It was great until it wasn’t and then it was great again for Nebraska in a big Big Ten win at Minnesota. The Huskers (23-3, 15-2) jumped out fast behind aggressive serving, gave it all away and then, following a spirited speech from co-captain Lauren Stivrins, buried the Gophers (20-5, 14-3) in the fifth.
Nebraska held a narrow hitting edge, .264-.257, to win a wild match 25-22, 25-18, 19-25, 11-25, 15-3
Setter Nicklin Hames set the tone for the first set from the jump, drilling an ace on the first serve of the match. The teams traded points to 6-5 before a kill from Stivrins spurred a 4-0 Nebraska run, capped by an ace from Hayley Densberger, and forced a Minnesota timeout.
The Gophers answered out of the timeout, posting a 3-0 run of their own. The Huskers regrouped and again got rolling from the service line. Megan Miller served back-to-back aces to push the lead to 16-11. After dueling 3-0 runs, Minnesota scored eight of the next 11 to pull within one at 23-22 before consecutive Husker kills gave them set one, 25-23. Nebraska had four aces to Minnesota’s one.
Nebraska continued to apply pressure via the serve in the second. Lexi Sun delivered an ace to make it 10-7 and force a Gopher timeout, then hit another one coming out of the break. The lead grew to six and Minnesota never got closer than four the rest of the way. Sun served three aces and Madi Kubik recorded six kills for the second straight set to give Nebraska a 2-0 lead at the break.
Minnesota came out strong in the third, taking a 3-0 lead on a pair of Husker attack errors. Nebraska struggled to dig itself out of the early hole, losing on an early challenge. It looked like the Huskers might have some momentum when a reviewed attack error by Regan Pittman went Nebraska’s way to cut it to 14-11, but a savvy dump by setter Kylie Miller, playing her first match in 13 weeks for Minnesota, kicked off a 4-1 run. After hitting .208 over the first two sets, Minnesota hit .412 in the 25-19 win. It was the Huskers’ first set of the night without a service ace.
The Gophers opened the fourth set in the same way, 3-0, and grew the lead to 6-1 thanks to some shoddy Nebraska passing. Things got worse from there. The Huskers failed to score consecutive points in the fourth set and committed their ninth and 10th service errors of the match as Minnesota raced to a 25-11 win.
Stivrins took control of the Huskers’ huddle prior to the deciding set. Whatever she said, it worked. Stivrins first kill of the set gave Nebraska its first lead at 3-2. On the next rally, a Kubik tip was ruled out before a challenge and review showed a Minnesota touch. Instead of 3-3, the Huskers had a 4-2 lead and they were off and running.
The Gophers got one back to make it 4-3—and then didn’t score again. Kubik recorded four kills, on her way to a match-high 20, as Nebraska built a 13-3 lead. Miller got one more ace in, the Huskers’ eighth of the night, before Kubik hammered home a kill to give Nebraska the win. The Huskers hit .653 in the final set.
Nebraska’s win sets up a pivotal match in the Big Ten race on Sunday. Wisconsin currently leads the conference with a 16-1 record following a sweep of Iowa on Friday night. The Huskers sit one game back, tied with Penn State for second.
First serve between Nebraska and Wisconsin is set for 1:30 p.m. The match will be carried by the Big Ten Network.