No. 7 Nebraska weathered an early onslaught by the Wildcats of Northwestern but took over midway through the first set and rolled the rest of the way to a sweep in front of 8,103 fans at the Devaney Center Friday night.
Scores in Nebraska’s favor were 25-20, 25-15, 25-12.
“I thought Northwestern played unbelievable the first 15 points and I hadn’t seen them do that on video,” Coach John Cook said. “They were really good. [Symone] Abbott was as good as I’ve seen all year and then Mikaela [Foecke] got a big serving run there at the end of game one that kind of broke it open. Then I thought Northwestern kind of came down to earth a little bit and our serving was really stressing them and they just couldn’t get in a rhythm after that.”
Nebraska (15-4, 8-1) trailed by as much as three in the first set and was down 19-17 when the Huskers took over, closing the set on an 8-1 run with Foecke serving six of those points.
Nebraska continued to roll into the second set, taking a 5-0 lead before Northwestern (12-9, 2-7) managed to get on the board. The teams traded points for a while, then Nebraska kicked it up another notch and closed it out with an 11-5 run.
The break didn’t slow the Huskers down one bit as Nebraska opened the third set with a 6-0 run. Northwestern won six of the next 10 points, but Nebraska rolled from there with a 15-6 run to complete the sweep.
All six players that took a swing for Nebraska finished with at least four kills and a hitting percentage of .300 or better as Nebraska hit .378 for the match, the second highest figure of the season.
“Really nice job by our team and I thought Kelly [Hunter] gave our hitters a lot of really good one-on-one looks tonight,” Cook said.
Foecke led the way with 14 kills on .500 hitting, her eighth straight match with at least nine kills. However, she’s committed just one error in each of her last three after racking up 23 errors in her previous four.
“Offensively, she’s been in a really good rhythm and Kelly is really giving her consistent sets, so I think she feels really confident,” Cook said. “We had a good matchup; I think Northwestern has a hard time matching up with her.”
On the other side of the net, Abbott, the Big Ten’s leader in kills, recorded seven kills on 13 swings in the first set but was held to two kills and two errors on 18 swings through the last two. That defense starts with junior libero Kenzie Maloney, who Cook said he challenged to have a big night digging the ball heading into the match.
“I think shutting down a player like that really affects their team and it gets us going; we get a lot of energy and momentum from that,” said Maloney, who led all players with 15 digs. “It’s always fun and I always take it as a challenge, especially as a libero, digging big hitters like that.”
Nebraska held Northwestern to .140 hitting and Nebraska’s serving played a big part in that. Nebraska finished with four aces to six errors while the Wildcats had two aces to nine errors, and Nebraska served up a number of bigs runs throughout the match.
“Kenzie, Syd [Townsend] and Mikaela had huge runs, really huge runs, and I thought Hayley Densberger, it’s good to have her back because she gives teams problems,” Cook said.
Densberger, a true freshman serving sub and defensive specialist, had missed the previous two matches with an illness.
Next up for the Huskers is an Illinois team (16-4, 7-2) who is receiving votes in the AVCA Coaches Poll and is coming off of a five-set win over Iowa on Friday. Former Nebraska assistant Chris Tamas is in his first season as the head coach in Champaign.
“They’re one game behind us in the standings and tomorrow’s a huge match for trying to stay in the top part of this conference,” Cook said. “He’s got two great players in [Jordyn] Poulter and [Ali] Bastianelli, and then Beth Prince and [Jacqueline] Quade are top recruits … So he’s got a nice nucleus; he’s also got some freshmen. We’re expecting a tough match tomorrow.”
Foecke said she hadn’t given much thought to playing against her former coach but that the game against Illinois will probably be a little bit like playing themselves.
“I think it will be nice to see him, obviously,” Foecke said. “I think it also gives us an opportunity because he knows our system, but I’m assuming he’s probably training some of the things that we do too so it will be a good match.”
First serve for Saturday’s match is set for 7 p.m. on NET.
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.