No. 5 Nebraska opened the 2021 season with a dominant defensive showing as the Huskers swept Colgate during Friday night’s Husker Invitational match.
Nebraska took down Colgate 25-13, 25-16, 25-11 in front of a masked-up Devaney Center with an announced attendance of 7,913. The Huskers recorded 15.5 blocks, their most since blocking Penn State 20 times on Nov. 2, 2018.
“I think honestly we’re just a more physical team with Whitney [Lauenstein] and Lindsay [Krause] and all of our freshmen,” senior middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach said. “They’re big girls coming in, they’re just big physical players so I think they’re already up there pretty well and they’re just going to get better as we go on with the little things that we’re working on. So I think we all did really well today.”
Schwarzenbach led the defensive effort with 10 blocks and five kills on .400 hitting. Six other Huskers added at least two blocks apiece as Nebraska held Colgate to minus-.009 hitting. The Huskers hit .260 themselves led by senior Lexi Sun with 10 kills on .308 hitting.
“I thought it was great,” Sun said. “I’m really proud of everyone who stepped up. I think a lot of the newbies just continue to impress me, and I think with this being the first real match, it’s just awesome to see that this is where we’re starting, and it can only go up from here. I thought it was really encouraging to see how everyone kind of stepped into different roles and were able to perform and play really well.”
Krause (eight digs, six kills, five blocks) started at opposite hitter while Lauenstein (three kills, three blocks) subbed in off the bench as Nebraska played a 6-2 system featuring two setters in the first two sets. Freshman Lexi Rodriguez started at libero and led the Huskers with 15 digs.
With Nicklin Hames in street clothes, Waverly product and sophomore walk-on Anni Evans started at setter while freshman Kennedi Orr subbed in off the bench in the first two sets. In game three, Nebraska switched to a 5-1 and Orr handled the setting duties. Evans recorded six assists and four digs while Orr posted a match-high 17 assists, 10 digs, two blocks and one kill.
“Those guys didn’t flinch, that was a good thing,” Coach John Cook said. “They looked like they were in control and running the show and didn’t look panicked at all. And that was their first college match; I mean Anni played once a match last year, came in and served and was out. So that was technically their first starting match as setters.”
Freshman outside hitter Ally Batenhorst was in uniform but did not play. Cook said she’s “banged up a little bit” and although she probably could have played, they wanted to be cautious with her and make sure it didn’t turn into something that would bother her throughout the season. Freshman middle blocker Rylee Gray, who missed the Red-White Scrimmage with a sore shoulder, also did not play.
Senior middle blocker Kayla Caffey set the tone for the match early in the first set with back-to-back block assists — one on the left with Sun and the other on the right with Krause — to give Nebraska a 5-1 lead. Colgate pushed back, cutting the deficit to two at 10-8, but Nebraska responded with an 8-0 run served by Madi Kubik and cruised through the rest of the set.
Sun led the Huskers with five kills on .444 hitting as the Huskers hit .276 as a team. Nebraska held Colgate to .025 hitting thanks in part to four blocks. Rodriguez led the Huskers in both digs (five) and assists (four).
Colgate pulled ahead 4-2 early in the second set but Nebraska rallied to tie it four times before using a 3-0 run to pull ahead 10-7. Nebraska used a couple more 3-0 spurts to create separation and Schwarzenbach closed it out with a couple of block assists (one with Kubik, one with Krause).
Nebraska only hit .182 in the set but dominated at the net defensively with seven more blocks, holding Colgate to minus-.053. Kubik tacked on four more kills to pull even with Sun’s five.
Cook switched up the lineup in game three, giving sophomore middle blocker Kalynn Meyer the start in place of Caffey and Keonilei Akana an opportunity to play off the bench. Colgate won the first rally but a Sun killed knotted it up at 1-1 and brought Akana on to serve. The sophomore from Hawaii delivered with eight straight service points including two aces as Nebraska pulled ahead 9-1.
“One of my things is the six best servers play,” Cook said. “Keonilei came in and served rockets, and that’s hard to do, sitting for two games. One of the problems with a 6-2 is we can’t get those guys in the age because we were already at 12 subs in the second game. Those are the decisions we’re going to have to make because the back row can win us matches just like the front row can.”
Meyer took advantage of her playing time as well with three big kills on six swings and a block.
“It was awesome she gets so hype and everyone just gets so happy and excited around her so to see her go out and play solo was really fun and we’re proud of her,” Schwarzenbach said.
Nebraska continued to dominate, racing out to a 19-5 lead before cruising to the finish. Sun completed the sweep with a match-point ace after adding five more kills to her tally. Nebraska out-hit Colgate .324 to .000 in game three with four more blocks.
Earlier on Friday, Colgate fell to Kansas State 3-1 in the first match of the Husker Invitational. Aliyah Carter led the Wildcats with 21 kills on .324 hitting and 11 digs. Holly Bonde added 11 kills and Haley Warner chipped in 10.
“I thought it was a nice effort by the Huskers and Colgate has a couple players that are pretty nice little players but I think, physically, we just wore them down,” Cook said. “It’s hard and they’ve already played once today. Tomorrow will be a really good, physical test for us. There are going to be some physical players in the gym tomorrow and we’re looking forward to that.”
The Huskers will face the Wildcats in the final match of the tournament on Saturday at 4 p.m. CT. Big Ten Network will televise the match.
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.