A first-set rally came up just short for the Huskers, but the momentum they gained carried over into the rest of the match as No. 9 Nebraska took down No. 7 Purdue 3-1 on Saturday night.
The Huskers (16-3, 10-0 Big Ten) beat the Boilermakers (14-5, 6-4) 23-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-21 for their first top-10 win of the season in front of a crowd of 8,321 at the Devaney Center. Nebraska hit .214, despite 16 Boilermaker blocks, and held Purdue to .123.
“The fans got their money’s worth tonight,” Coach John Cook said. “It was a great match, two really good teams that went head-to-head and some great volleyball tonight. Purdue’s a really good team. A lot of fun and glad we were able to weather the first game and turn it around and I thought our floor defense probably was the difference in that match.
“Our comeback at the end of game one, I thought we got the crowd into it, we got some momentum and that just carried us through the next couple of games and then game four we just had to will it out.”
Madi Kubik led the Huskers in kills for the 10th straight match with 15, but she hit just .125. The middles picked up the slack, however, as Lauren Stivrins and Kayla Caffey had 14 kills apiece, the first time this season they’ve been in double figures in the same match. Caffey’s total was a career high and she did it on .619 hitting. Stivrins hit .393 and led the Huskers with five block assists. Cook said feeding the middles was an emphasis going into the match, and they capitalized.
“Tonight, it was just awesome,” Caffey said. “We were just really flowing with Nicklin, both of us, and I think when we’re both on it really makes it difficult and it opens up a lot for our other hitters because we’re obviously a threat in the middle. So yeah, it was awesome. It was so much fun.”
Lindsay Krause provided further balance with 13 kills on .312 hitting, though Ally Batenhorst and Lexi Sun combined for four kills and eight errors on 26 attempts in the L2 spot.
Lexi Rodriguez led the defensive effort with 24 digs and chipped in six assists. Nicklin Hames did a bit of everything with 48 assists, 17 digs, three aces, three kills and two blocks. Kubik added 10 digs for her third double-double of the season. Nebraska out-aced Purdue six to one.
“We’ve been there before where teams come in and they’re just playing really, really well at a high level and you just kind of have to weather the storm, and eventually they’ll come down,” Cook said. “They hit .123 for the match, and they hit .429 In the first game, so that’s pretty good defensive effort right there on our part.”
Purdue was the aggressor early, using a 4-0 run to take a 6-3 lead. A few rallies later, the Boilermakers made another push, outscoring the Huskers 8-3 to pull ahead 15-8 at the media timeout. Purdue terminated on 9 of its first 13 swings without an error while the Huskers had misfired four times already.
It didn’t get any better from there as Purdue continued to play clean volleyball while the Huskers struggled to get anything going. Purdue’s first error of any kind didn’t come until the 38th rally on a net violation.
Purdue built a 10-point lead at 23-13 and then the Huskers finally got it going, ripping off seven straight points. The last came on an ace from Kenzie Knuckles after a challenge overturned the call on the court, sending the Devaney Center into an uproar. Purdue ended the run with a kill on the next rally, but the Huskers scored three more points (capped by their first block of the night) to cut the deficit all the way down to one.
Nebraska’s comeback finally ran out of steam on Purdue’s fourth set-point chance as Kaitlyn Newton’s seventh kill of the set closed it out.
“The message was at our last time out, we said, ‘Hey, we want to try to get as much momentum as we can going into game two, so try to fight point-by-point right now, see if we can get some momentum going,’” Cook said. “And that’s exactly what they did so, there was really nothing said [after the set] because they did what they needed to do and they were feeling pretty good at that point.”
Purdue hit .429 with just one attack error. Nebraska cleaned things up late in the set to push its hitting percentage to .280 behind eight kills from Kubik and five from Caffey.
Nebraska carried the momentum from the late run into the second set, using a 4-1 stretch to pull ahed 8-4 early. After back-to-back errors into the block by Batenhorst, Cook sent Sun in to replace her. The freshman had four errors and no kills on 10 swings at that point.
Nebraska regained control from there and built the lead to seven at 17-10, then traded sideouts until Purdue put together a 4-0 run to pull within three at 19-16. Nebraska regrouped and finished out the set strong with a 6-2 run capped by a big kill from Krause.
Nebraska held Purdue to .000 hitting with eight errors including six by Newton. Krause and Caffey led the Huskers, who hit .225, with four kills apiece. Sun didn’t fare much better than Batenhorst with one kill and two errors on eight attempts, but Cook stuck with her the rest of the way.
Nebraska used a 4-0 run to take the lead early in set three, then scored three straight to double up the Boilermakers at 10-5. Purdue managed to pull within a few points, but Nebraska blew the game open with an 8-1 run to pull ahead 19-9 and cruised from there.
Purdue’s seventh attack error of the set delivered Nebraska a 2-1 match lead as the Boilermakers hit minus-.061. Nebraska had 11 more kills as the Huskers hit .270 behind five kills apiece from Stivrins and Krause.
The fourth set featured six ties and a couple of lead changes early before Nebraska managed to pull ahead 11-7 with a 5-1 run including an ace by Anni Evans and two by Hames. Purdue closed to within one three times, but each time Nebraska answered to maintain its lead.
“I think we just talk about just being tough for a couple points, and when it comes down to after 20, we train that a lot in practice, just trusting our training and going back to what we know and doing that in the big moments,” Kubik said. “So I think that’s what we were able to do.”
Purdue’s last push made it 21-20 Nebraska, but three straight attack errors by the Boilermakers — including a double-block from Kubik and Stivrins — gave the Huskers a handful of match points. Purdue saved the first one, but Nebraska went to the Stivrins Slide to close it out and she delivered with her fourth kill of the game.
Purdue out-hit Nebraska .121 to .073, but the Huskers out-aced the Boilermakers 4-0 including three by Hames.
“These guys are top-10 team,” Cook said. “We hadn’t beat a top-10 team this year, so that’s a good momentum-builder for us. We’re going to be playing top-10 teams on every week now pretty much for the rest of the season. So it’s a good confidence-builder for us. We’ve got times we have three freshmen out there, so, it’s good for them to understand what Big Ten volleyball is about and the level they’re gonna have to play at every night.”
Nebraska’s gauntlet of top-10 opponents continues next week as the Huskers host No. 3 Wisconsin on Wednesday. The Badgers survived a five-set match with Penn State on Saturday.
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.