There was some back and forth to start the season and then the first sequence Friday afternoon came to an abrupt end, when Florida’s Shainah Joseph went flying and ripped into a ball. Briana Holman was up and waiting and the high-jumping Nebraska middle stuffed the ball to the floor.
Welcome back and watch out college volleyball world.
After sitting out a year after transferring from LSU, the former first-team AVCA All-American announced her return with authority in a 3-1 (25-27, 25-15, 25-15, 25-21) victory for the top-ranked and defending-champion Huskers.
Holman had 11 kills and hit .471 for Nebraska, which was already loaded without her and now plays the match we’ve all been waiting for since last December.
“I got my first-game jitters out, so I feel good now,” Holman said.
That might make everyone else feel bad.
At 3:30 p.m. Pacific Saturday in the Matthew Knight Arena on the campus of Oregon, the Huskers take on No. 2 Texas, the same beat they beat in last year’s NCAA title match. Later Friday night, Texas beat Oregon in four (25-17, 25-19, 19-25, 25-19).
More on the VERT Challenge gathering in Eugene in a bit, but speaking of comebacks, consider that Ebony Nwanebu, the USC transfer who played in exactly one match for Texas last year, led the Longhorns over Oregon with a match-high 20 kills. She also had 13 digs.
First some notes from around the country in NCAA volleyball, where there were some interesting opening-day results and one shocker as San Diego, ranked No. 7 in the first VolleyballMag.com Mid-Major Poll, upset Stanford, No. 11 in the AVCA Division I Poll.
San Diego trailed 0-2 at Stanford when the Toreros rallied for a 22-25, 19-25, 25-18, 25-21, 15-11 to beat Stanford for the first time ever and deal the Cardinal its first opening-match loss since 2008.
Stanford wasn’t the only Pac-12 team to get upset Friday. No. 7 USC got thumped by Marquette 16-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-22 as the Golden Eagles beat at top-10 team for only the second time in their history. USC, which hit .169, returns to its home floor Saturday to play Santa Clara (tied at No. 14 in the VBM poll) and UC Irvine.
Sophomore outside Lauren Fuller led USD offense with a career-high 20 kills and her team hit .288, compared to just .220 for Stanford. Hayley Hodson led the Cardinal with 13 kills and in her return after missing all of last year with a knee injury, three-time All-American Inky Ajanaku added 11.
Fourth-ranked Wisconsin won at No. 6 Hawai’i 25-16, 25-16, 24-26, 25-23. Freshman outside Molly Haggerty had a match-high 19 kills and added 16 digs. Senior middle Haleigh Nelson had 14 kills. Saturday Wisconsin plays Arizona, a 3-1 (21-25, 16-25, 25-20, 18-25) loser to Kansas State.
With Florida losing, two of the Southeastern Conference’s ranked teams fell with No. 24 Kentucky getting swept by Washington State before bouncing back to sweep Wyoming, 19th in the VBM poll.
Meanwhile, back to Eugene, where the Huskers lost the first set but then put it on Florida. And Nebraska’s balanced, powerful attack got even more powerful with Holman. Senior Kadie Rolfzen led with 16 kills, powerful sophomore outside Mikaela Foecke, the MVP of the NCAA championship match, added 15, and senior Andie Malloy 12 as their team hit .385.
Holman, the 6-foot-3 junior who practiced with Nebraska all of last season and sat on the bench during the NCAA title victory, showed no signs of rust.
“She has such a variety of shots,” Rolfzen said. “She can get up and beat blocks over the top. She’s really physical.”
Rolfzen teased her after that first block as Holman showed a rare smile on the court.
“She’s alway so serious,” said Rolfzen, who is not.
Even after the match, Holman was matter-of-fact about getting back.
“It was kind of weird because I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be,” Holman said. “It was almost like I never stopped playing, I guess because I have to go against these guys (her opponents) every day.”
“She did some nice things,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “We’ve still got to get better blocking from her.”
Well, coach, all she did was lead your team in blocks with two solo and five assists.
“She did? She got used a lot,” Cook said with a laugh. “She’s working really hard and work within our system and how we train and we’re really pleased with that.”
So is junior Kelly Hunter, who enjoyed the array or weapons at her disposal.
“Florida was putting two blockers on her where ever she went, so having her take the block and having that presence, I think they see her and they’re scared,” Hunter said.
“I would be.”
By the way, it’s worth noting that almost a year ago, Nwanebu had a team-best 22 kills on a .315 hitting percentage, a career-high 17 digs and four blocks in Texas’s five-set win over Nebraska before then sitting out the rest of the season due to injury.