Lauren Stivrins put the Huskers on her back in a four-set win against Maryland on Friday night. On Saturday, setter Nicklin Hames coordinated a much more balanced attack as the Huskers swept the Terrapins at the Devaney Center.
No. 4 Nebraska beat Maryland 25-14, 25-21, 25-18 to complete the weekend sweep and improve to 4-0 on the season.
“First of all, that’s our goal is to be balanced,” Coach John Cook said. “Second of all, give Nicklin a ton of credit. She’s doing it on good passes, bad passes, really mixing it up and it makes us harder to defend. I think we’re just scratching the surface of what we can do with that.”
The Huskers hit .337 behind Hames’ 29 assists, 10 digs and two kills. Madi Kubik led all players with 12 kills on .308 hitting and three service aces without an error while Riley Zuhn added 11 kills on .500 hitting. Kayla Caffey notched eight kills on .538 hitting and five block assists. Lexi Sun and Lauren Stivrins chipped in eight kills apiece while Sun and Keonilei Akana each added eight digs.
“I think it just shows how much depth we have on our team and that we’re dangerous from all sides of the court,” Zuhn said about the balance. “I think it’s a huge asset for us.”
Nebraska held Maryland to .169 hitting as Erika Pritchard, the Terrapins’ top hitter, committed six errors to go with her 10 kills. Nebraska had eight aces and seven service errors while the Terps had three aces and five errors. Nebraska had 15 aces and 15 errors in seven sets between the two matches after recording 11 aces and 17 errors in six sets against Indiana.
“The thing I remind them is just to trust it and go after it,” Cook said about his team’s serving. “A lot of times if you just think about putting it in play, it’s easy or they miss it. They have to go after it. It’s a fine line — it’s like driving an Indy 500 car: you’re just on the edge of crashing, or you’re on the edge of missing it, but you have to go as hard and as fast as you can go. There’s just that fine line and they have to trust their technique and their training. Madi, last year she was an awful server so all year I’ve been on her about becoming a better server and she served really well this weekend.”
Cook said the team’s energy — led by Kubik, Knuckles, Sun and hames — was much improved from the start of the match on Friday, but other than that, he didn’t have to make too many adjustments from the first night to the second.
“They changed where they started, so we had different matchups,” Cook said. “Our whole adjustment tonight was can we play with a better mindset and more energy and play like we’ve been training. A lot of the focus was on our side tonight because we felt they’re a pretty simple team. They set a lot of left side and those left side hitters get some really good swings. The other adjustment was we didn’t want any tips to go down tonight. I think [Jada] Gardner got one tip on a really nice play, but I think we got all the other tips from the left sides.”
Sun opened the match the same way she did Friday’s with a kill on the first point and the Huskers used two 3-0 runs to take an early 6-2 lead. The Terrapins kept it closed in the first half of the set, pulling to within two at 10-8, but the Huskers dominated the rest of the way, winning 14 of the final 20 rallies.
Nebraska hit .458 in the set and held the Terrapins to .000 thanks in part to four blocks. Zuhn led the way with six kills on seven swings.
Much like Friday’s match, the second set was the most competitive of the night as it included 16 ties and nine lead changes. The Terrapins led 18-17 before a 3-0 run gave Nebraska the lead for good as they scored eight of the final 11 points.
Mad Kubik came alive with seven kills in the second set as the Huskers hit .256 and held the Terps to .179.
After trading points early in the third set, Nebraska hit Maryland with an 8-0 run featuring Kubik at the service line and the Huskers cruised from there. Freshman setter Anni Evans gave Nebraska another good rep after recording an ace as part of a double-substitution in the fourth set of Friday’s match. She served tough which led to an overpass that Caffey terminated, giving Nebraska a 10-point advantage.
Maryland made a run late, cutting the deficit down to five at 23-18, but Lexi Sun snapped a 3-0 Terrapin run with a kill to give Nebraska match-point. Cook went back to the double-sub and Evans found Caffey for a kill to close it out, recording her first career assist.
Nebraska hit .341, Maryland .276 in the third set. Caffey led the Huskers with five kills on seven attempts.
The Husker will hit the road next weekend for a pair of matches at Rutgers (1-5). Both Friday’s and Saturday’s matches are set for 3 p.m. on BTN+.
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.