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Krause, Freshman Shine in Nebraska Spring Match

by May 4, 2024Nebraska Volleyball

Krause, Freshman Shine in Nebraska Spring Match
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Red-clad fans lined the sidewalks outside the UNK Health & Sports Center on Saturday as the Cornhuskers arrived well in advance of their spring match in Kearney.

The doors didn’t open to the public until 90 minutes prior to the exhibition’s 2 p.m. start, but the line stretched clear around the building regardless as fans showed up in force to make sure they got a good seat for the festivities.

“It was insane,” freshman Skyler Pierce said. “I’ve never seen a line like that sitting outside of any sport, let alone women’s sports. So seeing that coming into this spring match was really exciting and very encouraging for sure.”

Freshman Skyler Pierce swings over the Denver block during the volleyball spring match on Saturday, May 4, 2024 in Kearney, Nebraska. Photo John Peterson

Pierce was one of many Huskers who showed out in the Huskers’ 3-0 sweep of Denver in Kearney. After what Coach John Cook called potentially the best spring season he’s had at Nebraska, the Huskers looked to be in midseason form against their Summit League foe, sweeping the Pioneers 25-13, 25-12, 25-15 while out-hitting Denver .446 to .120.

Harper Murray was suspended for the match and did not accompany the team to Kearney following her citation for DUI among other offenses last month. Pierce got the start at outside hitter in her place alongside Lindsay Krause and made the most of the opportunity. The Pioneers stuffed her on her first swing, but she settled in from there and finished with 10 kills on .389 hitting while playing three rotations. Cook called her performance “awesome.”

“First swing was a little shaky, then she had some great swings,” Cook said. “She hit almost .400, and the great thing is she was aggressive and she was going after it. That’s what you want to see from a freshman in this environment. And you could tell Denver was a little nervous today starting out, and it’s a hard environment. It’s probably the most people she’s ever played in front of. So it was a great environment and great job by Kearney.”

Pierce said her debut was a little nerve-wracking at first, but she settled in after her first couple swings and called it an “out-of-body experience.”

“It was so much fun, just playing with the girls and finally having that one game under my belt,” Pierce said. “It was just a lot of fun to be with the girls and be in that atmosphere with them … It was really exciting. It’s nothing like anything else I’ve ever seen before.”

Fellow freshman Olivia Mauch subbed for Pierce in the back row and made an immediate impact, serving an ace on her first point before finishing with five digs. Cook said he and his staff discussed redshirting Mauch when he was recruiting her out of Bennington because of the Huskers’ depth at her position, but after seeing her in action throughout the spring he’s decided that she’s too good not to play.

Freshman Olivia Mauch passes a ball during the volleyball spring match on Saturday, May 4, 2024 in Kearney, Nebraska. Photo John Peterson

“She’s a player,” said Cook, describing her as consistent and dependable. “Nothing fazes her. She’s a great passer. She has a chance to really help our team this year.”

As impressive as the freshmen were, the star of the day was Krause, the senior outside hitter who played in her first match in front of fans since suffering a season-ending ankle injury in mid-October. It’s been a long journey back to the court for Krause, but she went off on Saturday for a match-high 12 kills on .417 hitting.

“It felt really great and special just for me to be out there,” Krause said. “I’ve really missed just playing volleyball out in front of Husker nation. And I think overall, we were all really looking forward to this match. It was really fun to get to come out here in Kearney and play at UNK. I think we all really appreciate the facilities and how amazing they were hosting us. So it was really cool to come out here and play in this environment.”

Cook estimated that Krause was about 75% of the way to where she was pre-injury while joining the Nebraska Public Media broadcast during the match, but despite lacking some of the explosiveness she once had, the 6-foot-4 pin still found a way to terminate at a high rate. She displayed terrific ball placement and decision-making, mixing in plenty of tips and roll shots with a few big rips to rack up her 12 kills.

“I think she’s still a long ways away from where she was when she got hurt last fall,” Cook said. “She’s making progress but she’s got a whole other level she can go to, and she will by the time we get to August … She’s really had six weeks of indoor and she’s made really good progress and has improved every week. I’m going to push her to go to another level.”

All 11 available Huskers saw the court, and each of them made an impact. Team captains Merritt Beason (10 kills, .412 hitting, four blocks and two aces) and Lexi Rodriguez (12 digs and five aces while playing two sets at libero and one at defensive specialist) showed out. Middle blockers Andi Jackson and Rebekah Allick combined for 12 kills on .523 hitting and six blocks.

Setter Bergen Reilly dished out 20 assists with six digs and a kill in the first two sets before Kennedi Orr took over in the third, notching 16 assists, two digs and a kill. Sophomore Laney Choboy played in the back row for Krause in the first two sets before donning the libero jersey in the third, finishing with seven digs. Maisie Boesiger saw action as a serving specialist in the last two sets and recorded a dig.

Originally set to take place at Kearney High School, the organizers opted to move it to UNK in anticipation of ticket demand, a prudent decision as a sold-out crowd of 5,098 packed the UNK Health and Sports Center for the match.

A sold-out crowd of 5,098 packed the UNK Health and Sports Center for Nebraska’s spring exhibition on Saturday, May 4, 2024 in Kearney, Nebraska. Photo John Peterson

“I think it was a great decision,” Cook said. “There’s a lot of blue here; that’s hard to get over. There was about 50 people this morning wearing blue shirts, but they’re great. The chancellor was here, I got to meet him last night. I just think with the demand, it allowed more people to come in. I didn’t realize they could seat that many people here, because I’ve seen they normally play going the other way.”

Nebraska brought its black TeraFlex court to lay down in the gym and played its hype video prior to team introductions, giving the fans in Kearney a taste of what it’s like to attend a match at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.

“I think it’s really special and it really shows how many people all over the state of Nebraska care about this university, not just the metro area of Omaha and Lincoln,” Krause said. “It’s the whole state and I feel like sometimes we forget about that, especially because of the way population works. So I think it’s really cool just to come, even if it’s not out in western Nebraska, just come closer to central Nebraska and just see the environment, see everybody that cares so much and play in a setting that isn’t Bob but they try to make it seem like Bob as much as possible … so that those people that don’t typically get to see us get that experience.”

The match marked the end of the team’s spring season. The Huskers will have some time off before several of them depart in June to participate in USA Volleyball’s training camp prior to the 2024 Women’s U21 NORCECA Continental Championship. The team will report back on July 4 to begin preparation for the 2024 season.

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