No. 22 Purdue went in to the Devaney Center on Friday night and out-hit the No. 7 Huskers .328 to .281, out-blocked them 11 to six and out-dug them 52-49 yet Nebraska still survived and pulled out a four-set victory.
Scores on Nebraska’s favor were 25-22, 21-25, 26-24 and 25-23, giving the Huskers (19-4, 12-1) just a three-point edge in total despite winning three out of the four sets.
“Purdue played great tonight,” Coach John Cook said. “All week I told our team get ready, because Purdue is going to play great after their match against Maryland [a five-set loss in College Park on Sunday]. This was a huge match for them if they could win it here and they played great. You look at the stats, I don’t know how they didn’t win. But our team made some big plays and the crowd was into it.”
A crowd of 8,420 showed up to watch the Huskers improve their record in the friendly confines of the Devaney Center to 11-0.
Junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke led the way with 20 kills on .364 hitting, 10 digs and two blocks. She got off to a great start, ripping off seven kills in the first set alone then cracked 1,000 for her career with her first kill of the second set, becoming the 21st player in program history to reach that milestone.
“Let’s get her another thousand,” Cook said. “Let’s keep going. She’s worked hard and she is showing that she can be a great hitter and she’s had a lot of big matches.”
Foecke wasn’t the only one to go off for 20 kills, however, as both Danielle Cuttino and Sherridan Atkinson both finished with 20 kills on .450 hitting for Purdue (17-7, 7-6), who didn’t hit lower than .250 in any set and hit over .380 in two of the four.
“I think they’re a great offensive team,” Foecke said. “They jump really high, they’re physical, they have some things that maybe we don’t necessarily have, so I think it was difficult and definitely different and they put up a good challenge for us tonight.”
“Most of the time Cuttino and Atkinson were hitting over us,” senior middle blocker Briana Holman added. “So it didn’t really matter where we were.”
Holman added 15 kills on .417 hitting while senior outside hitter Annika Albrecht and freshman right side hitter Jazz Sweet chipped in 10 kills apiece, with Albrecht recording a team-high 13 digs for the double-double. Senior setter Kelly Hunter notched 55 assists and junior libero Kenzie Maloney added 10 digs.
Nebraska jumped out to a 5-3 lead in the first set and never trailed, but the Huskers couldn’t pull away as three was their biggest lead of the entire set. Purdue rallied to tie the match at 18-all, but Nebraska scored the next two points and held on the rest of the way.
The second set included 10 ties and two lead changes with Purdue pulling ahead early, Nebraska taking slight edge and Purdue firing right back to take a 9-8 lead. Nebraska kept it close until a 4-0 run by the Boilermakers gave the visitors a 19-14 lead and the Huskers couldn’t dig themselves out of that hole.
After setting the left-side hitters primarily in the first two sets, the middles stepped up in the third as Holman and freshman Lauren Stivrins combined for 10 kills on 11 swings. Nebraska opened with a 3-0 lead, but Purdue answered with a 4-1 run to force the first of 12 ties in the set. The teams played within two points of each other the rest of the set, trading the lead a few more times. Noted at 24-all, Albrecht put down a big kill to give the Huskers set point and Purdue misfired on the next point to seal the set for the Huskers.
Cook made a lineup change in the third set, inserting redshirt freshman setter Hunter Atherton as a serving sub in place of true freshman defensive specialist Hayley Densberger. Atherton did miss three of her serves, but she also recorded an ace and served the Huskers to that 3-0 start.
“Hayley was being tentative,” Cook said. “Hunter’s got a high-risk, high-reward serve, as you can see. She ran some points for us. I told her she could serve 25 straight if she could keep it in.”
Foecke reasserted herself in the fourth set with seven more kills on 12 swings. Nebraska dominated most of the fourth set, leading by as much as six. However, Purdue wasn’t ready to go home without a fight, battling back to tie the set at 22-22.
Foecke and Sweet put down back-to-back kills to give the Huskers a pair of match points, but Purdue saved the first with a kill by Atkinson. Then Foecke ended it with one last kill.
After recording six kills and six errors through the first three sets, Sweet put down four kills with an error on seven attempts in the fourth. Cook called her contributions “huge.”
“The beginning of the game, she had about four un-hittable balls that were just trap sets,” Cook said. “Her stats are not indicative of how well she played, but she sure finished strong. That last kill there at the end, that was over the block. I’m glad it was in, but that was cutting it close. That was a huge swing.”
Nebraska will return to the Devaney Center on Saturday to host Indiana (12-13, 1-12) at 7:30 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.