Iowa put up a good fight, but No. 9 Nebraska handed the Hawkeyes their eighth straight three-set loss (and 11th straight loss overall) on Wednesday night.
The Huskers (15-3, 9-0 Big Ten) won 25-21, 25-22, 26-24 in Iowa City to complete the season-sweep of the Hawkeyes (2-17, 0-9). Nebraska out-hit Iowa .266 to .215 and out-blocked the Hawkeyes eight to three. The Huskers had eight aces and eight service errors while Iowa had there and five, respectively.
“I thought Iowa played really well tonight,” Coach John Cook said during his post-match radio interview. “They were serving really well, stressed us a little bit. I’m looking at the stats and it’s almost identical to when we played in Lincoln. I think we hit .267 in Lincoln, we hit .266 tonight according to their stats. They hit .216, they hit .215. Anyway, Iowa did a nice job tonight and we’re glad to get out here 3-0 and win that last game.”
For the ninth time in as many conference games, Madi Kubik led the Huskers with 13 kills on .250 hitting. Opposite hitter Lindsay Krause chipped in eight kills while also hitting .250.
Nebraska got strong performances from both middle blockers as well. Lauren Stivrins had 11 kills on .667 hitting while Kayla Caffey returned to the lineup after missing the last three matches because of an illness and out up seven kills on .500 hitting and five blocks.
With 39 assists, Nicklin Hames passed Greichaly Cepero to move into third place on Nebraska’s career assists list, and she added 11 digs for the double-double. Lexi Rodriguez led the defensive effort once again with 17 digs and added two aces.
“[Rodriguez] missed a couple of digs tonight, but you know what she does is she sets great, she passes great, I thought she was our best server tonight — not looking at aces, but just stressing the other team and really thumping her serve tonight,” Cook said. “She was really bringing it.”
The two teams played pretty evenly for most of the first set with five ties in the first 12 rallies. Nebraska created the first real separation of the game at 15-10 with a 4-0 run served by Rodriguez, and that proved to be the difference.
Iowa settled in after that run and managed to pull within two a couple of times, but that was as close as they could get. With Nebraska leading 20-18, Iowa misfired on its serve then Kenzie Knuckles followed it up with an ace to give the Huskers a four-point lead, and the teams tased sideouts the rest of the way. Stivrins delivered set point with a cross-court kill on the slide.
Nebraska hit .342 while Iowa hit .341. The difference was the service line as Iowa had four errors while Nebraska had two aces and just one error. Stivrins led the Huskers with five kills on eight swings while Kubik and Krause chipped in four kills apiece.
Iowa continued to roll offensively in the second set, jumping out to a 9-4 lead while recorded nine kills and no errors on its first 14 swings. Nebraska settled in from there, however, and responded with a 4-0 run featuring Anni Evans at the service line.
Evans finally missed on her serve to end the run, but a Nebraska sideout sent Hames back to serve and she put together an 8-0 run. After that hot start, the Hawkeyes misfired four times and didn’t record a kill on their next 12 swings, allowing Nebraska to pull ahead 16-10.
Iowa reeled off three in a row, but Nebraska answered with a Caffey kill and a Knuckles ace. Nebraska maintained its lead the rest of the way, earning set point at 24-18. However, three straight attack errors by Ally Batenhorst and an Iowa kill gave the Hawkeyes some life. Rodriguez prevented the run from reaching 5-0 with a diving serve reception, and a one-handed bump set from Hames found Kubik in the back row for her 10th kill of the night to seal it.
Nebraska hit .256 in the set with all five of the team’s errors coming in the last 12 rallies. Iowa hit .200. Kubik led the way with six more kills made it through the first two sets without an error.
Sun started the third set in place of Batenhorst after the freshman had five attack errors in the first two sets.
Iowa won the first two rallies and led most of the way through the first half of the set. Nebraska tied the match four times and briefly took the lead at 8-7, but the Hawkeyes pushed ahead 12-9.
Just like in the first two sets, Nebraska used a run to pull ahead midway through the set. This time it was 5-0 with Knuckles serving. Iowa didn’t fold this time, however, and nine ties and four lead changes followed.
Iowa pulled ahead late at 23-22, but Krause tied it up with a kill then teamed up with Caffey for a block to give Nebraska match point. Iowa extended the game with a kill, but an Iowa attack error gave Nebraska match point again and this time the Huskers capitalized as Rodriguez dropped an ace in front of two Hawkeyes.
“Everybody in the Big Ten is good and they can play at a really high level,” Cook said. “If you catch them on a night where they’re on fire — you saw the end of that game, we’re hitting shots and they were just digging them.”
Nebraska only hit .209 in the third but picked up the defense, holding the Hawkeyes to .111. Sun didn’t record a kill on her six third-set swings, and Batenhorst finished with five kills and five errors.
“Neither one of them did much tonight,” Cook said. “I think we’ve got to be better in that spot. They had a lot of tough sets tonight, but they’ve got to find ways to manage a little bit better because they both hit zero. We’ve got to have more production out of that.”
Up next for Nebraska is a meeting at the Devaney Center with No. 7 Purdue on Saturday. The Boilermakers fell in a five-set classic against Michigan State on Wednesday.
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.