It was a day for defense at the Devaney Center and No. 11 Nebraska’s all-around excellence outshone Maryland’s big block in a 25-11, 26-24, 25-18 sweep. The Huskers (18-6, 12-3) hit just .176 but held the Terrapins (18-9, 6-9) to .000 on the night while digging 78 balls, a school record in a three-set match during the rally scoring era.
Despite a rough start, outside hitter Madi Kubik led Nebraska with 14 kills on 51 attempts. Middle blocker Lauren Stivrins added seven to go with seven blocks and defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles had a career night with five kills from the back row. Libero Lexi Rodriguez led Nebraska with 22 digs, one ahead of setter Nicklin Hames who also recorded 31 assists.
“It wasn’t the prettiest match,” John Cook said, “but our floor defense, our blocking, our serving did a nice job. Our offense wasn’t very good tonight, except for our middles. We’re just making too many errors. We’ve got to clean that up.”
The match started with a service error from Maryland, but it was a slow start from the Huskers that truly made for an odd opening overall. The Terrapins scored their first two points via Ranielle Jones kills, but their next five would come via errors by Kubik, four in attack and one from the service line.
Stivrins supplied Nebraska’s first kill, 12 points into the first set, to make it 8-5 in favor of the Huskers. It was part of a 9-1 run that would force a pair of Maryland timeouts. The Terrapins wouldn’t draw closer than eight the rest of the way as the Huskers closed the set on a 5-0 run.
After starting with four errors, Kubik recorded five kills to lead the team in the first set though she hit just .056. Hames recorded more digs (seven) than assists (six) in the first game as Nebraska, out of system early, hit .167 while holding the Terrapins to -.139.
“I think a lot of peoples’ game plan is to try to get me the ball first so they can get us out of system,” Hames said. “But we’re trusting [Rodriguez] to put the ball in the box and I thought she did a great job with that.”
Maryland got on track offensively to start the second set, building a 10-6 lead to force a timeout from Cook. The Huskers responded with a 3-0 run, but Maryland maintained a lead until back-to-back Stivrins kills pulled Nebraska within one. Nebraska appeared to have tied it at 18 before a challenge revealed a Hames touch on a block to keep the Terps in front, 19-17.
The Huskers finally did draw even at 21, but Maryland responded with a 3-0 run to earn set point. A service error from Sam Csire gave Nebraska a lifeline. Kubik and Stivrins combined on a black followed by back-to-back kills from freshman Whitney Lauenstein, inserted into the match in the second set, as Nebraska took a 25-24 lead. Following a Maryland timeout, Laila Ricks hit wide to give the Huskers’ a come-from-behind win.
Nebraska outhit Maryland .186-.091 in the second set.
Despite the swing in momentum, the Terrapins started fast out of the break, building a 4-0 lead. Consecutive Lauenstein kills, making it 4-2, would spark the Huskers again. Cook challenged an out call on a Knuckles serve that, despite more than 3 minutes of deliberation, didn’t go Nebraska’s way, but it did spark a 5-1 Husker run.
Nebraska never trailed in the final set after nosing in front at 7-6. Knuckles recorded her fourth and fifth kills from the back row, marking a career high, as the Huskers reached set point at 24-18. Kubik completed the sweep with her 14th kill.
“There were a lot of moving blocks tonight,” Cook said of Knuckles’ success from the back row. “Kenzie just found ways to find an opening and move the ball around. If you did a shot chart of her tonight, her six swings, they were all over the place.”
The Huskers next take the court on Sunday at Indiana. First serve is set for 1 p.m. and the match will be available to stream on BTN+.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.