Fifty-eight errors proved to be too much for Nebraska to overcome on Saturday night as the No. 6 Huskers fell in five sets at No. 11 Minnesota.
Nebraska fell to the Golden Gophers 25-22, 28-30, 25-21, 23-25, 15-9 thanks to 36 attack errors, 12 service errors, eight serve receive errors and two blocking errors.
“I thought we started off a little shaky but we worked our way into it, found a way to win game two and battled all the way,” Coach John Cook said during his post-match radio interview. “Game five, three net serves sends a psychological message: we don’t want it. That was disappointing that we didn’t serve and thump when we needed to. We already had to take the momentum away from Minnesota, but we gave them a lot of momentum with those three errors and then Minnesota played great the last five points.”
Madi Kubik led Nebraska with 15 kills and 14 digs but hit just .121. Lauren Stivrins, Lindsay Krause and Lexi Sun added 12 kills apiece but hit .267, .116 and .085, respectively. Krause added six blocks to her stat line. Sun replaced Ally Batenhorst to start the second set and played the rest of the way.
“Lexi finally decided she was going to play hard tonight,” Cook said. “It was good for her to come in and she did some good things. She was also high-error, but a lot of our players were high-error … They were taking good swings, just missing, and sometimes that happens, but that hurts us when we’re combining those with service errors.”
Kayla Caffey just missed a double-double with 11 kills on .280 hitting and nine blocks. Lexi Rodriguez posted a career-high 28 dugs while Nicklin Hames finished with 35 assists, 24 digs and two aces.
Sophomore outside hitter Jenna Wenaas posted a career-best 22 kills on .254 hitting and 19 digs while reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Stephanie Samedy added 20 kills on .236 hitting and 26 digs. Minnesota out-dug Nebraska 107 to 97.
Nebraska got off to a good start, jumping out to a 5-2 lead, but the Golden Gophers settled in and tied the game up at 6-6, the first of six ties in the set. Minnesota took its first lead at 9-8 then stretched it to 12-9 with a 3-0 run. Nebraska tied it up two more times after that before Minnesota pulled ahead for good with a 4-1 run featuring three kills and an ace.
A couple of Minnesota miscues allowed the Huskers to pull within one, but the Gophers rattled off a 7-1 run from there to earn several set points at 24-17. Nebraska kept battling, winning five rallies in a row, but the hole was too deep to climb out of as the Gophers blocked Caffey to finish it off on their sixth attempt.
Minnesota out-hit Nebraska .222 to .133 and doubled up the Huskers in service points, six to three.
Ally Batenhorst led the Huskers with 15 sets in the first half and turned them into as many errors as she had kills (three of each). Lexi Sun started the second set in her place.
Minnesota scored the first three points of the second set, but Nebraska responded with a 7-0 run including two aces from Kenzie Knuckles. Minnesota regrouped during a timeout and four ties and a couple of lead changes followed before Minnesota created some separation at 17-13.
Minnesota kept Nebraska at a distance up until earning set point at 24-20, then the Huskers dug in and rallied to tie it up with four in a row. Six straight sideouts followed before Nebraska managed to pull ahead 28-27 on a Minnesota attack error. Samedy tied it up for the ninth time in the set, but Stivrins answered to give Nebraska set point once again. The Huskers ran out of subs, which meant Knuckles had to play in the front row to finish the set, and she teamed up with Stivrins to stuff Samedy at the pin to give Nebraska the set.
Nebraska out-hit Minnesota .138 to .103 thanks in part to seven blocks. Nebraska had 18 kills led by four apiece from Stivrins and Sun, but Sun only hit .167 thanks to a pair of errors.
The third set was close early on with four ties and neither side leading by more than two points until a 3-0 run put the Gophers ahead 11-8. The game continued to slip away from the Huskers as the attack errors began to pile up.
Minnesota took its largest lead of the night at 21-13 before the Huskers started to chip away. Nebraska cut it to five before Minnesota earned set point at 24-18. Two kills by Kubik and an errant attack by Jenna Wenaas gave the Huskers some life, but Hugh McCutcheon settled his team down with a timeout and Wenaas tooled the Nebraska block on the next point to end it.
“We’re on the road,” Cook said. “We’ve got to be tougher than that. We’ve got to understand that that’s the way it is. We’re playing teams now that aren’t giving you points. They’re not going to give runs. We’re going to have to earn them or take the momentum away from them.”
Nebraska hit .096 with 10 attack errors in the second set. Minnesota only had 10 kills and hit just .176, but the Gophers only had four errors. Kubik had five of Nebraska’s 15 kills in the set.
Minnesota played with the lead much of the way in the fourth set, pulling ahead by three at 5-2, 12-9 and 14-11. Then Nebraska made a push, winning six of the next seven rallies including a personal 3-0 run by Caffey (one kill and two block assists) to take a 17-15 lead.
Minnesota answered with a 5-1 spurt to regain the lead at 20-18, but Nebraska quickly knotted it up again at 20-all with a pair of kills from Kubik. Samedy gave Minnesota the lead again, but Nebraska answered with kills from Hames, Sun and Stivrins to take a 23-21 edge, and that was enough cushion for the Huskers to extend the match as they traded sideouts the rest of the way. Caffey close it out by tooling the block on the slide.
Nebraska narrowly edged out Minnesota in hitting, .170 to .160, thanks to one extra kill. Sun led the Huskers with four kills and Nebraska added five more blocks to its total.
The fifth set featured seven ties as the teams went point-for-point most of the way. Nebraska battled Minnesota to a 9-9 draw despite three serves into the net, and then it got away from them. Back-to-back kills from Wenaas sparked a 6-0 run to end the match. Samedy closed it out with an ace on match point.
Both teams had seven kills, but Nebraska had one more attack error plus those three service errors. Minnesota had two aces without a service error.
“The takeaway message is we played really hard, but they don’t give any medals for playing hard,” Cook said. “You have to find ways to win the games. They played hard tonight, and we have to learn to be tougher and be able to take matches away on the road. Hopefully they’ll have a different mindset going in and trust their training and attack in game five … We’re going to have to just be better in game five and learn how to compete and be better in close games, which we did tonight. We won two deuce games, so that was great. We have to find a way to get a couple points better.”
The Huskers will have a few days off to work on themselves before hitting the road again to face Illinois on Thursday. The Huskers swept the Illini in Lincoln on Oct. 16, but Illinois also beat Penn State on Saturday.
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.