Behind continued stifling defense and a career night from freshman Madi Kubik, No. 5 Nebraska took down No. 20 Purdue in four sets at the Devaney Center on Wednesday.
“I thought our team played three really solid games tonight,” Coach John Cook said. “It got away from us in game three but I love how we responded in game four and our serve, block and defense put a lot of pressure on them.”
The Huskers (14-2, 6-1 Big Ten) beat the Boilermakers (11-5, 3-4) 25-21, 25-16, 23-25, 25-15 in front of 8,005 fans on Pink Night. Nebraska held its third straight opponent to a season-low hitting percentage as the Boilermakers hit .099.
“We stress it so much and it’s a pretty great accomplishment to be able to do that,” Cook said. “We want to be a great defensive team. They’ve bought in and they’re doing it. I don’t know how to compare that stat but three under .100 is pretty good, especially after getting lit up by Wisconsin. Again, I think it’s a mindset and these guys have embraced it.”
Kubik’s 22 kills tied Mikaela Foecke for most kills by a Nebraska freshman since Sarah Pavan had 35 in 2004. The outside hitter from West Des Moines, Iowa, hit .314 (her third time cracking .300 in her last five matches) and added four digs and two blocks.
“Madi was hitting great tonight and I was finding her in a lot of spots,” sophomore setter Nicklin Hames said. “She was taking great swings out of system as well. When they’re hot like that, you keep giving them the ball. They weren’t stopping her, so she did a great job.”
Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun overcame a slow start to finish with 11 kills on .321 hitting and a match-high 15 digs. Junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins added 10 kills on .375 hitting, and her presence played a big part in the outside hitters’ productivity.
“You kind of have to give credit to Lauren too, she took a lot of the block tonight and made it really easy for us to move the ball around and give it to other people,” Hames said.
“They were scheming on her every single ball,” Kubik added. “Lexi and I were one-on-one so many times because Lauren and Callie were pulling the block a lot.”
Sophomore Callie Schwarzenbach added five blocks (one solo) and four kills on nine swings. Hames finished with 48 assists, 11 digs, four kills, a block and an ace. Freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles chipped in 14 digs and six assists.
Nebraska hit .284 overall, a season-high for a Purdue opponent, and had five players hit over .300.
Nebraska opened with a 4-1 run featuring a pair of kills by Stivrins then used another 4-1 run to pull ahead 10-5. Purdue cut into the lead with a 3-0 run but Nebraska responded with three straight — sparked by a double-block from junior opposite hitter Jazz Sweet and Schwarzenbach — to push the lead back to five and draw a Purdue timeout.
Nebraska sided out at nearly every opportunity the rest of the way, surrendering back-to-back points just twice, until set point. With Nebraska leading 24-18, Purdue put together a 3-0 run to give the Huskers a bit of a scare and draw a timeout from Cook. After the break, however, Nebraska went to the Stivrins slide and she terminated to close it out.
Stivrins had five kills on six swings in the first set while Kubik led all players with seven kills on 13 attempts. Nebraska hit .323 and held Purdue to .059.
Nebraska took control early in the second set as well, using a 6-1 run to pull ahead 7-3. Kubik continued to swing away as her 11th kill of the match put the Huskers up 9-5 and drew a timeout from the Boilermakers.
Purdue pulled within two a few times, the last coming on a successful challenge, but Kubik made a great effort to get under a mis-hit from one of her teammates and get it over the net, leading to a Purdue attack error. That play sparked a 5-0 run that put the Huskers up 19-12 before Sun served into the net.
A 3-0 run capped by a Knuckles ace pushed Nebraska’s lead to 22-14 and Nebraska closed it out from there. The Huskers hit .391 behind six more kills from Kubik and held Purdue to .121.
“She was in a really nice rhythm tonight,” Cook said about Kubik. “I saw her do that in Asia and I’ve seen her do it a couple other times this year. She’s carrying a big load and she was feeling it tonight. Nicklin was setting her really, really well and it’s fun to watch that.”
After recording four service errors and no aces in the first set, Nebraska had three aces and two errors in the second.
Nebraska used a 3-0 run including back-to-back kills by Kubik — giving her a new career-high of 15 — to pull ahead 6-3, then the Huskers put together four straight with Kubik at the service line to make it 10-5.
Purdue wasn’t ready to call it a night, though. The Boilermakers used a 6-1 run to tie it at 11-all, then pulled ahead 15-13 with a 3-0 run. The teams traded sideouts from there until Nebraska managed to tie it up at 18-18 on an ace by Stivrins. Three Nebraska attack errors in the next four rallies gave Purdue a 21-19 advantage and a 3-0 Purdue run handed the Boilermakers a handful of set points.
After a timeout, Nebraska ripped off three straight points before Purdue finally ended it with a kill to extend the match.
Both sides hit under .100 in the set (Purdue .091, Nebraska .077) but the Huskers had 11 attack errors which proved to be too much to overcome.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot in the third set a little bit, made some errors that we shouldn’t have and kind of let them back in it,” Hames said. “We weren’t aggressive towards the end of that and so we just talked about going to the fourth set, being super aggressive, going after it and just playing Nebraska volleyball, going out and having fun, and I think it really showed in the fourth set.”
After seven ties and three lead changes in the first 18 rallies of the fourth set, Nebraska put together a 7-1 run to take a 16-10 lead. The Huskers pushed their lead to seven at 18-11 with Sun and Kubik accounting for nine of Nebraska’s 11 kills to that point.
A 3-0 run capped by Hames’ third kill of the night pushed Nebraska’s lead to 21-13 and the Huskers cruised to the finish line from there. Hames called her own number on match point to finish it off.
After 11 errors in the third set, Nebraska finished with just two in the fourth and hit .536 while holding Purdue to .133. Kubik closed out her career night with six more kills.
After four straight matches at home, Nebraska will hit the road again on Saturday for a trip to Maryland.
“Hopefully we’ve got some confidence and we feel good about ourselves,” Cook said. “We’re going to need everything against Maryland. They're a very tough team and a tough place to play. I think we’re on the road the next three now. We have to get our resiliency muscle fired up and hit the road and perform there. It’s fun playing here and I think our players feed off the crowd. Now we’ve got to make our own energy.”
First serve is set for 7 p.m. on BTN+.
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.