No. 5 Nebraska (3-1) never trailed in a 25-14, 25-11, 25-9 sweep over Wake Forest (0-5) that improved the Huskers to 2-0 in the Ameritas Players Challenge at the Devaney center on Friday.
Nebraska overpowered the Demon Deacons at the net all night, out-blocking them eight to one and out-hitting them .341 to -.033. Nebraska committed a season-low eight attack errors and served up as many aces as errors (eight of each).
“I thought our serving just dictated the whole match tonight, put Wake Forest way on their heels and got them way out of their comfort zone,” Coach John Cook said. “I think they felt hopeless over there. Tonight was the first time I’ve seen us serve like a Nebraska team and that set everything else up. We passed well and worked on some things tonight. I thought we were pretty sharp.”
After committing four attack errors in the first match on Friday, sophomore opposite hitter Jazz Sweet bounced back to lead all players with 11 kills on 19 swings, and she didn’t record a single miscue.
“I just felt as if this game was a little bit smoother,” Sweet said. “We were in more of a rhythm. We kind of had looked at some video of sets and stuff just trying to get Nicklin [Hames] and me in more of a rhythm. We definitely found that connection in this game.”
Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins put together another strong showing with eight kills on 10 attempts. Hames, the freshman setter, totaled 26 assists and 11 digs for the second double-double of her young career.
Senior libero Kenzie Maloney posted a match-high 12 digs, her third straight game leading all players in that statistic.
“She’s a two-time champion, two-time Big Ten champion, so she knows what she’s doing and she always tells me ‘Swing as hard as you can; I’m right behind you,’” Sweet said about Maloney, a team captain. “She definitely is just a great person to play with and she really is always literally right underneath me. She’s always on top of it.”
Wake Forest hung around for the first handful of rallies until a 10-2 run by the Huskers including a 6-0 stretch with Hames serving gave Nebraska plenty of separation. Nebraska cruised to an 11-point win which proved to be the smallest final margin of the night.
Wake Forest burned both of its timeouts in the first 19 rallies of the second set as runs of 3-0, 5-0 and 4-0 gave the Huskers a double-digit lead at 16-5 and Nebraska continued to stretch out its lead until the frame came to a close. Nebraska out-hit Wake Forest .522 to -.100 in the second set.
The third set was more of the same as the Huskers took control with a 5-0 start and never gave the Demon Deacons a sliver of hope. Leading 21-8, Cook sent freshman defensive specialist Chen Abramovich into the match to make her Husker debut. Junior setter Mari Kurkova and sophomore opposite hitter/middle blocker Anezka Szabo also played in the third set after making their season debuts against Ohio earlier in the day.
“I think everybody has now played, except for Lexi [Sun],” Cook said. “Nobody is redshirting. It gives those guys a chance to get in. Mari got a little more comfortable tonight.”
Sun, the sophomore outside hitter transfer from Texas, did suit up and participate in warm-ups for the first time this season but she did not enter the match.
“We’re taking baby steps,” Cook said. “This whole team is taking baby steps. Like I told you three weeks ago, it’s like kindergarten class; we’re taking baby steps. She’s doing the same thing. Tonight, we wanted to get her to go through a warm-up. She went through a warm-up and hit, so we’re just gradually upping it for her each day.”
The Huskers closed out the match with a 4-1 run to complete the Friday sweep.
The Huskers will return to the Devaney Center on Sunday for a showdown against Santa Clara (4-2) to determine the tournament champion. The Broncos swept Ohio 29-27, 25-18, 25-20 on Friday evening after beating Wake Forest in four sets in the morning.
“I really like their setter,” Cook said about Santa Clara. “They’re going to be a really good ball-handling team. One of their middles is a transfer from UCLA, No. 6 [Alexa Dreyer], and they’ve got two pretty nice outside hitters that move the ball around. I think they’re going to play really good volleyball and they’re going to force us to have to take it up a notch tomorrow.”
First serve is set for 2 p.m.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.