Nebraska volleyball is coming to Koch Arena, which is a lot like Taylor Swift coming to play a concert, Red and all.
The Huskers are three-time NCAA champions who ranked second nationally in attendance (4,287) in 2012. In 2011, they drew 5,552 fans to a spring match against Wichita State in Norfolk, Neb., 123 miles from campus.
“Getting them to come here is a really big deal,” said Wichita State setter Chelsey Feekin, a Nebraskan. “I know they’re going to bring a lot of fans and I hope that we get a lot of fans out. It’s something that not a lot of schools would get, Nebraska coming to play them in the spring.”
WSU — which ranked No. 7 with an average attendance of 2,899 — ends its spring season with a match against the Huskers at 5 p.m. Saturday at Koch Arena. The teams will play for two hours, regardless of the score of the match. WSU played at Texas, the defending NCAA champions, earlier this spring and the Shockers are excited to test themselves again against one of the NCAA’s elite programs at home.
“Nebraska is the definition you can give of volleyball,” WSU middle Ashley Andrade said. “We absolutely love playing the bigger schools. It’s a ton more fun having fans and feeling the home environment again.”
WSU has made several trips to Nebraska for spring matches, both in Lincoln and around the state.
“It was our turn to come down,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “We appreciate the number of times they’ve come up here.”
Spring matches are exhibitions, so coaches mix developing players with trying to win. With a time limit, WSU coach Chris Lamb will lean toward playing different lineups.
“I want to see us compete,” Lamb said. “We’ll take a look and see what some people can do.”
Cook expects to get in four sets and wants to play it straight. He is hoping Lamb doesn’t propose any unique scoring systems.
“He’s got a lot of wild ideas,” Cook said. “I’ll reel him back in.”
WSU traveled to Houston for a day of matches, lost 3-2 at Texas and spent a day in Colby playing and practicing with Colorado State and Kansas. Lamb emphasized passing this spring with the Shockers needing to replace libero Jackie Church and six-rotation hitter Emily Adney. The Shockers advanced to the Sweet 16 last fall, losing to Southern Cal in Austin after defeating Arkansas and Kansas.
“The void to fill is serve-receive,” Lamb said. “We graduated over 700 passing attempts in Emily Adney and close to 400 in Jackie Church. All other Shockers combined last year didn’t even make 300. So far, so good. In our spring competition, passing has held together.”
Lamb is looking at four players to play libero — juniors-to-be Jordan Hinkle and Kelsey Banwart, sophomore-to-be Gaby Urban and redshirt freshman Dani Mostrum.
“The littles, from the fall last year to the spring, are a completely different group of girls,” Feekin said. “There’s been a big improvement.”
With Church gone, Lamb is seeing that group improve. Banwart, Hinkle and Urban played defensive specialists last season, a supporting role to Church. Banwart played in 130 sets last season and recorded 288 digs, fourth on the team. Hinkle played in 122 sets and had 166 digs. Urban had 34 digs in 48 sets.
“They almost needed Jackie to step out for them to feel like they needed to step up, and that’s what I’m seeing,” Lamb said.
Hinkle is more of a vocal leader, Feekin said.
“I see her as a completely different player than I’ve seen her in the past,” Feekin said. “She’s taking charge, which that was Jackie’s role last fall. She talks. She makes sure everyone knows what’s going on.”
Nebraska is 2-1 this spring, defeating South Dakota and Iowa State and losing in five sets to Creighton. The Huskers lost three All-Americans and their libero. They return starting middle blockers Hayley Thramer and Meghan Haggerty. Tennessee transfer Kelsey Robinson, the 2012 SEC Player of the Year, is playing outside hitter. She had 21 kills against WSU last fall in Tennessee’s 3-2 win at Koch Arena.
“We’re very young and inexperienced,” Cook said. “We’re moving people around. Sometimes we’ll have six new players on the court.”