ten teams averaging fewer than one reception error per set.
- Hord has climbed to third nationally in individual blocks per set with 1.61 following the Penn State-Northwestern weekend. The two blockers ahead of her in the national leaderboards both hail from the Big Ten: Maryland’s Rainelle Jones and Wisconsin’s Danielle Hart. All three are using their final year of eligibility this fall.
- Through Nebraska’s first 17 matches, the Huskers have won the opening set in all but one of those contests. The only exception is the Stanford match on Sept. 13–Nebraska’s only loss.