By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
The UNO volleyball team began gearing up for a new season with the first of four red/black scrimmages last Saturday. The team also welcomed alumni for their annual matchup with former Maverick players.
In the three set red/black scrimmage, the black squad defeated the red squad with scores of 25-27, 25-15 and 25-20. Shortly after, the team was reassembled to take on the alumni team, achieving the victory in four sets.
With the Bradley Tournament in Peoria, Ill. coming up this Friday and Saturday, head coach Rose Shires had a chance to see her team in a competitive setting before beginning Division I play.
“The reason you do scrimmages, both inter-squad and against an exhibition-type team, is you wanna learn more about where your team is at,” Shires said. “When you practice, things are often in a controlled setting and now that we had officials, we had whistles, line judges, scorekeepers and an announcer…how does that change the scope of the game?”
To help Shires get a good reading on where her team is, she split the team fairly evenly between experience and ability in the red/black scrimmage. Among the members of the black squad were senior setter Emily Myers, junior middle blocker Lizzy Mach and sophomore defensive specialist Amy Roberts.
The red squad countered with senior libero Angie Reicks, senior middle blocker Brittany Hanssen and sophomore outside hitter Abby Sorensen. Junior outside hitter Natalie Ebke led the black squad with nine kills, followed shortly behind by Mach and sophomore Ali Jansen with eight a piece.
The red squad was paced by the performances of Hanssen and junior outside hitter Sydney Fleege who had seven kills each. Emily Myers assisted on 12 kills and had 11 digs while Angie Reicks had 11 digs and one service ace.
The troubling stat for the Mavs was their hitting percentage. For the match the black squad hit a disappointing .182 while the red squad was even further behind at -.010. Between the two sides there were also 23 free points given up on service errors.
“Some categories I’m giving a thumbs up to and a passing grade on and some categories I’m saying we did not meet my expectations,” Shires said. The errors and the attack percentage…we didn’t meet my expectations in those areas, and we must do a better job of putting the ball away as attackers and lessening our errors, both passing, serving and attacking wise.”
Though it may have been something of a struggle the first time out, it did allow Shires to see how her freshmen responded in their first real competitive atmosphere. Freshmen Kimberly Bailey, Valerie Hecht, Bailey Baxter, Jessy Schroedter, Diane Banderas and Rachelle Kruml saw action in all three sets.
It was also an opportunity to gauge the progress of Mach and Myers, who were both lost with injury last year. So far, Shires says the pair are as fit as ever and showing no signs of having lost their past aggressiveness.
The second match with the Maverick alumni was a bright spot as well. Since Shires began coaching at UNO 24 years ago, her current roster has only defeated a roster of alumni 10 times.
No stats were made available for the match with the alumni, but the current group of Mavericks did prevail 25-18, 34-32, 24-26 and 25-22.
Taking on a group of former UNO volleyball players gave Shires and the team a good chance to practice the way they’ll face opponents this year.
“One of the things we’re really stressing with our team this year is…because we’re not gonna have a lot of videotape on our opponents, we’re not gonna know a lot,” Shires said. “We’re gonna have to use the game to teach us about our opponent and learn their tendencies within the first three or four points.”
That Shires’ current group of Mavs was able to adjust on the fly in their first try is encouraging. But Shires also isn’t fooling herself about the level of competition she and the team is about to step into.
UNO’s first opponent, Illinois-Chicago, won 13 matches last year and played for the Horizon League championship. The Bradley Braves, whom UNO will matchup against Friday night and Saturday morning, also won 13 matches last year and return four seniors.
“We have to be a little bit more crafty with what we do as attackers,” Shires said. “For a Division I team, we’re small. The majority of our hitters are 6′, 6’1″, 6’2” and we’re gonna play against girls that are 6’2”, 6’3”, 6’4” and who jump higher and reach higher so we have to be smarter and faster with what we do.