LINCOLN, Neb. – Down go the champs.
For the third straight season, No. 19 Ohio State has defeated No. 1 Nebraska, this time in a four-round knockout. The Buckeyes went into the Devaney Center on Saturday night and took down the Huskers 17-25, 25-21, 25-21, 25-13 in front of 8,368 fans.
The Buckeyes (12-4, 2-2 Big Ten) snapped a 28-match winning streak for the Huskers (12-1, 3-1) dating back to last season. Nebraska was the last remaining unbeaten team in Division I.
“Ohio State’s ‘why’ was way stronger than ours tonight,” Nebraska Coach John Cook said. “They wanted this match way more than we did for whatever reason. I don’t know why we didn’t fight harder. It was a poor effort across the whole part of Nebraska Volleyball. You have to give Ohio State a lot of credit. They came in and competed really hard. They didn’t have one of their best players. I think they had two freshmen out there, so it’s pretty disappointing. We didn’t do anything well tonight and the way we started off I think sent a message to Ohio State that we weren’t in this, even though we won the first game.”
The first set included 10 ties and five lead changes as the teams traded punches throughout the first 20 or so points before the Huskers pulled away for an eight-point win. The Buckeyes turned the tables in the second and third sets, however, as Ohio State was the one who pulled away after a back-and-forth start.
Even after dropping back-to-back sets, Cook said he wasn’t worried heading into set four; after all, this team just rallied from a 0-2 deficit last week at Michigan State. However, he should have been.
“I really was thinking we were going to win that game four,” Cook said. “I just had a feeling like, ‘OK, we’re going to come out and really start playing.’ And I was shocked at what I was seeing.”
The Huskers were nearly doubled up in the fourth as Ohio State reeled off a 6-0 run to take an 11-point lead midway through; the Huskers simply didn’t have an answer.
After hitting zeros in the first set, the Buckeyes hit .353 over the last three and out-hit Nebraska .273 to .175 overall. Ohio State out-dug Nebraska 62-53 and served up one more ace with one less error.
“Just an overall poor effort,” Cook said. “Sometimes in volleyball you start sliding down that mountain and it just gets slipperier and slipperier. Tonight, it got worse as the night went on. We really couldn’t do anything very well. Ohio State was putting a lot of pressure on us; they made us pay. Every time we gave them an easy ball they made us pay and that starts putting a lot of pressure on our side. We weren’t pressuring them at all. We were making errors on easy serves. When we got them out of system we let them off the hook way too much.”
Ohio State setter Taylor Hughes gave Nebraska fits as an all-around threat, putting down 11 kills on 18 swings in addition to dishing out a game-high 41 assists, recording eight digs and blocking three attacks.
“We definitely knew [Hughes] was going to [attack],” Nebraska senior outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen said. “We had seen it on film; she was very offensive. But obviously you could see that we didn’t adjust very well to her at all.”
As for the Huskers, the lone bright spot offensively was Rolfzen, who led the Huskers with 13 kills on .367 hitting. Senior libero Justine Wong-Orantes was the standout on defense, finishing with a game-high 18 digs and moving into second place on Nebraska’s career digs list.
After the match, Cook appeared disappointed but not entirely surprised by what happened in the match.
“I saw it in practice the last couple weeks,” Cook said. “We haven’t had a good practice in a couple weeks and I’ve told them that, and now it came to collect.”
The scene at the post-game press conference was reminiscent of the last time the Huskers lost. They followed that up by winning their last 10 matches of the regular season then marching through the NCAA Tournament to claim the national championship. Rolfzen said she is hoping Saturday’s disappointment will lead to a similar refocusing by the team.
“The first thing that comes to mind is this wasn’t really Nebraska volleyball,” Rolfzen said. “It was just kind of out there to be out there. I guess the good thing about this is on Monday, we have some motivation going into practice. We know little things we need to work on.”
Nebraska will return to the Devaney Center on Friday to host Indiana at 7 p.m.
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.