Nebraska needed a win against unranked Rutgers at home on Sunday to keep pace with top-ranked Penn State in the Big Ten standings.
The Huskers did so in dominant fashion.
The set scores in favor of No. 6 Nebraska were 25-8, 25-11, and 25-13.
“Sometimes these matches are a little hard, because we’re expected to just crush them and play so well,” Coach John Cook said. “It doesn’t go perfect all the time, but we’re expecting that. I thought our team handled it really well and managed it really well.”
Nebraska (22-4,15-1) eased through the first set hitting .615, while Rutgers (5-22, 0-15) struggled at .067. The Huskers jumped out to a 10-2 lead before the Scarlet Knights called their first timeout.
Rutgers cut the deficit to four points, 10-6, before Nebraska scored 15 of the final 17 points in the opening set.
Senior outside hitter Annika Albrecht led all players in the set with six kills.
The Huskers had a similar result in the second set, holding the Scarlet Knights to just 11 points and a .154 hitting percentage.
Rutgers had four service errors in the set, while Nebraska had three aces.
Rutgers kept the match close early in the third set, trailing 10-9, but Nebraska proceeded to go on an 8-0 run, opening up a comfortable lead.
Freshman outside hitter Sami Slaughter recorded two of the Huskers' final three points in the third set. Fellow South Dakota native and freshman outside hitter Anezka Szabo recorded the match-winning point.
Slaughter finished with a perfect four kills on four swings.
She said the coaches told her prior to the start of the match to stay warm and be ready to go, but Slaughter was still surprised at how early she was put into the match.
“I was a little shocked, because they just kind of threw me in there,” Slaughter said. “But I know the team has my back behind me, so it’s really nice.”
Senior middle blocker Briana Holman said it’s exciting to see some of her younger teammates get playing time and have success.
“They push us to make us better in practice everyday, so it’s nice to be able to get in and get some exposure,” Holman said. “I think it pumps up the fans too, because they know what’s coming maybe the next year.”
Holman, who finished with five kills on 10 attacks, said the key when playing opponents at the bottom of the Big Ten standings is to “focus on our side.”
“These games are mental games,” Holman said. “We really want to focus on ourselves. I think we did a really good job of staying point-by-point, and that’s all that matters.”
Cook said he looks at the stats to gauge how his team performs in a match like Sunday’s against Rutgers. The most important factor is how “clean” they play.
Nebraska finished with just six attacking errors and one service error, while recording nine service aces.
“I should be taking them all out for LaMar’s Donuts or something,” Cook said. “That’s pretty clean volleyball.”
Junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke played an impressive, clean match recording 12 kills on 15 attempts with zero attacking errors.
With its win on Sunday, Nebraska has now won nine matches in a row, with its last three coming via sweeps. The Huskers have also won 16 of their last 17 matches.
Nebraska has four matches remaining in the regular season, three of which are on the road.
Holman said it doesn’t matter whether they are playing at home or on the road.
“It doesn’t change us, it doesn’t change the way that we play,” Holman said. “Like I said, because we really do play with each other, for each other. I don’t think it matters at all where we compete.”
None of the Huskers last four regular-season matches are against ranked opponents.
Top-ranked Penn State also has four matches remaining on its schedule, including road contests against No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 5 Minnesota.
The Huskers next match is at Ohio State on Nov. 17.
Cody is a senior journalism major at UNL. He grew up in Fairview, SD, a town of less than 70 people. Cody has covered a variety of Husker athletics, ranging from bowling to football. He has a passion for sports and an interest in telling stories and has developed a knack for sports data and looking deeper into statistics. He’s a fan of all Colorado sports teams. Cody and his fiancée Kaitlyn are engaged to be married in July 2018.