John Cook changed his lineup after a slow start and the move provided the desired spark as the Huskers finished strong to take down Indiana 3-1 in Bloomington on Sunday afternoon.
The Huskers (19-6, 13-3 Big Ten) beat the Hoosiers (9-19, 3-13) 23-25, 25-18, 25-22, 25-16 at Wilkinson Hall to complete the season sweep of Indiana and remain in a tie for first place in the Big Ten.
After not playing in the previous three matches, freshman Ally Batenhorst checked in for Madi Kubik early in the second set and led the Huskers with 11 kills on .333 hitting, five digs and one block.
“She’s been doing OK, but not to the point where we thought we should start her,” Cook said about Batenhorst. “But Madi was really struggling, Madi struggled the last match so I had to do something. Ally came in and she’s a creative attacker and she moves it all over the place. She’s really hard to defend. Hopefully she’ll build some confidence from this.”
Lexi Sun, who replaced Batenhorst in the starting lineup two weeks ago, matched the freshman with 11 kills on .310 hitting and two aces. Lindsay Krause led the Huskers in attacks with 32 and terminated 11 times as well, but she hit just .125.
Lauren Stivrins added 10 kills on .391 hitting and three blocks. Kubik struggled mightily, finishing with nine kills and eight errors for a .037 hitting percentage. Nebraska hit .210 and held Indiana to .081, out-killing the Hoosiers 62 to 38.
“Indiana played really well,” Cook said. “I think we took the wind out of their sails when we won game three, but they played hard. They played great. I’m not sure I would call our side a great effort with 27 hitting errors. We’re not very much in sync right now. So Nicklin’s got to set better, hitters have to make better decisions and we were a little too high-error.”
Lexi Rodriguez led the defensive effort with 22 digs, six assists and three aces. Kenzie Knuckles added 12 digs, Keonilei Akana had 10 and Nicklin Hames had 10 to go with 47 assists.
The match opened with 12 straight sideouts before Indiana broke the streak with a service point to take the lead at 7-6. The Huskers gave the Hoosiers their first four points with three service errors and an errant attack.
Nebraska tied it up again on the next point, but the Hoosiers surged ahead with a 4-0 run including back-to-back Nebraska attack errors. Indiana pushed the lead to six at 15-9 with a 3-0 run included two Nebraska errors and an ace from Brooke Westbeld.
Indiana continued to control the action, stretching the lead to seven a few times — the last 20-13 — before Nebraska started to chip away. Kubik led a late charge as the Huskers used a 5-1 run featuring four Kubik kills to pull within one at 24-23. Indiana finally ended it on the next point, however, as Kari Zumach and Kayla Rammelsburg blocked Kenzie Knuckles at the pin after the defensive specialist got trapped in the front row.
Zumach and Rammelsburg combined for seven kills on eight swings as Indiana out-hit Nebraska .289 to .200.
Callie Schwarzenbach started in place of Kayla Caffey for the second set as the latter struggled defensively despite recording three kills on five swings.
Nebraska jumped out to a 5-1 start in set two, but back-to-back Kubik attack errors allowed the Hoosiers to cut their deficit to one. A few points later, Cook sent Ally Batenhorst in to replace Kubik in the front row.
Nebraska stretched the lead to six at 13-7 thanks to a run that included two kills and a solo block by Sun. Indiana used a 3-0 run to cut the lead in half, but that’s as close as they got as Nebraska pushed it back to five, then six, then seven. Krause closed it out with her sixth kill of the set.
Batenhorst provided a spark with four kills on five swings as Nebraska hit .289. Indiana hit .167 as the Huskers limited Rammelsburg and Zumach to three kills and two errors on 13 attempts. The Huskers doubled the Hoosiers in kills, 18 to nine.
Caffey was back in the lineup to start the third set, while Batenhorst continued to play in the front row with Kubik subbing in for her in the back.
The first 10 rallies included three ties as the teams went back and forth, but Indiana eventually created some separation with a 3-0 run to make it 12-8 as the Huskers had six more attack errors in the first 20 points.
Indiana pushed its lead at six at 17-11 and 18-12 before Nebraska came storming back behind Sun. The super senior had three straight kills during a 5-0 run to to pull the Huskers within one, then she served back-to-back aces to give the Huskers the lead at 21-20.
Indiana tied it at 21-all, but the Huskers closed the set on a 4-1 run that included three Indiana errors.
Nebraska hit just .150 with Batenhorst leading the way for a balanced attack with four kills. The Huskers held the Hoosiers to just eight kills on .111 hitting.
The third set opened with three straight kills, two by Indiana and one by Nebraska, then a Hoosier service error sparked a 9-0 Nebraska run to blow the game wide open. Rodriguez served the run that included two aces.
A 4-0 run including two kills and a block assist from Stivrins gave the Huskers a 14-4 lead and they cruised the rest of the way. The Huskers earned match point at 24-11 before running into some trouble, but Sun finally terminated on the Huskers’s sixth attempt to close out the win.
Nebraska hit .189 and held the Hoosiers to .081. Sun had four kills on five swings while Stivrins got 10 sets and turned them into four swings of her own. The Huskers continued with the front-back row split for Batenhorst and Kubik.
Cook credited the turnaround in the match to more aggressive serving from the Huskers later on in the afternoon.
“[Indiana] passed great tonight,” Cook said. “I talked to them after game two and in game three like, ‘Guys, we’ve got to start trusting our serves. We’re a great serving team. Keonilei went back there started thumping it and Roddy had a couple of great runs and then Lexi came in and did an awesome job serving. So those guys really took that to heart and set the tone and it really turned the match around.”
Nebraska will return to Lincoln for two more home matches next week before closing out the season with a pair of matches on the road. They’ll face Penn State on Friday.
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.