No. 4 Nebraska (8-1) set up a dominant block on Friday night as the Huskers used 16.5 blocks to take down New Mexico (5-6) in four sets at the Husker Invite, marking John Cook's 700th win as a Division I head coach.
The Lobos took the first set 25-23 but Nebraska rallied to win the last three sets 25-12, 25-20 and 25-11. After the slow start, the Huskers finished the match out-hitting the Lobos .282 to .040 in front of crowd of 8,043 at the Devaney Center.
After missing the first eight matches while recovering from an injury, Texas transfer Lexi Sun made her Husker debut, starting the match and tying senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke with 13 kills to lead the team. The sophomore hit .346 and chipped in five digs, two blocks and an ace while playing six rotations.
“It was awesome,” Sun said about her debut. “I was so happy to be out there my first time playing in front of such amazing fans. It was so great to be out there with the girls and competing and playing with them.”
The coaching staff and trainers have been cautious with Suns rehab but Cook said they had been targeting this weekend for her return from her start.
“All along, this is the weekend we were shooting for,” Cook said. “She’s been through two weeks of practice and this week we went hard Tuesday and Wednesday and she went through the full practices and felt good. So we thought tonight would be the night to start it.”
Foecke hit .393, recorded five digs, served up two aces and set a new career high with six block assists. Schwarzenbach was in on 13 of Nebraska’s 16.5 blocks and recorded the team’s only solo stuff. That total is good for the third most blocks by a Husker during the rally scoring era and tied the high nationally in a four-set match this season.
“Her natural ability is her length and her size,” Cook said. “She, I think, has pretty good instincts for a freshman. I’ve told her every day at the end of practice, I said ‘Callie, you had more touches and more blocks and better efficiency than Lauren [Stivrins] today,’ because I don’t think she thinks she’s very good. I’ve just been trying to pump her up that she’s putting up really good numbers in practice and she’s put up some good numbers in matches. She’s up there more than Lauren too so she gets more opportunities.”
Senior libero Kenzie Maloney finished with a match-high 13 digs and freshman setter Nicklin Hames did a bit of everything with 34 assists, six digs, three kills, two aces and a block.
The highlight of an ugly first set for the Huskers was Sun converting her first swing into a kill with a powerful strike off a new Mexico defender. However, it went downhill from there as Nebraska struggled to find any sort of rhythm offensively. The Huskers took the lead at 19-16 thanks to a 5-0 run served by Hames, but New Mexico rallied to tie it before pulling ahead 23-22. A Lobo service error tied it up but Lauren Twitty recorded back-to-back kills to take the set for New Mexico.
The Huskers lost the hitting battle .097 to .270 as the Lobos almost doubled up Nebraska in kills, 17 to 9.
“We practiced that lineup [with Sun] one day this week and I think it just took us a while to get a little bit comfortable,” Cook said. “New Mexico played really, really well game one. After watching them today, I’m not sure we were ready for what they brought in game one and they took it to sand really deserved to win that game. I thought we got better as the match went on.”
The Huskers turned it around in game two, however. Nebraska blew the game wide open with a 14-3 run that made it 20-8 and the tournament hosts cruised from there to tie the match at one set apiece heading into the intermission.
The Lobos struggled mightily to get past Nebraska’s block as the Huskers recorded seven stuffs in the second set alone. Nebraska held New Mexico to -.345, surrendering just four kills while forcing 14 errors.
After alternating the first handful of points in the third set, New Mexico managed to pull ahead 7-5. Stivrins served up a 3-0 run to put the Huskers back up by one but New Mexico tied it once again. A 4-1 stretch gave the Huskers a 13-10 lead and Nebraska expended its advantage to four at 18-14 following a kill by Anezka Szabo on a difficult set.
The Lobos pulled within two a couple of times, then within one a couple of times, but the Huskers closed the set with a 4-0 run served by Hayley Densberger and capped off with a kill by Sun. Nebraska hit .357 in the third set.
Nebraska opened the fourth set with three straight points and the Lobos never truly threatened as the Huskers rolled to a 14-point victory. Sun converted six of her seven swings for kills in the fourth set and the Huskers as a team had 13 kills with just one error.
After committing six attack errors in the first set, the Huskers recorded just seven more the rest of the way.
Prior to Nebraska’s win, Missouri State swept Central Michigan 25-14, 25-15, 25-21 behind 11 kills apiece from Aubrey Chaffy and Amelia Flynn and a defensive effort that held the Chippews to -.030 hitting.
Nebraska will take on the Bears Saturday at 7 p.m. to determine the tournament title and wrap up the nonconference slate.
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.