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Huskers to Close Out Nonconference Against No. 21 Kentucky

September 15, 2023

No. 4 Nebraska opened its final week of nonconference play in a big way, toppling No. 5 Stanford on its home court Tuesday night to improve to 8-0.

The win was Nebraska’s first over the Cardinal since 2008, snapping a five-match losing streak and securing Nebraska’s first-ever win at Stanford’s Maple Pavilion. Stanford’s only other loss came to current No. 3 Florida without star outside hitter Caitie Baird, who led the Cardinal with 15 kills on .400 hitting against the Huskers. Nebraska hit a season-high for a Stanford opponent (.333) and held the Cardinal to a season-low (.091).

“We competed really well on big points and we held our composure really well,” Coach John Cook said after practice on Thursday. “We didn’t get flustered when Stanford made runs … I just thought they really maintained their composure and played point-by-point. That was something we talked about, when the other team makes a great play we just have to come back and side out, and I think they really embraced that.”

Five straight losses wasn’t the only streak the Cornhuskers ended on Tuesday. Nebraska had dropped four straight deuce games to the Cardinal as well before winning the first set on Tuesday 25-23. Trailing 21-20, Nebraska scored three straight points to surge ahead then traded sideouts the rest of the way to take a 1-0 lead in the match.

“For the past few years, at least ever since I’ve been here, we’ve always talked about winning those close matches and winning three games by two points,” junior Lexi Rodriguez said. “And so to go on the road, go up against a top-five opponent and be able to win that deuce game, I thought it was really important and it kind of just got us pumped up for the rest of the game. Winning that first set is probably the reason we won the entire game, so it was really huge for us.”

The Huskers carried the momentum of getting over the hump in a close game into the second set, which proved to be Nebraska’s best offensive frame of the season as the Huskers hit .696 with 17 kills and just one error.

“We were flowing,” Cook said, “You look at all the one-on-ones we had, we were ball-handling, passing well. These guys were just flowing. It was probably the best game we’ve played all year.”

The Huskers were so locked in during the second set that junior setter Kennedi Orr didn’t realize that the team had hit nearly .700 until she was asked about it on Thursday.

“We talk about calling that like a flow state, and in flow states you don’t really like think about things like that,” Orr said. “I had no clue that we hit .700; it’s just kind of like you keep going until you get to the finish line.”

Stanford made some adjustments during the intermission and rallied to win the third set, but Nebraska countered and finished off the match in game four. Cook said it took a huge effort on Nebraska’s part to pull off the win, which should only bolster the team’s belief in what it can become as the season rolls on.

Rodriguez said she was pumped to end the losing streak against the Cardinal, but it was just one win and the Huskers still have plenty of work to do this season.

“It was awesome,” Rodriguez said. “There are a few rivalries where I’m hoping we can kind of squash this year, so to start out with that Stanford win, it was pretty cool … We were going into that with a lot of energy and motivation, and we really wanted it. So we got the job done, but I think we’ve got more to go so we’re getting back at it today and this upcoming weekend.”

The Huskers will close out their nonconference slate against another ranked foe as No. 21 Kentucky visits the Devaney Center on Sunday night. The Wildcats are only 2-5 but they’ve lost to current No. 8 Pittsburgh (twice), No. 17 Purdue and No. 2 Louisville, and they have a win over No. 22 Houston.

“They’re a great team and they’ve given some other opponents some really close games,” Rodriguez said. “So we’re expecting a battle. Everyone always gives us their best shot and so we’re ready to give them our best shot.”

Senior All-America opposite hitter Reagan Rutherford is leading the Kentucky attack with 3.63 kills per set on .284 hitting. She had 16 kills on .583 hitting, nine digs and four blocks against Louisville on Wednesday. Senior middle blocker Elise Goetzinger is adding 2.85 kills per set on .325 hitting while All-American and SEC Player of the Year Emma Grome is orchestrating the offense, averaging 10.81 assists per set.

First serve on Sunday is set for 6:30 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network.

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