John Cook went deep into his bench as No. 10 Nebraska opened NCAA Tournament play with a sweep over Campbell on Friday night.
The Huskers (22-7) took down the Fighting Camels (21-10) — making their first NCAA Tournament appearance — 25-14, 25-14, 25-17 in front of a crowd of 7,884 at the Devaney Center.
“I think that was a great game for us, especially being the first game of the tournament,” Lauren Stivrins said. “Some of these games … it’s a change of pace from what we have seen in the Big Ten. For us to come out here and still play at the level that we are capable of playing, I think that is huge for us and it is going to be huge for us going forward.”
Ten different Huskers found the kills column on the stat sheet as Nicklin Hames kept everyone involved and Coach John Cook rotated pins and middles to keep starters fresh and get everyone experience.
Hames went to her middles early and often by design as Lauren Stivrins, Kayla Caffey, Callie Schwarzenbach and Kalynn Meyer accounted for 38 of Nebraska’s 103 attacks. Stivrins led everyone with nine kills on .412 hitting and six blocks.
“I think we saw on film that they like to kind of handle middles one-on-one and so we knew that if we were to hit angles we would be successful in the middle,” Stivrins said. “And then obviously, they are a little bit smaller than we are, so just hitting high line off the slide was working for both of us tonight.”
Nebraska snapped its streak of 10 consecutive matches hitting below .215, finishing at .272. Lindsay Krause (five kills on .444 hitting) and Ally Batenhorst three kills) got the start at the pins alongside Madi Kubik (seven kills on .286 hitting), but Lexi Sun (three kills) and Whitney Lauenstein (two kills) also saw the court.
Hames finished with 37 assists, seven digs, three aces, three blocks and two kills while Lexi Rodriguez led the defensive effort with 10 digs.
The Huskers held Campbell in the negative for two of the three sets as the Fighting Camels finished at minus.-022 for the match.
“I thought we came out firing the ball around a little bit, and we passed great tonight,” Cook said. “We held them to a negative. Anytime you hold someone to a negative hitting percentage, your defense has done a good job.”
Nebraska got off to a somewhat slow start offensively, but the Huskers’ serving and defense made up for it as the Camels spent most of the set in the negative hitting-wise. Errant Campbell attacks contributed to Nebraska building an 8-2 lead early, then Hames blew the game open with a 5-0 serving run including two aces that gave the Huskers a 16-6 lead.
Nebraska gradually found a rhythm offensively and cruised to the finish. A diving serve receive attempt from Rodriguez on set point led to a kill from Krause, her first of the night. Nebraska hit .300 while holding Campbell to just five kills and minus-069 hitting.
Stivrins led the way with four kills on six swings, while Rodriguez recorded six digs, the third of which broke the program’s single-season freshman digs record of 444.
The Huskers went to Caffey early and often in the second set as she notched three kills and added a block assist in the first nine rallies to give Nebraska a 6-3 lead.The Fighting Camels pulled within two a few times, but Nebraska steadily extended the lead from there.
“I think that is just what we were feeling tonight,” Caffey said. “Me and Nicklin, we work really hard on our connection in the gym. I think she just felt comfortable firing it to me, just trying to get us fired up to start off with for the match. But not planned.”
A 5-1 run gave the Huskers a 16-9 lead, and then a 3-0 run pushed the advantage to 10 at 22-12. After a couple of Campbell points, Nebraska closed it out with another 3-0 run including Krause’s second set-point kill.
Krause had three kills on four swings as Nebraska hit .345 as a team. Caffey had four kills but also recorded three errors to keep her percentage down. Campbell hit minus-.034.
Sun and Lauenstein started the third set and Lauenstein delivered a cross-court kill from the left pin on the first point. The Camels fought early, hanging around at 6-3, but Nebraska hit them with a 3-0 run before a service error.
Then Hames went to Stivrins on the slide for a kill, sparking another 3-0 run. After Stivrins’ kill, Schwarzenbach checked in for Caffey. Stivrins served an ace, then Schwarzenbach terminated on her own slide attempt to give the Huskers a 12-4 lead.
“It was great,” Cook said of the crowd’s reaction to Schwarzenbach, who did not play in the previous four matches. “Our fans are awesome. They are very passionate, and they are also very educated on what is going on. They follow us. They know. It is great to see them support all of our players. I noticed that she got a great cheer. We have the best fans. Volleyball here is a state treasure, and our fans appreciate it, and I know it means a lot to our players.”
Campbell responded with a 5-1 run of its own and cut the deficit own to four twice. Cook called a timeout at 16-12, then Nebraska ripped off an 8-1 run to earn set point. The Camels fought off elimination four times, but on the fifth, Sun terminated to complete the sweep.
Campbell finally got above water, hitting .032, but Nebraska had 17 kills and hit .205. After a quiet first three sets, Kubik capped off the night with four kills on eight swings.
Nebraska will take on Florida State (20-9) in the second round. The Seminoles swept Kansas State 25-20, 25-16, 25-17 in the first match of the day at the Devaney Center. Emma Clothier led the way with 11 kills on 18 errorless swings (.611 hitting). The Wildcats hit .340 for the match with just seven attack errors.
“We have seen them play,” Cook said of the Seminoles. “We are prepared. We will put that in tomorrow at practice and video and go play. In the tournament, you cannot prepare for three teams, but we are used to playing a match and then you have to prepare the very next day for a team, so this is standard procedure for us.”
First serve on Saturday is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN+.
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.