Late-game struggles popped up again on Saturday night as No. 7 Ohio State swept No. 9 Nebraska in Columbus.
Nebraska had three set points in game one and led 23-22 in set three, but Ohio State closed both sets strong and beat Nebraska 27-25, 25-21, 25-23.
“Ohio State played really, really well tonight,” Coach John Cook said during his post-match interview on the Huskers Radio Network. “We had our chances in all the games, we had leads and just couldn’t execute and Ohio State made plays. So hats off to them, they played great.”
Nebraska (17-6, 11-3 Big Ten) hit .203 and finished with just two aces and 11 service errors. The Buckeyes (19-5, 9-5) hit .230 but had just six service errors to go with their two aces. Both teams blocked well with Nebraska earning an 11-9 edge.
Madi Kubik snapped a streak of five straight matches hitting .250 or worse, leading the Huskers with a match-high 18 kills on .400 hitting. She added seven digs, two blocks and an ace to her stat line.
“She was just playing really well and competing really hard and doing a great job,” Cook said. “The problem was nobody else was giving her support, so that part’s pretty disappointing. And to top that off, our back row people did not pass well tonight. But Madi made the most of our swings and it was competing really well tonight. So she was a bright spot out there tonight.”
The rest of the Huskers combined for 22 kills and 13 errors on 83 attempts (.108 hitting). Lexi Sun made her second straight start and was second on the team with seven kills, but she hit .174. Nicklin Hames finished with just 28 assists and seven digs, ending her streak of consecutive double-doubles at seven. Lexi Rodriguez and Keonilei Akana led the defensive effort with 10 digs apiece.
Lauren Stivrins recorded a season-high seven blocks but also hit a season-low .000 with three kills and three errors.
“She had several swings in game one; we got her swings, she just couldn’t kill the ball,” Cook said. “Her and Nicklin weren’t connecting so it was a rough night for them, and we’ve got to get better.”
Nebraska limited Ohio State’s top attacker, sophomore Emily Londot, to six kills on .048 hitting, but Rylee Rader stepped up with 15 kills on .500 hitting.
“Rader just moves it around and hits off our block and made some really nice tips,” Cook said. “She played great tonight. Other than that, we did a really nice job on all their other hitters. Londot, who’s their big go-to, we held her down. But they made plays. They out-served and passed us. You can look at our serve numbers: two aces, 11 errors. There’s the tale of the stats right there.”
Ohio State jumped out to a 9-3 lead early, but Kubik almost single-handedly stopped the bleeding with four straight kills. The Buckeyes pushed the lead back to five before another 4-0 Nebraska run made it 12-11.
The Huskers kept chipping away and finally took their first lead since 1-0 at 15-14 with a 3-0 run including a block assist and a kill from Kayla Caffey. After a few ties, Nebraska used another 4-0 run to jump ahead 21-17. Rader took over for the Buckeyes from there, scoring three kills and a block during a 5-1 Ohio State run to tie it up at 22-22.
Nebraska scored two in a row to earn set point, but the Buckeyes answered with two straight of their own. Nebraska had one last chance to win it at 25-24, but Ohio State won the last three rallies including a block on set point to take the first set.
Ohio State hit .204 with 20 kills including six from Mia Grunze. The Huskers hit .200 with 14 kills, six by Kubik on .353 hitting.
Ohio State carried its late momentum into the second set, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. However, the Huskers rallied to tie it at 5-5 and five more ties followed before the Buckeyes took control for good with a 4-0 run that made it 17-13. The Huskers pulled within two four different times, but Ohio State scored the final two points to take a 2-0 lead at the intermission.
Nebraska hit .243 to Ohio State’s .188 and had four more kills, but Nebraska’s six service errors in the set were too much to overcome. Kubik tacked on seven more kills to her total. The Huskers held Grunze kill-less, but Gabby Gonzales, who hit .000 in the first set, had four kills without an error in game two.
Cook started Callie Schwarzenbach in place of Caffey for the third set after Caffey recorded four kills and two errors on 12 attempts in the first two games.
“Kayla wasn’t doing anything,” Cook said. “Callie’s a bigger block. Callie’s been practicing really well. So we just thought we’d try to change it up and I thought Callie did a nice job.”
Nebraska got off to a good start in set three as Rodriguez served an ace, Nebraska’s first of the match, to put the Huskers up 5-3. Ohio State turned the tables with a 6-0 run, however, featuring three kills and three Nebraska attack errors.
Nebraska tied it up at 10-10 and three more ties followed before the Huskers used a 4-1 run to take a 19-16 lead. After a Buckeye timeout, Ohio State used a 5-2 spurt to tie it up again at 21-21. The teams traded sideouts from there until Rader stepped up again with two more kills to close it out and complete the sweep.
Ohio State out-hit Nebraska .306 to .167 in the third set as Rader accounted for eight of the Buckeyes’ 16 kills. Kubik put down five more kills to lead the Huskers once again.
“There’s wasn’t much to talk about,” Cook said about the locker room after the loss. “Ohio State played great, we give them credit, and we’ve got to start getting better. Now we’ll get a week to train a little bit. It’s a long road trip and we need some training time because I think we’ve lost some of the things that were making us play at a really high level and we’ve got to get better.”
Nebraska will get nearly a full week off before returning to the court at the Devaney Center on Friday to host Maryland.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.