LINCOLN, Neb. – On Saturday night, the No. 1 Huskers found themselves in a position they hadn’t faced since opening day – down one set to none. In-state foe Creighton went into the Devaney Center and snapped the Huskers’ streak of consecutive sets won at 24 with a two-point first set win. However, the Huskers rallied to end this game like they have every other match this season – in victory.
Nebraska hosted its neighbors from the northeast in what was the de facto championship game of the Ameritas Players Challenge and the Huskers emerged on top with a 23-25, 25-13, 27-25, 25-18 win in front of 8,249 fans to wrap up the nonconference slate at 9-0.
“It’s always good to win your home tournament and I thought we played some really good volleyball,” Nebraska Coach John Cook said. “This was probably the most important match in that we got punched a few times and we had to respond. This is really going to be helpful going to the Big Ten because this is what it’s going to be like for the next 10 weeks.”
Nebraska outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen was named tournament MVP and libero Justine Wong-Orantes earned best libero honors. Middle blocker Briana Holman rounded out the trio of Huskers on the all-tournament team. Middle blockers and Lincoln natives Lauren Smith and Marysa Wilkinson represented the Bluejays while Gonzaga’s Paige Folger and Montana State’s Natalie Passeck rounded out the all-tournament team.
Creighton let the Huskers know they came to play right out of the gate, jumping out to a 3-1 lead. Nebraska fired back to take a 10-6 advantage and managed to stay in front for much of the set. Creighton battled back to tie the game at 21-21, but the Huskers jumped right back in front on a Creighton service error and a kill by Kadie Rolfzen. Staring an 0-1 deficit in the face, the Bluejays made their stand and scored the final four points of the set, including two kills by Smith.
“They came out a little faster than they had been playing and so the sets were faster, the sets to the outside were fast; they were going fast even when they didn’t pass,” Cook said. “It just took us a while to adjust to that tempo and get our blockers in the right spot and get used to it and see it and then our defense started taking over.”
The Huskers certainly adjusted in the second set, leading wire-to-wire in a lopsided affair. The Huskers sided out 13 of their 14 chances and hit .400 overall, led by Briana Holman’s four kills on five swings.
“I think Creighton kind of came down after winning game one,” Cook said. “I think they let up a little bit and didn’t play as well, and we certainly took advantage of it. But they came back tough in game three.”
The third set was much more competitive, featuring 12 scores and seven lead changes. With the match knotted at 25-all, Nebraska outside hitter Andie Malloy and middle blocker Amber Rolfzen teamed up for a double-stuff block on back-to-back points to take the set.
The fourth set included 13 more ties, but after 18-all the Huskers took over and closed out the match on a 7-0 run.
Kadie Rolfzen came up just one block shy of recording the first triple-double for Nebraska since 2002, finishing with 17 kills, 13 digs and nine blocks.
“I thought she really took over the match in game four and she really rebounded well after struggling a bit in game three … She almost had a triple-double tonight – pretty hard for an outside hitter to do that,” Cook said. “Usually setters can get triple-doubles. I think she was one block away from that. When you’re getting triple-doubles, you deserve an MVP award.”
Rolfzen’s 17 kills led all players, but Creighton Coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said it was her defense at the net that truly made a difference as led the Huskers to a 14-6 edge in team blocks.
“I thought Kadie Rolfzen just really made us struggle with what she was doing from a blocking standpoint,” Booth said. “I thought that was probably the biggest difference in the match. We had lots of difficulty creating different opportunities around her. We knew she was a great blocker coming in and she did a great job clamping us.”
Malloy, Holman and outside hitter Mikaela Foecke finished with 11 kills apiece, junior setter Kelly Hunter added 47 assists and Wong-Orantes led everyone with 22 digs.
Smith led the Jays with 12 kills and four blocks in her return to Lincoln, while outside hitter Jaali Winters – who lit the Huskers up for 15 kills in Omaha last year – notched 11 kills but hit just .038.
Hunter said the Huskers are in a good spot as they get set to head into Big Ten play.
“I think we have a really good sense of who we are and what we need to do every night and I think that’s great because last year at this time we definitely didn’t have that,” Hunter said.
Nebraska will travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan on Friday to open conference play against the Wolverines before heading over to East Lansing to square off against Michigan State.
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.