No. 11 Nebraska closed out the regular season and claimed second place in the Big Ten standings with a 3-1 win at No. 6 Purdue on Saturday night.
The Huskers (21-7) flexed their defensive muscles in a 25-21, 25-10, 22-25, 25-15 victory in West Lafayette to finish 16-4 in Big Ten play. The loss dropped the Boilermakers (23-6) to 15-5. No. 5 Wisconsin (17-3 in conference) claimed the conference title outright by sweeping Indiana on Saturday after beating Nebraska on Friday.
“I was really worried about tonight’s match to be honest with you,” Cook said after the match on Big Ten Network. “We challenged our team today. We’ve got to do this next week, we’re going to have to win two matches back-to-back. This is the first time we’ve played back-to-back since the second week in September. So I think they really took it to heart. They played hard tonight, they played really well and I just think we kind of deflated the crowd and deflated Purdue and our defense, I think, forced them in a lot of errors.”
Nebraska held Purdue to .053 hitting including 28 attack errors. Nebraska out-aced Purdue six to one and recorded 75 digs led by freshman Lexi Rodriguez with 28, tying her career high. Nicklin Hames added 18 digs to go with 44 assists for her 20th double-double of the season. Nebraska held Purdue’s top two hitters, Caitlyn Newton and Grace Cleveland, to .037 and .194 hitting, respectively.
“[Rodriguez] was really good, and not only was she digging the ball, she was digging them right to Nicklin,” Cook said during his post-match radio interview. “It started to remind me a little bit of ’17 where like every ball went to Kelly [Hunter] no matter how hard the hit was. It was good to see her respond because she struggled last night and it’s great to see her come out and have a heck of a match. She also set set really great. She put up some great balls when Nicklin dug it.”
The Huskers hit .206 and finished with 18 more kills than the Boilermakers. Madi Kubik led the way offensively with 16 kills on .204 hitting and added 10 digs for her fifth double-double.
Kayla Caffey added 13 kills on .650 hitting, finishing without an error. In Nebraska’s first match against the Boilermakers, she finished with 14 kills on .619, and Cook said feeding her was an emphasis going into the match.
“She’s capable of doing that,” Cook said. “That was fun to watch; she had a she had a great match tonight. Nicklin was really comfortable setting her. We got her a lot of reps. I think last night we felt like we should have set her more and didn’t. She got a couple really nice blocks, so it’s fun. When she gets going she frees up everybody else because she’s such a force.”
Nebraska created the first bit of separation at 8-4 thanks to a 3-0 run served by Stivrins, but she sent her third serve into the net. Nebraska played with the lead until a 5-2 run allowed the Boilermakers to pull even at 14-all.
The Huskers scored two straight to break the tie, then used a 3-0 run to pull ahead by four again at 20-16. Nebraska took its largest lead at 23-18 before a service error and a Purdue block gave the Boilermakers some life. It didn’t last long, though, as Nebraska won two of the last three rallies with Stivrins kills to take a 1-0 lead.
Whitney Lauenstein got her second straight start at opposite hitter, but after misfiring on her first two attacks Lindsay Krause replaced her midway through the set.
Kubik notched seven kills on .545 hitting while Caffey added three kills on four swings. The rest for eh husks combined for just three kills and seven errors as Nebraska hit .132 overall. Purdue hit .023 and blocked Nebraska six times.
Nebraska cleaned things up offensively and dominated the second set. The Huskers used runs of 4-0 and 5-0 to race out to a 10-3 lead and controlled the action the rest of the way. The Boilermakers never threatened and Nebraska closed the set on an 8-0 serving run from Akana including two aces.
Nebraska had just two attack errors and hit .314 while holding the Boilermakers to minus-.056. Ally Batenhorst started the second set in place of Lexi Sun as the senior had one kill and three errors on eight swings in the first set.
The third set went back and forth early with eight ties and two lead changes before Purdue pushed ahead with a 5-0 run featuring four kills and a block. After a timeout to regroup, Nebraska tied the game up with a 5-1 run including two kills apiece from Kubik and Stivrins.
The Huskers tied it again at 16-all before Purdue ripped off a 5-0 run to take control of the set. The Huskers cut it to two at 22-20 and then one at 23-22, but a Kubik attack error and a Purdue kill closed out the set and extended the match.
Nebraska hit just .093 as Kubik cooled off with three kills and four errors. Purdue hit .139 and benefitted from three Nebraska service errors.
The teams went back and forth early in set four, but Nebraska used runs of 4-0, 3-0 and 4-0 to take a 17-8 lead. The advantage hit double digits a few times down the stretch as Krause closed out the match with a kill and a block assist on the final two rallies.
Nebraska hit .333 with 16 kills in the fourth set while holding Purdue to half that total on .114 hitting. Caffey led the Huskers with five kills on eight swings and she teamed up with Krause for the match-point block.
“I trusted my training, went up big and cut around, just got up nice and early so I can see,” Caffey told Big Ten Network about her success. “Nicklin does a great job putting the ball up and it makes it easy for me to do that.”
Nebraska held Purdue to its two lowest-efficiency matches of the season as the .053 hitting percentage was a season-low, topping the .123 the Boilermakers hit in Lincoln early in the season.
“Oh my gosh, our defense is incredible,” Caffey said. “They dug some crazy balls. I was trying my best to put up a good block but whatever I didn’t get I could count on our defense in the back to get it, so they’re just incredible.”
Now Nebraska will await its postseason after as the NCAA Tournament selection show is set for 7:30 p.m. CT on Sunday on ESPNU. The Huskers were 13th in the RPI heading into this week, but Cook said the Huskers have made a strong case for themselves to host.
“We finished second in a great conference, and I told the team, they should feel really proud about that,” Cook said. “This is a grind conference this year. There are a lot of really good teams; there are five or six teams that could go all the way to the Final Four and compete for a national championship. It’s not like this was a cupcake, cruise 10 weeks. So I’m really proud that we ended up finishing second.”
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.