Nebraska volleyball season in review: Server
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Nebraska volleyball season in review: Server

Husker volleyball finished as the No. 2 ranked team in the AP poll after falling to Wisconsin in the national championship game in five sets. Nebraska was ranked No. 12 at one point in the season and surged toward the end in the NCAA tournament.

In this series, HuskerOnline will break down Nebraska's season by position group based on statistics and national rankings. Finally to conclude this series is Nebraska's servers and the impact they had as the person to set the tone of the play.

Series: |OH | MB | S | DS/L |

Nebraska defensive specialist Keonilei Akana
Nebraska defensive specialist Keonilei Akana (Nebraska Communications)

Observations:

The serving queen:

In 2021, Nebraska was one of the best serving teams in the Big Ten and Keonilei Akana was the leader of the squad. She had 42 service aces with 37 errors on the season and averaged 0.35 aces per set.

The defensive specialist ranked No. 7 in the Big Ten in aces per set and tied for No. 45 in the NCAA in total service aces. Akana was the fifth Big Ten player on the NCAA list in total aces.

The sophomore had 10 aces in the NCAA tournament including seven against Texas in the regional finals. During the regular season, Akana had five aces against Wisconsin in November and four against Penn State in October.

Knuckles:

Defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles had the second most aces on the team with 35 and averaged 0.29 aces per set during the season. Knuckles ranked No. 10 in the Big Ten with 0.31 aces per set in conference-only games.

The 5-foot-9 athlete's aces per set average has increased each of her three seasons at Nebraska. As a freshman, she had 0.17 aces per set, 0.26 as a sophomore and then 0.29 aces per set as a junior in 2021.

Knuckles served 10 aces in the NCAA tournament including three against Florida State and Illinois and two aces against Wisconsin in the national championship match.

Nebraska defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles
Nebraska defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles (Nebraska Communications)

Hames:

Setter Nicklin Hames had 0.28 aces per set during the season and averaged 0.34 aces per set in conference-only games, ranking her No. 7 in the Big Ten. With Hames, Knuckles and Akana all in the top 10 in Big Ten conference-only games, Nebraska is the only team to have more than one player represented in the list.

The highlight of Hames' time at the service line was then she served four consecutive aces against Michigan. Husker Head Coach John Cook said once Hames gets on a roll like that, her teammates can't pass those serves either.

Hames very rarely got on a serving run in the 2021 season. She had 41 service errors, the most on the team. She served two aces in the month of November, including a five-game streak without an ace to start the month.

She won't be Nebraska's starting setter in 2022 but will be on the team in a new role, a defensive specialist and/or a serving specialist.

Nebraska nationally:

The Huskers ranked fifth in the Big Ten with 1.58 service aces per set. Illinois was on top with 1.75 aces per set and Wisconsin was second with 1.68 aces per set. Nebraska was No. 57 in team service aces in the NCAA with 181.

NU served 37 aces during the NCAA tournament with 41 errors. The Badgers had 34 aces and 51 service errors in the tournament, including 14 against Louisville and the Huskers.

Nebraska went head to head with Illinois, the best serving team in the league, three times and had more aces each time. The Huskers outserved the Illini 17 to 7 in 2021, a reflection of the serving and the defense.

Nebraska volleyball player Nicklin Hames
Nebraska volleyball player Nicklin Hames (Nebraska Communications)

Room for improvement:

Outside hitter Madi Kubik and libero Lexi Rodriguez also served for the Huskers in 2021 but have room to grow at the service line. Kubik had 21 aces but 39 service errors, averaging 0.16 aces per set.

Rodriguez served 16 aces during her freshman season with 36 service errors. While she had a highly decorated freshman season, the 2021 AVCA National Freshman of the Year can improve at the service line.

Backup setter Anni Evans served for the middle blocker for the majority of the Big Ten season. Evans had a solid ace to errors ratio in 2021 with 10 aces and 11 service errors.

Middle blocker Lauren Stivrins started serving toward the back half of the season and had eight aces with 21 errors. When Stivrins was serving errors, Evans would occasionally serve for her.

While Nebraska's service game was one of its strengths in 2021, there is always room for improvement and consistency between players.