No. 3 Nebraska secured its fourth straight sweep and improved 8-0 in Big Ten play on Sunday afternoon by taking down an improved Northwestern team in the Devaney Center’s Pink Match.
The Huskers beat the Wildcats (13-7, 2-6 Big Ten) 25-23, 25-16, 25-18 to improve to 16-1 overall while promoting breast cancer awareness and honor survivors with special warm-ups, pink accessories and a moment of recognition between sets.
“I thought Northwestern played really well in game one,” Coach John Cook said. “I think they kind of got us on our heels a little bit and we got off the ropes and started playing a little bit better. There was some good volleyball today and they do some nice things. I think our players got a little bit frustrated because I think when you have so much success like we did Friday night and it’s not going as well, they got a little frustrated, but I thought they did a good job of working through it. We started playing better as the match went on and made some adjustments and did some nice things.”
Nebraska hit .296 as the setters distributed the ball evenly to the four pins. Madi Kubik had nine kills on .304 hitting and a team-high 12 digs. Whitney Lauenstein notched nine kills on .238 hitting and two aces. Ally Batenhorst wasn’t far behind with eight kills on .286 hitting. Lindsay Krause chipped in six kills on .200 hitting as each of the pins took at least 20 swings.
Bekka Allick tied for the team lead with nine kills as well on .571 hitting while Kaitlyn Hord terminated four of her eight attempts and added a match-high five block assists.
Nicklin Hames led Nebraska with 23 assists, eight digs and two aces in her second straight start while Anni Evans added 16 assists and five digs off the bench.
“That’s a balanced attack, and I think that wears teams down,” Cook said. “A couple of times we ran points when we knew where they were going to set and especially when their setter was front row. So it’s very easy to run more points there because you kind of know where it’s going. You can defend that hitter. I think in that 6-2, you’ve got to defend antenna to antenna the whole way with three hitters are all pretty good hitters. The key is can the setter set consistent today and I thought both Nicklin and Anni started off a little erratic and then they got into a great groove by the third game.”
Nebraska held Northwestern to .195 hitting as Temi Thomas-Ailara, third in the Big Ten in kills per set heading into the match, finished with eight kills on .162 hitting.
“We know that she is a very aggressive hitter and she could be very dominant if we didn’t pay close attention to her,” Kubik said. “So I’m really proud of our game plan and the way that we executed that coming out. Hitting .162 I was really impressed with the way that we defended her and the scout that we had for her. She’s a good attacker.”
Former Husker Megan Miller, who received a loud ovation from the Devaney Center during starting lineup introductions, led the Wildcats with a match-high 13 digs.
The first set was tightly contested as neither side managed to put together an extended run. Northwestern jumped ahead 7-4 early with a 3-0 spurt, but Nebraska rallied to tie it at 12-12, 13-13 and 14-14. The Wildcats pulled ahead by three again, but the Huskers responded with a 6-1 run to take a 20-18 lead.
Northwestern kept it close, tying the set at 20-20 and 23-23, but the Huskers got a kill from each pin — Lauenstein on the right and Kubik on the left — to close it out.
The Huskers narrowly edged out the Wildcats in hitting, .289 to .283, as the setters spread the ball around fairly evenly to each of the pins. Kubik, Lauenstein and Krause had four kills apiece while Ally Batenhorst chipped in three. The Huskers benefitted from four Wildcat service errors while the Huskers had three themselves but also got an ace from Hames.
Nebraska won four of the first five rallies in the second set then used a 5-1 run to extend its lead to six at 11-5. The Huskers surpassed their first-set blocks total of 2.5 with three in the first 16 rallies of set two.
Northwestern rallied to within two at 15-13, but the Huskers stretched it back out with an 8-2 run, then after a Northwestern service error, Kubik delivered another set-point kill off the Wildcat block.
Kubik and Batenhorst had four kills apiece to pace Nebraska as the Huskers overcame a slow start to hit .226. The Huskers held the Wildcats to .000 hitting as Thomas-Ailara failed to record a kill in the second set.
Kubik said it took the Huskers a bit to build up some energy and get into a rhythm, but once they did they rolled through the second and third sets.
”That’s what we kind of just talked about is it’s hard to play great every single day,” Kubik said. “What I’m really proud of our group for doing is just kind of leaning into that weirdness and that uncomfiness right there at the beginning of the the match and just leaning on each other and bringing our own energy and finding a way to play a little bit better as we went along.”
Sloppy play from Northwestern allowed the Huskers to win seven of the first 10 rallies in the third set as the Wildcats contributed five of those seven points with their own errors (three attack, one service and one ball-handling). Northwestern cleaned things up from here, however, and rallied to tie it up at 10-10.
The Wildcats tied it up two more times before an Allick kill and back-to-back aces from Lauenstein made it 15-12 Huskers. After trading sideouts for a stretch, Nebraska put together a 6-1 run to take a 23-16 lead then traded sideouts to close it out. Allick capped a monster third set with kill on match point.
“We just started pumping her a little bit more and she was dominating,” Hames said. “In the middle of the play, she was yelling at me to set her, so I was like, ‘OK,’ and she got kills every time. So she just brings a lot of energy and she’s such a competitor She’s really fun to play with and she brought it today and helped us out a lot.”
The freshman terminated on all six of her swings in game three to tie her season high in kills. Nebraska played a clean third set, hitting .375 with just two errors. Northwestern hit .270 as Thomas-Ailara came alive for for five kills (after three in the first two sets combined), but it wasn’t enough.
Nebraska will hit the road again for week five of Big Ten play with trips to West Lafayette and Champaign on the schedule.
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.