Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Middles Mash Michigan as Huskers Sweep Wolverines

March 26, 2021

No. 5 Nebraska put together one of its most complete matches of the season to sweep Michigan in Ann Arbor on Friday night.

“We challenged them to come out form the first point tonight and, of course, we got aced on the first ball, but I thought we just had the pedal to the medal the whole night on everything we were doing — serving, passing, attacking, blocking, our floor defense,” Coach John Cook said during his post-game radio interview on the Husker Sports Network. “I think they really pressured Michigan the whole night and they never really could get comfortable.

“Really good job by the Huskers and this was a really nice win. It’s hard to beat teams two nights in a row just from the mental part of it, so I thought me made some progress and did some really nice things tonight.”

Led by a dominant middle blocker attack, the Huskers swept the Wolverines 25-19, 25-15, 25-13. Nebraska hit .362 and held Michigan to a season-low .074. The Huskers out-blocked the Wolverines 11 to 5.0 and finished with an even seven aces and seven errors from the service line.

“We served a little bit tougher than they did,” Cook said. “Another incredible stat is in our serving numbers we served over a 2.0 tonight. Our goal is 1.8 in our efficiency rating. There are very few times as a team we’re over 2.0 on a serving night. Typically you’ll have one, maybe two players tat go over a 2.0. Tonight the whole team was over a 2.0.”

Middle blockers Lauren Stivrins and Kayla Caffey finished with 10 kills apiece and hit a combined .741 with zero errors. Stivrins finished with seven blocks and Caffey chipped in three as well. Cook had not seen the final stats before his interview. His reaction to hearing their what his middles did?

“Are you serious? Whoa.”

Jazz Sweet bounced back offensively with nine kills on .533 hitting. Kenzie Knuckles led the defensive effort with a match-high 16 digs and chipped in four assists and two aces as well.

The Huskers shut down two of Michigan’s top attackers, holding Paige Jones and Jess Robinson to a combined seven kills on .087 hitting. Star freshman Jess Mruzik got loose early but the Huskers clamped down on her later on as well, limiting her to 12 kills on .222 hitting after she led the Wolverines with 20 kills on .259 hitting on Thursday.

Nebraska got off to a much better start than it did on Thursday. The teams went back and forth until a 4-0 run served by Knuckles gave the Huskers a 12-9 lead. Stivrins had two kills and a block assist during that run, which gave the Huskers the lead for good.

The Wolverines cut the deficit from four down to one with a 3-0 run, but the Huskers answered with four straight including a Knuckles ace to stretch the lead out to five at 22-17 and finished it off from there. Nicklin Hames caught the Wolverines off-guard on set point with a setter dump.

Nebraska hit .375 behind a dominant showing by the middles blocks. Stivrins led the Huskers with five kills on eight swings and was in on all four of Nebraska’s blocks, and Caffey chipped in three kills on five swings. Neither one had an error. Mruzik had six kills one.455 hitting, but the Wolverines hit .231 as a team.

The second set followed a similar script to the first early with a couple of lead changes until Nebraska broke an 8-8 tie with a 3-0 run and never relinquished the lead. The Huskers blew the game open with a 6-0 run served by Hames that gave them a 21-12 lead and the cruised to the finish from there. Sweet tooled the Michigan block on set point for her fourth kill on six attacks.

Nebraska hit .345 in the set and half the Wolverines to .027 thanks in large part to five blocks. Caffey had four kills on five swings and three blocks in game two. The Huskers limited Mruzik to two kills and two errors on 11 swings.

Nebraska took control early in the third set with a 5-0 run to take a 7-2 lead. Kubik served two aces and Stivrins put down two kills during the run. A Michigan block ended the run, but that four-point deficit was the closest the Wolverines would get the rest of the night. The Huskers steadily extended the lead throughout the set and closed out the sweep with a 3-0 run capped by a match-point ace from Lexi Sun.

Nebraska hit .364 in game three and held the Wolverines to .000. Sweet came on strong late with five kills in the third.

“We made a decision because Jazz was feeling it, we made a decision to try to get her as many balls as we could tonight,” Cook said. “So Nicklin forced a few and Jazz did really well. We were starting with Jazz at right front, so she wasn’t in the front row as much and we just wanted to give her a lot of reps. They’re so focused on our left sides and then they started getting focused on our middles, so she got a lot of one-on-ones.”

Nebraska is scheduled to host Penn State next Thursday and Friday to close out the regular season, but the Nittany Lions had to call off their series with Wisconsin this week and their status is up in the air.

“I think it’s going to depend on how their testing goes through the weekend and into early next week,” Cook said. “If they get more positives it will be canceled; if not, maybe they can make it happen. It’s not a done deal yet either way, so we just have to be patient and see what next week brings. I don’t know all the details, I just know the possibility is still open so we’re going to hold out. It’d be fun to play Penn State, they’re always a fun match to play and we get to play in front of fans, so that would be really special for our team.”

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