Kansas State gave Nebraska (6-2) a test early but the Huskers took control then rolled through the last two sets to sweep Kansas State (6-6) in the Huskers’ first match of the Omaha Challenge at Baxter Arena on Friday evening.
“Just like we anticipated that K-State would come out and play really well game one, and I thought they were really clicking on all cylinders and then we found a way to start breaking their passers down a little bit,” Coach John Cook said. “That got our blocking defense involved and I thought we made some great defensive plays and won some long rallies that just kind of took their momentum away.”
Scores in Nebraska’s favor were 25-22, 25-11 and 25-16. Nebraska hit .323 and held the Wildcats to .101. Nebraska’s middle blockers, senior Bri Holman and freshman Lauren Stivrins, led the way with 10 kills and .500 hitting each.
As productive as Holman and Stivrins were, Cook said the middle attack can still get better.
“I think we’ve got a whole other notch in us,” Cook said. “Again, it’s working it out with Kelly [Hunter] and Kelly missed them low a few times and dropped the set a couple. We can get better. But our game plan is to run our middle. Kelly made great choices tonight; we just have to execute a little bit better.”
Outside hitters Mikaela Foecke and Jazz Sweet added nine kills apiece while Hunter had a double-double with 37 assists and 11 digs.
Junior libero Kenzie Maloney has eight matches at that position under her belt now after taking over for Justine Wong-Orantes and she said she feels comfortable in that role. Against the Wildcats, she led all players with 16 digs and did not commit a service error for the first time this season.
“I’m pretty comfortable,” Maloney said. “My teammates make it really easy to play with and play around and my coaches do a great job of giving me confidence on the court. We always trust our training in practice so I think getting a bunch of reps in practice helps me to be confident in games.”
The first set included 11 ties, the last of which occurred at 21-21, but Nebraska closed the set on a 4-1 run to jump ahead 1-0 even though the Wildcats out-hit Nebraska .231 to .229 in the frame.
Kansas State created a few ties early in the second set, but Nebraska took control and made the Wildcats burn both their timeouts in the first 16 points as Nebraska took a 10-6 lead. Kansas State scored the first point after the second timeout, but Nebraska outscored the Wildcats 15-4 the rest of the way.
“It’s awesome,” Stivrins said about getting on a big run. “That’s what our team lives for. That’s when we play the best because we’ve got energy and everyone’s just having fun and going after it. That’s how we are in practice so it’s nice to see that we can do it in games, and obviously we play a lot better when that happens. It’s a lot of fun.”
Kansas State doubled up the Huskers 8-4 early in the third set, but Nebraska responded with a 7-2 run to take an 11-10 lead. The teams traded the lead a couple of times until Nebraska reeled off an 8-1 run then cruised to the sweep.
After allowing the Wildcats to hit .231 in the first set, Nebraska held them to .029 in the second and third frames.
“I think communication got a lot better after the first set,” Maloney said. “The coaches were kind of on us a little bit after the first set too, so I think the intensity picked up all around.”
The Huskers got to see a familiar face on the other side of the net as former Husker Brooke Smith is playing for the Wildcats. She finished with 14 assists and three digs.
“She’s a great server,” Maloney said. “I’m glad that she got to play tonight.”
Nebraska has two more matches to go on Saturday at Baxter Arena, which has a bit of a different feel to it than the more intimate Devaney Center, which has an impact on serve receive.
“It’s a little bit bigger than Devaney so it’s kind of hard because the balls move a lot more,” Maloney said. “But Coach was saying it kind of reminded him of CenturyLink … Depth perception-wise it’s a little tougher to track serves and stuff like that but I thought we managed it pretty well tonight.”
The Huskers will return to the court at noon on Saturday to take on a Northern Iowa team that received some votes in the most recent AVCA Coaches Poll.
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.