Nebraska (13-4, 6-1) was back at practice on Thursday following Wednesday’s four-set loss at No. 11 Wisconsin (12-4, 3-4) on Wednesday night.
The Huskers fell into a 0-2 hole, scoring 16 and 15 in the first two sets before rallying to take the third 25-17. The fourth set was close throughout as neither team led by more than two points, but Wisconsin recorded the final two points to break a 23-all tie and hand the Huskers their first conference loss of the season.
“Wisconsin played really well and for whatever reason we couldn’t get anything going and couldn’t get any momentum and Wisconsin was playing really well,” Coach John Cook said. “They kind of overwhelmed us.”
Junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke said she didn’t notice anything leading up to the match that would have made Wednesday’s result predictable.
“I think we all really wanted it and we all wanted to win and it just didn’t go our way,” Foecke said. “It kind of was lacking in energy and effort at some points in those first two sets and they looked like a team that had lost the last three matches and they wanted it more than we did, I guess.”
The Huskers hit .000 and -.094 i the first two sets, and Cook said there were breakdowns with every part of the offense.
“It was a combination of not passing well, then not setting well, then making poor decisions, so it was a three-step process,” Cook said. “We finally, after the first two games, we turned it around and started playing a lot better. We fought hard and if we get to game five, anything can happen.”
A different team came out of the locker room after the intermission and the Huskers controlled the third set, hitting .368 while holding the Badgers to .121.
“I think when we went down to the locker room we just told each other that we have to get after it and that either we’re going to win or lose this set and we weren’t going to go down without a fight,” Foecke said.
The Huskers hit .367 in the fourth set as well, but the Badgers hit .378 to edge out the Huskers and close out the match.
A big part of the hitting disparity through the first two sets (.345 to .045) was the blocking differential (10 to one), and Foecke said that made a big difference.
“Huge momentum-changer and I think that’s something that we didn’t do very well for them is we didn’t get a lot of blocks early on so they were swinging away and obviously swinging fearlessly, and they blocked us early on,” Foecke said. “Even though you might think, ‘Oh, I’m swinging fearlessly, I’m still swinging hard,’ but obviously you still have that in the back of your mind too, like ‘Oh, they just blocked me; I don’t want to get blocked again’ type of deal.”
Cook and Foecke both said Nebraska’s blocking discipline was lacking on Wednesday for whatever reason, though Cook said their numbers have been solid all season prior to that loss.
“We had six nets [violations], so we’ll start with that,” Cook said. “That’s undisciplined … It’s emotion, it’s energy, it’s focus, and that’s why you saw Wisconsin hit for such a high number.”
During the second set, Cook sent in little-used reserves Hunter Atherton, Olivia Boender and Sami Slaughter for a few points, in part to give the team’s veterans a chance to see the game from the bench.
“Just tried to get them a few points, slow things down a little bit, give those other guys a little break and let them just refocus, because we were getting steamrolled,” Cook said. “Sometimes it’s good just to take a step back and catch your breath and go back in.”
The mostly young Huskers are a little more than halfway through the season and have been battling some sickness (freshman serving sub Hayley Densberger missed the trip to Madison), but Cook isn’t making any excuses.
“It’s that time of year where people are hitting the wall,” Cook said. “Great teams work through that. Everybody’s dealing with it, so it’s just who’s going to handle it and manage it the best and deal with it, and we’ve got to learn from that.”
The Wednesday-Saturday split this week gives the Huskers a couple of days of practice to address their deficiencies from the loss and prepare for another rated opponent: No. 16 Purdue (15-5, 5-2).
“We’ve had a really tough schedule and it’s hard to play at a really high level every night against these teams,” Cook said. “It’s really tough to ask, but hopefully we’ll learn from the Wisconsin match with the intensity and emotion we’re going to have to have Saturday night.”
First serve at West Lafayette is set for 6 p.m. and the match is available on BTN Plus.
“They’re a big, physical team and I think we’re going to have to get up and get after it … Obviously another good Big Ten matchup for us,” Foecke said. “I think we’re going to have to take a lot of big swings and hit high and really just kind of get after it again.”
Purdue outside hitter Daniel Cuttino is leading the Big Ten at 4.86 kills per set during conferee e play and will be a handful for the Huskers to deal with.
“They’ve got two 6-5 pin-hitters, they’re hitting .320 or .340 in the Big Ten,” Cook said. “Obviously they’re low-error and they’re killing balls and they’re playing in their big arena, so they’re probably hyping this up as a big match, which it is.”
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.