LINCOLN, Neb. — The unanimously No. 1 Nebraska volleyball team opened its home schedule in dominant fashion on Friday night, sweeping Iowa State 25-20, 25-17, 25-12. A crowd of 8,301 packed the Devaney Center to welcome the Huskers (3-0) home as they host the Nebraska Invitational.
“Not that I had forgotten, but I almost forgot what it felt like running out and all the fans cheering for us right before we swing,” sophomore outside hitter Mikaela Foecke said. “I think that’s something special and every time I run out I just get the chills because I’m so excited to be playing here with all these fans that are rooting for us.”
The Huskers appeared a little too pumped up early, as they fell behind 3-0 in each of the first two sets and committed 13 services errors to five aces, but Coach John Cook said he was pleased with his team’s performance.
“I have a lot of respect for Iowa State,” Cook said. “I thought we did some really good things today. The first thing you look at is 13 missed serves but the good news is, unless I’m getting forgetful, I don’t think any were missed in the net so a lot of them were just missing and I think that’s a reflection of adrenaline and playing at home. I don’t care how many times you play in here – you get in front of that crowd and you get pumped up.”
The first of those 13 errors came on the first serve of the game as junior setter Kelly Hunter put a little bit too much into her swing. Iowa State (2-2) jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but Nebraska jumped ahead at 5-4 then reeled off a 5-0 run to take a 12-7 lead. From then one, the Huskers kept the Cyclones at safe distance as senior outside hitter Andie Malloy ended the first set with a pair of kills.
The Huskers slowed a bit offensively in the second set, but their defense took over as they finished with 7.5 blocks after just three stuffs in the first. Leading 10-9, Hunter and senior middle blocker Amber Rolfzen teamed up for three consecutive blocks to put the Huskers in the driver’s seat and they cruised to the finish line from there.
“It felt awesome,” junior middle blocker Briana Holman said. “During the timeouts we talked about the different schemes that we have for the other team, and then we just went out and executed it. So we did a really good job of preparation and the game plan was there. I think that was the difference.”
Nebraska finished with 12.5 blocks in the match and held the Cyclones to .044 hitting for the match. The Huskers did an excellent job of shutting down Iowa State’s top two hitters in Jess Schaben (seven kills on -.062 hitting) and Ciara Capezio (seven kills on .000 hitting).
As dominant as the Huskers looked at the net, Cook said they still have a ways to go to reach their ceiling.
“I always think as the season goes on the defense and block gets better,” Cook said. “That’s how I always have looked at it … When you get to November, December, it’s harder to hit big numbers because I think everybody gets used to the speed and the coordination and all those things.”
The Huskers used a 7-0 run midway through the third set to jump out ahead 15-6, and they nearly doubled up the Cyclones the rest of the way to seal the victory in convincing fashion.
As has been the case thus far in this young season, Hunter spread the ball around and got all of her hitters involved as the Huskers hit .389 for the match. Foecke, Holman and senior outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen tied for the match-high with nine kills each and Amber Rolfzen added seven more.
“Great distribution – nine, seven, nine, nine and then Andie [Malloy] and Liv [Boender] five with Kelly at three,” Cook said. “Really nice distribution and good balance and only eight attack errors; that’s a pretty good night.”
Foecke said the depth in offensive talent on the Huskers roster and the trust Hunter has in all of them empowers all of them to go hard.
“I think it gives us the opportunity to swing big, because you know that if you go up and you do miss, there are four or five other girls out there that are going to go up and swing just as hard,” Foecke said. “You know that if you do make a mistake they have your back and they’ll come up with a kill.”
Hunter, the reigning Big Ten Co-Setter of the Week, did a little of everything, finishing with 31 assists, a match- and career-high seven blocks, five digs, three kills and one ace. Senior libero Justine Wong-Orantes led the defense with 12 digs.
The Huskers will return to the Devaney Center Saturday afternoon to host Oregon State (3-1). The Beavers swept Syracuse in other Nebraska Invitational action on Friday afternoon.
“[Oregon State] played really hard today,” Cook said. “They’re very well coached. No. 11 [Lanesha Reagan] is one of the most dynamic hitters I’ve ever seen. So we’re going to have our hands full tomorrow.”
First serve is set for 2:30 p.m. Iowa State will wrap up the tournament against Syracuse at 5 p.m.
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.