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Huskers Swat Hornets to Open NCAA Tournament Play

December 01, 2022

No. 2 Nebraska found itself in a battle with Delaware State early in game two of Thursday’s NCAA Tournament first-round matchup.

Coach John Cook called a timeout after the Hornets pulled within one at 9-8. Whatever he said in that huddle seemed to have the desired effect as Nebraska outscored Delaware State 41-11 the rest of the way en route to a 25-15, 25-9, 25-10 sweep at the Devaney Center.

“I thought Delaware State came out first game played really well,” Cook said. “Their tempo was super, super fast, which on video it didn’t look that fast. But I thought our team made some great adjustments late in the first game and you can see we shut them down pretty good. A well coached team, they run a nice little system, they’ve had a great year … But I think we’re a little more physical than they are and wore them down a little bit.”

The Huskers had to deal with another bout of adversity as senior setter Nicklin Hames missed her second straight match while sophomore opposite hitter Whitney Lauenstein suited up but did not start after dealing with an illness throughout the week. Maggie Mendelson was the second opposite hitter in her place, though Lauenstein was able to play in the third set.

Cook said after the match that he was unsure if Hames would be able to play again this season as she is dealing with a variety of ailments, including a concussion.

Despite another lineup change, Nebraska rolled to victory, out-hitting the Hornets .341 to minus-.108, out-blocking them 15 to zero and out-digging them 56 to 36. Nebraska served six aces with just three errors.

Lindsay Krause finished with a match-high 10 kills on .500 hitting. Ally Batenhorst put up eight kills on .208 hitting in two sets of work. Madi Kubik chipped in six kills on .333 hitting, 10 digs and four blocks. Mendelson had four kills on nine errorless swings and four blocks. Bekka Allick matched her with four kills on seven attempts and five blocks. Kaitlyn Hord only had two kills but added nine block assists. Anni Evans started at setter and finished with 10 assists and eight digs while Kennedi Orr recorded a double-double with 10 assists and 10 digs.

Lexi Rodriguez had a match-high 19 digs, 16 of which came in the first two sets. She also served two aces.

“They’re definitely a little bit different than the teams we’re used to, so we had to be extra disciplined and make sure that we’re low and over and not high and able to get tooled,” Hord said. “Once we started setting up in a good spot, I think our defense was able to read around us and Lexi, as per usual, went off and so did a lot of other people that came in … So I think everybody was just very disciplined and we carried out the scouting report very well.” 

Nebraska scored the first point of the night, but Delaware State managed to hang around early, pulling even four different times. The Cornhuskers finally managed to create some separation at 15-9 thanks to a 4-0 run including an overpass smash and two block assists from Hord plus a Kubik ace.

Delaware State cut the lead in half, but Nebraska responded with four consecutive kills by four different players to take its largest lead yet at 20-13, then the Huskers closed out the set on a. 4-0 run including a Maisie Boesiger ace and a double-block from Hord and Kubik on game point.

Nebraska hit .250 in the first set with just 11 kills. The Huskers held the Hornets to .024 hitting and recorded six blocks including four by Hord. Orr had just two assists and two ball-handling errors while Evans led Nebraska with six assists. 

The Huskers scored the first five points of the second set as well before some sloppy play opened the door for the Hornets to get back in it. Delaware State scored three in a row capped by an ace to pull within one at 9-8.

Cook called a timeout to regroup and the Huskers responded by dominating the rest of the way, outscoring Delaware State 16-1 to end the set, and the Hornets’ only point came on a service error. The Huskers had runs of 7-0 with Batenhorst serving (including two aces) and 8-0 with Boesiger serving.

Nebraska hit .522 with five kills apiece from the left pins, Batenhorst and Kubik (on a combined 14 swings and a .643 hitting percentage). The Huskers recorded four more blocks while holding Delaware State to minus-.156 hitting and just four kills.

“They were setting the ball literally on a line and their hitters are quick,” Cook said. “So our block, it just took us a while to adjust to that speed … They’re smaller athletes, but they did a nice job. They passed well, their setters did a nice job and it just took us a while to adjust. Once we started blocking balls, you saw that kind of deflated them.”

Cook dramatically changed up his lineup to start the third set. Krause moved over to outside hitter to replace Batenhorst while Lauenstein checked in on the right. Evans started at setter as well.

“I wanted to try to get everybody in,” Cook said. “With all the changes, we’ve been working on a lot of different lineups, so for them, it’s no big deal.”

The Huskers raced out to an 8-2 lead as it took six errors and 14 swings before Delaware State recorded its first kill. Later, Kubik served an 8-0 run to extend the lead to 19-5 before the Hornets’ second kill. 

Nebraska scored five straight including a pair of Rodriguez aces to pull ahead 24-7. The Hornets saved four match points before Allick closed it out with a kill. Freshman Hayden Kubik made her first appearance since the Creighton match on Sept. 7 and played the last eight rallies of the match.

Nebraska hit .290 with Krause terminating seven times on 14 attempts. Nebraska recorded five more blocks and forced Delaware State into 13 hitting errors as the Huskers held the Hornets to minus-.211 hitting.

Nebraska advances to the second round to face Kansas, who swept seventh-seeded Miami 25-17, 25-18, 25-20 in the first game of the day on Thursday. The Jayhawks hit .278 and held Miami to .113 thanks in part to 13 blocks. Middle blocker Rachel Langs early notched a double-double with eight kills on /438 hitting and 10 blocks. Carolina Bine led the Kansas offense with 12 kills on .360 hitting while former Husker Anezka Szabo chipping in five kills and four blocks.

“We know that Kansas is a great team; we played them back for our spring match and it was a great competition,” Krause said. “I think we know that now come the tournament, we’re going to be playing a lot of different teams. So like we said about this team, they’re a little bit smaller, they’re a scrappier defense, all that stuff, but now we’re going to have to change our game plan completely to Kansas who’s a bigger, more physical team. They run their middle a lot more. They have a lefty in Nesh who used to play here.”

First serve at the Devaney Center on Friday is set for 7 p.m. CT. Fans can stream the match on ESPN+.

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