The Nebraska volleyball team boarded a bus for Omaha at 7:30 Sunday morning, 11 hours after finishing a thrilling, five-set win against No. 1 UCLA on Saturday night. So any concern that the Huskers would still have sleep in their eyes or weights on their legs for the 1:30 p.m. first serve against Notre Dame was understandable.
It didn't take long to see No. 4 Nebraska was wide awake in a 25-19, 25-21, 25-13 sweep of the Irish in front of 7,386 at CenturyLink Center.
Outside hitter Gina Mancuso led the Huskers with 15 kills and Hannah Werth had her third straight double-double (11 kills, 13 digs) to open the season, but NU again put forth a balanced offensive effort as it finished the opening weekend undefeated.
"Coach said winning today would probably be even harder than winning last night just because it's such a big match and you're coming off such a high," middle blocker Hayley Thramer said. "But I think our team did such a great job of just staying even-keeled the whole time and getting the job done."
Nebraska (3-0) entered the season looking for offense out of the middle, and for the second straight match, a different player came through. Thramer, a junior from Ewing, Neb., had seven kills on 15 error-free swings and added five blocks in her second straight start. Her showing came on the heels of freshman Meghan Haggerty's 17-kill performance against UCLA.
NU coach John Cook said Thramer has the blocking skills to be the best defensive middle in the Big Ten, but a surgically repaired right shoulder limits how hard she can swing. Yet, when it comes to trust - a word ubiquitous around the Husker program - Thramer has earned her share and then some.
"I probably, of the middles, trust Hayley the most as a blocker," Cook said. "Hayley is our most experienced middle. In a match like this, Hayley can keep us organized up there. She can call out the hitters so everybody knows what's going on.
"I just have a lot of faith in her, and she's a heck of a blocker."
Junior right-side hitter Morgan Broekhuis chalked up a few more points on the trust meter this weekend, too. After five kills and two blocks in the fifth set against UCLA, Broekhuis had nine kills against just two errors against Notre Dame. But it was a revamped serve that drew the most attention.
Broekhuis fired three straight aces in a 9-0 Nebraska run to turn Game 3 into a blowout, and she finished with four of the Huskers' six aces on Sunday. As teams continue to focus their blockers on Werth and Mancuso, Broekhuis' hitting will be crucial in allowing setter Lauren Cook to keep opponents off balance.
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"The great thing about our offense in general is we can attack from both pins, we can attack in the middle, so when we put that ball on Lauren's head, she can put the ball all over the court," Broekhuis said. "That's everyone's job, that if one person is being doubled, then another hitter is going to put the ball away."
With seven players 6-foot-3 or taller, UCLA's block was able to frustrate Husker hitters, but against the smaller Irish, Nebraska was able to get points from nearly everywhere on the floor.
Lauren Cook handed out 35 assists and guided the NU offense to a .365 attack percentage, including .583 in the third set when Nebraska had just one hitting error. The Husker setter added 12 digs and Haggerty recorded a team-high six blocks as NU held the Irish to a .189 attack percentage.
Toni Alugbue led Notre Dame (1-2) with 12 kills and Jeni Houser added 10.
John Cook had been cautious all week about not putting too much stock into the opening weekend.
But it was hard for him to hide his pleasure at his club's start. Three wins with high-level performances are enough for Cook to see that his club has embraced the motto of "Unfinished Business."
"They were walking the talk," Cook said. "They've been talking a great game with unfinished business from last year. But, they're on a mission this year. They're determined. They want to go for it. All those things, they've been talking a great game, and I think they backed it up this weekend."
Said Broekhuis: "This was a big step for us. This was a good weekend. We learned a lot of things. We got to put our team out there and show the trust that we have and all the hard work we've been doing in the preseason.
"This was definitely a big step in the right direction."
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