No. 6 Nebraska’s search for answers on the offensive end continues as the Huskers dropped their third straight match to close out their nonconference schedule.
The Huskers (6-3) hit a season-low .046 on Saturday as No. 5 Louisville, led by former Husker player and coach Dani Busboom Kelly, swept Nebraska 25-17, 25-20, 25-18 at the Devaney Center.
“Louisville completely outplayed us, did everything,” Coach John Cook said. “We did nothing to put any pressure on them and they played free, loose, aggressive and, and we just really did nothing, didn’t really even compete like we need to. Why I don’t know. So, back to the drawing board. I’ve got three days until we start Big Ten.”
Cook went back to his veteran pins in the starting lineup, but mixed and matched throughout the night looking for a lineup that would click. He never found one.
Back-up middle blocker Kalynn Meyer led Nebraska in hitting at .500, but she only had two kills on four attempts. Freshman opposite hitter Whitney Lauenstein had a team-high nine kills on .087 hitting. Seven other hitters had between two and five kills, but none of them hit above .125 and three of them hit zeros or worse. Setter Nicklin Hames had season-lows with 21 assists and six digs, her first match this season without a double-double.
“It was like a heavyweight fight, we got punched and we just didn’t respond,” Cook said. “We came out very tentative. I think there were six tips that went down off blocks and tips. Roll shots, we looked like we’d never seen one before and our passing was tentative at first. We just started off really tentative tonight, which surprised me.
“I don’t know, some of these things a coach can’t fix; they’ve got to figure it out. We’ve been training great, really good, but we get into games and it’s not happening. So, we’ve got to figure out how to transfer that to the matches.”
Louisville hit .255 behind 11 kills on .588 hitting and six blocks from middle blocker Anna Stevenson. Aiko Jones added 10 kills on .381 hitting, seven blocks and two aces. Stevenson and Jones were two of the players Cook mentioned by name when previewing the match, and the huskers had no answer for them. The Cardinals, third in the nation at 3.2 blocks per set, improved on that average with 12 blocks in three games.
“Obviously coming back here was pretty special,” Busboom Kelly said. “I love this place and have a lot of amazing memories here, but it was awesome to bring a team that I’m so confident in and they’re so confident in themselves and to get to challenge Nebraska. It was just really cool to see us rise to that challenge and you never know how a team is going to respond to this atmosphere and being the favorite, which we are definitely not used to. So it it was great to just see us respond and play great.”
Louisville jumped out to an 8-4 lead early in set one and never relinquished the advantage. Nebraska cut the deficit to one at 10-9 and 14-13 but couldn’t get over the hump. The Cardinals closed the set on an 8-2 run to take a 1-0 lead.
Lauenstein had five kills on eight errorless swings. The rest of the Huskers hit .000 with seven kills and seven errors. Louisville hit .324 as a team led by Stevenson with five kills on seven attacks and had five blocks.
Cook started freshmen Lindsay Krause and Ally Batenhorst on the left side for game two with Lauenstein on the right. Early on, he subbed Meyer, a sophomore, in for Kayla Caffey as well. Louisville pulled ahead 6-3 after Lauenstein hit long on back-to-back rallies, but Meyer spiked the ball then teamed up with Batenhorst for a block.
Nebraska used a 5-1 run capped by an ace from Hames to take its first lead of the night at 11-10. After trading a few side errors, Louisville used a 3-0 run consisting of Nebraska miscues (service error, attack error, attack error) to re-take the lead at 15-13. The Huskers answered with three straight of their own following the media timeout, however.
After trading sideouts, Louisville ripped off a 5-0 run to pull ahead 21-17. Nebraska cut the deficit to two, but could get no closer as the Cardinals closed it out with a 3-0 run.
“They were more consistent and we were, and I think that just comes with being confident and trusting your training and doing what you know how to do, doing what we practice,” junior defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles said. “I think that comes with all of those things and they did that. I think when it comes down to those challenging moments at the end of games, that’s when you have to trust your training the most and I think that we haven’t done that.”
Nebraska hit .028 with nine attack errors and five service errors in the second set. Lauenstein had four errors and no kills on seven swings. Batenhorst had four kills off the bench but also had three errors. Louisville hit .091.
Lexi Sun replaced Krause to start the third set alongside Batenhorst while Caffey replaced Meyer in the middle. The teams battled back and forth without neither one managing to create more than two points of separation most of the way.
The set featured nine ties and five lead changes. In a repeat from the second set, Louisville finally took control with a late run, scoring seven in a row including five straight Nebraska attack errors to pull ahead 23-17.
“They’re trying hard, but it’s mindless volleyball,” Cook said about the error streak. “And again, we weren’t doing anything to pressure Louisville. They get in trouble, they got out of it. We got in trouble, they made us pay.”
Sun ended the run with a kill, but Batenhorst followed with back-to-back errors to end the match.
Nebraska hit minus-.034 with 10 errors in the third set. Louisville hit .375.
Nebraska will begin Big Ten play on Wednesday with a trip to Northwestern.
“They’re going to have to figure out how to compete and play consistently good volleyball,” Cook said. “We’ve got to figure that out in the next three days.”
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.