No doubt about Nebraska at No. 1, but Hawai’i 0-2, USC 0-3

Amber Rolzen unloads against Texas/Paul W. Harvey IV photo

Start with this from Eugene, Oregon, where No. 1 Nebraska made short work of No. 2 Texas on Saturday:

Nebraska is very good. The defending NCAA champions look about as good as a team could on only the second day of the season.

“I don’t know, I see a lot of things we’ve got to work on,” Nebraska coach John Cook said.

Perhaps, but it could be worse. Texas, after coming up on the short end of a 25-15, 25-16, 25-21 butt-whipping, heads back to Austin looking for answers.

“I don’t think our passing was very good, I don’t think our confidence level was good and I don’t think we showed up to compete at a high level,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. “And as I told them it was an extremely disappointing the way we performed tonight.”

Elliott won’t be the last coach this season to feel that way after playing the Huskers.

Florida coach Mary Wise, whose No. 10 Gators lost to Nebraska on Friday and then beat host Oregon in four on Saturday, declared simply that, “Nebraska I have to believe is better now than they were in December of last year,” Wise said of a team that won the 2015 NCAA title.

“They look not just mid-season, they may be in late-season form. And that’s one of the most organized and high-IQ disciplined teams I’ve ever seen.”

As the NCAA season began Friday and continued into Saturday, as you would expect, plenty of things did not go as expected.

Hawai’i’s Dave Shoji, dealing with an injury riddled team, lost to Kansas State and fell to 0-2 for only the fifth time in school history.

Let this one sink in: USC was swept at home by UC Irvine and is 0-3.

And could there be a shakeup in the East? North Carolina won the Penn State Classic, dealing the home team its first non-conference defeat in five years.

Back here to Eugene, where there were some bright spots this weekend as the Longhorns opened with a 3-1 victory Friday over Oregon.

Just before the season started Texas announced that starting AVCA first-team All-American middle Chiaka Ogbogu was academically ineligible. That put relatively inexperienced sophomore Morgan Johnson into the lineup and she played admirably. For the two matches, she had 11 kills and four block assists.

Ebony Nwanebu of Texas hits past Kadie Rolfzen of Nebraska/Paul W. Harvey IV photo
Ebony Nwanebu of Texas hits past Kadie Rolfzen of Nebraska/Paul W. Harvey IV photo

In the both matches, outside Ebony Nwanebu led in kills, 20 against Oregon and 13 against Nebraska. That comes a few days short of a year after her last match, because the transfer from USC, where she was the Pac-12 freshman of the year in 2013, played in just one match last season and that was in this same tournament in a five-set victory over Nebraska. An injury sidelined her for the rest of the season.

“It feels good to play again and be with my team,” Nwanebu said. “They’re all supportive and loving and I love being in this environment again.”

The 6-foot-4 junior said the year off was tough.

“I cried a lot,” she admitted. “Once I realized I could support my team in other ways I did my best with that.”

Her coach is certainly glad to have her back.

“We’ve got the pieces if we can control the ball and set the ball at a high level,” Elliott said. “She can take over matches.”

It’s going to take a special player to take over against Nebraska.

“They’re good volleyball players. They have everybody back. Their touches are very good, they have two or three very good defensive players and (setter Kelly) Hunter makes good transition swings and they manage the game at a high level,” Elliott said.

“They have a much better force in the middle (in transfer Briana Holman) and they can hurt you in a lot of different positions.

“They make you pay if you’re not executing at a high level. You have to execute at a high level to stay with them.”

Not that Nebraska John Cook is taking anything for granted.

“Now the challenge is to get them up for next week,” said Cook, whose Huskers play Iowa State and Oregon State in Lincoln Friday and Saturday. “So my stomach will never get better.”

The Huskers again were balanced against Texas. Kadie Rolfzen led with 11 kills, sister Amber had 10, graduate-student transfer Andie Malloy had nine, Briana Holman eight while hitting .727, and Mikaela Foecke seven.

Hunter led with four block assists, Holman and Amber Rolfzen had three each, and Malloy the lone solo.

Andie Malloy hits against Chloe Collins, Morgan Johnson/Paul W. Harvey IV photo
Andie Malloy hits against Chloe Collins, Morgan Johnson/Paul W. Harvey IV photo

Malloy, who played at Baylor, graduated in May and the next day moved to Nebraska, is loving life since she arrived on campus.

“This is so exciting and so much fun,” said Malloy, who was All-Big 12 at Baylor and graduated with a degree in marketing. “The level is so high and it’s just fun. I don’t know another word to describe it. These girls, we’re working so hard and it shows it’s clicking really early and it’s really nice.”

She pointed out that she has only one season as a Husker.

“I want to make the most of it with these girls,” Malloy said. “We’ve been working hard and gonna make it worth it.”

Hawai’i 0-2, USC 0-3 …

There were some awfully notable results from a busy second day of the NCAA season.

Start with No. 6 Hawai’i. A day after losing to Wisconsin, the Rainbow Wahine fell to K-State 25-19, 28-30, 22-25, 20-25, the first time Hawai’i is 0-2 since losing to another combination of Big 12/Big 10 opponents, Nebraska and Penn State to start the 2005 season. The other seasons were 2001 (Nebraska and Wisconsin), 1980 (Pacific/UCLA), and 1976 (UCLA twice).

Hawai’i is without its best player, Nikki Taylor, as she deals with an elbow injury. Starting middle Annie Mitchem is out for three more weeks with a broken left pinkie (opposite from the right pinkie she broke last year). and outside Kalei Greeley is playing back row since she is still recovering from offseason surgery.

Hawai’i plays Arizona on Sunday, after the Wisconsin-Kansas State matchup.

K-State opened Friday with a victory over Arizona and its win over Hawai’i Saturday was its first over a team ranked in the top 10 since 2012, and the first road victory over a top-10 team since the Wildcats defeated No. 2 Nebraska in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2011.

No. 4 Wisconsin swept Arizona on Saturday 26-24, 26-24, 25-22 and would be pretty excited to head back to Madison 3-0.

USC may be ranked No. 7, but the Women of Troy were left looking for answers after being swept by UC Irvine on their home floor 25-23, 25-21, 25-22. Santa Clara won the tournament by beating Marquette, but the focus was the stunning events for USC, 0-3 for the first time since 1990 and for only the third time in program history (1986, 1990). It is the first time USC has started 0-3 at home since 1986.

As bad as it is for USC, it’s great for No. 19 North Carolina, which lost the first set and then came away with a 16-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-23, 15-9 victory at No. 9 Penn State.

“I’m terribly disappointed with the result tonight,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said. “North Carolina has five seniors and they hung in there and we had kids who I thought would be able to compete a little bit harder.”

It was UNC’s seventh win over a top-10 opponent and the third year in a row it has happened. Penn State fell on its home court to a non-conference team for just the 15th time in program history

“We’ve had a lot of really big wins, but this ranks as one of the top ones in my career because of the fact that we did it on the road in this building,” UNC coach Joe Sagula said. “That doesn’t happen very often. I’ve known Russ for over 30 years, so I know that this is special. Penn State’s going to be a really good team. We were very fortunate to do a couple of things at the right time tonight. This is going to be one that we will remember for a long time.”

In the last match of the VERT Challenge in Eugene, Oregon, Saturday night, No. 10 Florida came away with a four-set up-and-down victory over Oregon 16-25, 25-19, 16-25, 24-26.

Florida trailed 24-21 before Oregon completely fell apart on serve receive and defense the last five points and coach Jim Moore was not pleased.

“We’ve got to handle our emotions much better,” said Moore, whose young Ducks lost to Texas on Friday and then got rattled too often against Florida. And he’s not accepting that it’s because they’re so young.

“It’s an excuse and I’m not going to say it, I refuse to say it. That’s not OK,” Moore said.

Regardless, Oregon is so young. Sophomore outside hitter Lindsey Vander Weide had 16 kills and 10 digs to lead the Ducks for the second straight night, freshman middle Ronika Stone had seven kills and five blocks and was at times the most impressive athlete in Matthew Knight Arena, which is saying a lot considering the quality of the four teams.

The other middle, Sumeet Gill, is a sophomore, and highly touted Willow Johnson played more on Saturday and showed flashes of why so many think she’ll be a big-time player.

“We’ve got to get better and all we want to do it get better and I think we were better today than we were yesterday,” Moore said.

Florida, the top team from the Southeastern Conference, gave no reason this weekend to think the Gators won’t dominate that league again. The front line of Alex Holston, Rhamat Alhassan and Carli Snyder can play with anyone.

“Where I think we’ll be better is on our first contact, both off serve receive and defending,” Wise said. She was happy with the debut of sophomore setter Allie Monserez — “Continue to give our hitters good looks. She doesn’t have to be the stud, we have plenty of those” — and the play of junior libero Caroline Koop.

“I think we have a chance to be a pretty good team, ”Wise said, “I think we’re better for having played this competition and that’s why all four coaches have signed up for it.”

Another SEC team, No. 24 Kentucky bounced back after a tough start to the season —  a loss to Washington State — by beating No. 20 Purdue 25-20, 25-18, 24-26, 21-25, 20-18.

A day after upsetting Stanford, San Diego lost in three to No. 3 Minnesota 25-19, 25-21, 29-31, 25-16. That sets up Sunday’s big match between the Gophers and host Stanford, ranked No. 11 but sure to fall in the next AVCA poll.

At North Texas, No.15 Ohio State beat No. 16 Texas A&M, and the scores let you know it was quite a battle: 21-25, 32-30, 21-25, 25-18, 15-13. Taylor Sandbothe had 26 kills for Ohio State.

No. 17 Florida State senior middle blocker Melanie Keil finished with 10 block assists and three solos, Mara Green had 10 kills and four assisted blocks and the Seminoles opened their season at Central Florida with a 25-23, 25-23, 25-13 victory.

Another busy weekend ahead

Now Florida State gets serious as it travels to Puerto Rico to play, in successive days starting Thursday, Texas A&M, Minnesota and Alabama. Virginia Tech is also there to play A&M, Alabama and Temple.

Conference play doesn’t begin until after Labor Day, so the interesting match-ups continue around the country.

In another great gathering, Penn State, Stanford and Illinois go to Colorado to renew the annual Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge.

Texas is home for Army and Miami, Fla. Lipscomb also visits Austin and plays Army and Miami.

Among non-conference meetings next weekend — and this is not a comprehensive list but just match-ups worth noting — Nebraska is a home for Iowa State and Oregon State; Louisville entertains Santa Clara, Stony Brook and Auburn; and LSU has Connecticut and Virginia in Baton Rouge.

Also, Washington State, Cal, Northeastern and UC Irvine gather at Long Beach State; Utah, Miami, Ohio, and Rice in the Missouri Invitational; and USC brings in Creighton, Kentucky and Northern Iowa.

And Hawai’i is home again for another of what should be a great weekend of volleyball when UCLA, Missouri State and Pacific come to town. UCLA and the host team play Saturday.



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