For the first time since October of 2018, the Cornhuskers have dropped back-to-back matches.
With four freshmen in the starting lineup, No. 6 Nebraska fell at No. 16 Stanford in four sets on Tuesday night. The Cardinal defended their home court 25-19, 12-25, 25-21, 25-23 while out-hitting Nebraska .235 to .189.
“I thought we competed really hard tonight, which we were really pleased with that,” Coach John Cook said during his post game interview on the Huskers Radio Network. “Second thing is we gave up a big run in game one, and we gave up a big run in game three, and it was our passing broke down and that’s the difference when you play a team like that. So we can’t give up a three, four-point run like we did and pass balls that we can’t even bump set. So I thought that was a difference in the match and our block and defense was good enough to win.”
Cook decided to start all three freshmen pin-hitters with Ally Batenhorst and Lindsay Krause on the left and Whitney Lauenstein on the right. Veterans Lexi Sun and Madi Kubik played as serving subs with Sun playing in the first set and Kubik in the last three.
The three freshmen continued to struggle with a combined 25 kills (10 each from Batenhorst and Krause, five from Lauenstein) on .109 hitting, but Cook stuck with them throughout the match.
“We just made the decision we were going to go with those guys tonight to see what they could do,” Cook said. “We haven’t had any of our left sides hit any better than that this year, so we’re trying to find options. I wanted to give Whitney another shot, see what she could do. I thought she did some nice things; we’ve got to get more kills from her. But we’ve got to start getting people out there where they’re not looking over their shoulder, they’re going to get pulled if they’re not doing well, so that was another goal tonight.”
Kayla Caffey led the Huskers with 12 kills on .429 hitting and seven blocks. Fellow middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach added nine kills on .500 hitting. Lexi Rodriguez led the defensive effort with 16 digs while Nicklin hames finished with 43 assists and 11 digs.
“We got the ball to the middles, we did well,” Cook said. “Stanford’s a good team and Caitie Baird had a big night, but I thought Nicklin set really well, it was their best match setting of the year, and Kayla Caffey played really well tonight.”
Baird led the Stanford attack with 21 kills on .487 hitting, 13 digs and two aces.
The Huskers got off to a rough start with each of the freshman left sides misfiring on her first swing. That set the tone for the rest of the set as Nebraska struggled to terminate throughout. Stanford used a 4-0 run to pull ahead 8-3 early.
Nebraska wasn’t able to clean things up enough to put together any extended runs as the closest the Huskers got the rest of the way was three points. Stanford broke the game open with a 4-0 run then took their largest lead at 22-14. The Huskers saved a few set points late but it was too little and far too late to make a difference.
The Huskers hit just .121 with four different players recording two kills apiece. Stanford hit .303 led by Baird with six kills on 10 swings.
Nebraska cleaned some things up in the second set while the Cardinal went in the other direction. Nebraska used a 5-0 run featuring Batenhorst at the service line to double up Stanford at 10-5. Eight of Nebraska’s first 10 points came via Stanford errors of one kind or another.
Stanford continued to struggle as the Huskers extended the lead to 19-10 with a 3-0 run. After a few sideouts, the Huskers closed the set on a 4-0 run featuring Kubik at the service line.
Nebraska hit .385, though they attempted just 26 attacks as Stanford did a lot of damage to itself. Caffey, Schwarzenbach and Krause had three kills apiece for the Huskers. Stanford hit .121 with six attack errors, three serve receive errors, two service errors, a ball-handling error and a bad set.
Stanford righted the ship in set three, jumping out to a 3-0 lead, then ripping off a 4-0 run to take an 8-4 lead after the Huskers had tied it up. The Huskers cut the deficit to two at 12-10, but Stanford continued to play clean volleyball and stretched the advantage to six at 17-11 and then again at 19-13. At that point, both teams had eight kills. However, the Huskers had seven attack errors and the Cardinal had zero.
Stanford finally misfired on its 20th swing of the set, as a kill from Batenhorst and then a double-block from Schwarzenbach and Batenhorst sparked a 7-3 Nebraska run that allowed the Huskers to cut the deficit to two at 22-20. Stanford ended the comeback, however, winning a long rally and then getting a pair of kills from Baird to finish the set on a 3-1 run.
Nebraska hit just .057 thanks to 10 attack errors. Batenhorst led the Huskers with five kills but also had three errors. Stanford hit .216 and served three aces, though the tradeoff was five service errors.
The fourth set proved to be the most competitive of the night as neither side led by more than three at any point. The set featured nine ties and six lead changes as the teams battled back and forth.
The Huskers took their last lead at 15-14 on a kill by Caffey, but the Cardinal responded with a 3-0 run featuring a kill and two block assists from freshman Sami Francis in her first collegiate match. Nebraska cut it to one a couple of times but couldn’t get over the hump. The Huskers saved a couple of match points late with kills from Caffey and Krause but Stanford finished it off on the next rally as Francis notched her 13th kill.
The Huskers hit .229 in the fifth but allowed the Cardinal to hit .289 with 19 kills. Caffey had sick kills on 12 swings.
The road won’t get any easier for the Huskers, though it will take them home as Nebraska will host No. 5 Louisville at the Devaney Center on Saturday. First serve is set for 7 p.m. CT on the Big Ten Network.
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.