There is an outstanding matchup of athletes representing Nebraska and the University of Minnesota on Saturday. The venue will be bursting with fans and there will be full-throated cheers and disappointed groans as the momentum swings from one squad to the other.
There also will be a football game between the Gophers and the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday, but that’s featuring a pair of teams that are a combined 0-7 as the bottom dwellers in the Big Ten’s jayvee division, the West.
Volleyball … that’s the contest for which you want a ticket:
No. 5-rated Nebraska, winner of two of the past three national titles, at the No. 3-rated Gophers, off to an 8-0 start in the mighty Big Ten, on Saturday night in the Pavilion.
“It’s going to be an exciting weekend,’’ Alexis Hart said. “First, Iowa … then we can get ready for Nebraska.’’
Hart is a junior outside hitter for the Gophers. Two years ago, she arrived from Kansas City to help fill the gap created by the graduation of the tremendous Daly Santana, and the Gophers went to a second consecutive Final Four.
She was not tall compared to Big Ten hitters — 6 feet — but a terrific athlete who could take the air out of the Pav when she delivered a kill with full force.
“Alexis had a very good year as a freshman,’’ coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “You’re new, they are new. When you have a freshman year like that, they start looking at you deeper.’’
The intense scouting leads to opponents’ adjustments. And the player must adjust in return.
“Alexis came in with some very unique skills and talent,’’ McCutcheon said. “As a freshman, she was a very good volleyball athlete. As a junior, she is a very good volleyball player.’’
McCutcheon had a media session with a handful of reporters early Wednesday afternoon. A few minutes later, that quote about the transition — from athlete to player — was mentioned to Hart.
She smiled and said: “That sounds like Hugh. And he’s right. As a freshman, I tried for the kill on every chance. It took a while to find out there are times when a little drop shot is better. My volleyball IQ definitely has gotten higher.’’
The leaping part of playing at the net in the Big Ten as a 6-footer didn’t need much improvement. Hart was a track and field star at Truman High School. She won the long jump and triple jump in a Missouri state meet. And she has a 32-inch vertical.
Hart’s mother, Knea Robinson-Hart, played basketball at Oklahoma. In grade school, Alexis was fast and could jump and saw track and field as her athletic future.
“I was going into the seventh grade and my mom said, ‘You have to play basketball,’ ” Alexis said. “My response was, ‘What can I do, instead?’ and she said, ‘You could play volleyball.’ ”
Hart wound up playing both, but with a strong preference for volleyball. “I didn’t like basketball that well,’’ she said. “I’m an outgoing person. I liked the constant enthusiasm of volleyball.’’
Those celebrations after every point — 75 at a minimum, when you win a match?
Alexis smiled and said, “I love those.’’
Hart was born in Oklahoma. She moved to Kansas City in grade school, with her mom, older brother Matthew and sister Jewel, a senior at Truman High and recruited as a basketball player by several D-I programs.
When Hart was a freshman at Minnesota, her mom and grandfather, Richard Robinson, made the drive to Minneapolis for a few matches. The Gophers were at Illinois for a match on Nov. 12, 2016, when Alexis received a call that her grandfather had died from kidney disease.
“That was emotional,’’ she said. “My grandfather was more like my father in Kansas City. It helped that my volleyball teammates were there for me.’’
Hart played that night and had 10 kills in a three-set sweep of the Illini. Two years later, the teammates are still there. Her sister, Jewel, suffered an ACL injury and will miss her senior season.
“I didn’t know what to tell her,’’ Hart said. “I had Taylor [Morgan] call her. Taylor has had [four] knee surgeries and now she’s back and playing great for us. Taylor has helped encourage my sister.
“We’re a team all the way here at Minnesota.’’
Two weeks ago, Hart had 11 of the Gophers’ 66 kills as they ended Nebraska’s 14-match winning streak in four sets in Lincoln. Now, to make that stick, the Gophers will have to repeat vs. Nebraska before what will be close to 6,000 people jammed into the Pavilion.
But first? “Iowa,’’ Hart said. “You never look ahead in the Big Ten.’’