One team played Nebraska volleyball at the Devaney Center on Saturday night, and it wasn’t the Huskers.
No. 5 Minnesota (12-2, 6-0) out-played No. 3 Nebraska in nearly every phase of the game and beat the Huskers 25-20, 23-25, 25-14 and 25-21 in front of a full house of 8,420.
“I know we talk a lot about Nebraska volleyball, but we really just didn’t come out here and play it today,” redshirt sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins said. “It looked like Minnesota was playing Nebraska volleyball, which is something we need to work on.
The Gophers hit .280, the highest percentage Nebraska has allowed so far this season, and held the Huskers to .194. Minnesota out-dug Nebraska 77 to 63 with four different Gophers notching 13 or more digs.
“I just feel like they willed it away from us, kind of,” senior libero and co-captain Kenzie Maloney said. “They were suffocating us on defense and we felt that pressure. I don’t know if it was affecting people that they’re playing defense and we weren’t, but it just comes down to how much you care about getting the ball up and communicating with your teammates and trusting training and stuff like that. I just feel like our lack of care was what hurt us tonight.”
Freshman outside hitter Alanna Rollins posted a career-high 17 kills, junior middle blocker Taylor Morgan had 3 kills on .500 hitting, junior outside hitter Alexis Hart recorded 11 kills, sophomore right side hitter Stephanie Samedy added 10 kills and sophomore middle blocker Regan Pittman chipped in nine kills. Even setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson put down six kills on seven swings.
“I think their setter does a great job of mixing it up and she never goes to the same person twice — I guess she does, but that’s part of being great,” Stivrins said. “Their defense is just unreal. They were putting the ball exactly where it needed to be in transition so it’s kind of easy to run an offense when everything’s working out like that. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the same way for us.”
Heading into the match, the Huskers led the Big Ten in aces per set at 1.93 while the Gophers were in the bottom five at 1.29 per set. On Saturday, Nebraska didn’t record its first ace until the 164th rally of the match and it finished with six errors to one ace. The Gophers served up four aces to six errors.
“I thought a couple of them were tough servers, the other ones were just putting it in play and we just didn’t pass,” Coach john Cook said. “We didn’t have anybody that had confidence passing to step up and pass tonight, except Kenzie probably had pretty good stats. They served Mikaela [Foecke] a lot of balls and she struggled and Hayley [Densberger] struggled and Lexi [Sun] held her own for a while, but the problem is when you get one or two passers breaking down in communication, it affects everybody. They’ve got to trust it more and we have to continue to work on it.”
Foecke led the Huskers with 16 kills but only hit .239 (about 100 points below her season percentage) and only mustered six digs. Sophomore opposite hitter Jazz Sweet had 13 kills on .114 hitting. Sun had 12 kills on .205 hitting and 15 digs. Stivrins had 10 kills on .500 hitting,five blocks and Nebraska’s only ace. Maloney and Hames recorded 18 digs apiece and Hames added 44 assists.
“We’re not good enough to play consistently long enough to beat a team like Minnesota yet,” Cook said. “I thought they out-worked us and out-served and passed us in our own gym. If you can’t pass, it’s hard, especially when you’ve got a freshman setter we couldn’t get into a rhythm. Minnesota’s playing really well and they’ve got a great senior setter, Sam, who makes them look really good and takes bad passes and makes them look really good. They never feel like they’re under stress over there; I felt like we were under stress the whole night.”
Minnesota set the tone from the start with a 7-2 run to open play. Nebraska scored three straight to pull within two at 8-6, then narrowed the gap to one at 13-12, but Minnesota answered with a 4-0 run thanks to four straight Nebraska attack errors.
The Huskers pulled to within two at 20-18 but Minnesota closed out the set with a 5-2 run to take a 1-0 lead in the match. The Gophers hit .350 to just .167 for Nebraska behind five kills from middle blocker Taylor Morgan.
Nebraska turned things around in the used a 4-0 run featuring some long rallies early in the second set to take a 7-3 lead. Minnesota cut its deficit to two several times until a 5-1 run gave the Gophers the lead at 17-16.
Nebraska tied it at 17-17 and 18-18 before Minnesota scored two straight for another 20-18 lead. This time, however, the Huskers managed to dig themselves out of the hoe with a 3-0 run for a 22-21 lead. Minnesota tied it up before a kill by Foecke and a double-block by Stivrins and Sweet gave the Huskers set point. Nebraska misfired on the ensuing serve but Sweet blasted a kill on the next point to even the match at one set apiece.
Foecke had seven kills and no errors in the second set to lead the Huskers. Nebraska recorded five blocks and held the Gophers to .111 hitting.
The third set was a battle back and forth with six ties in the first 18 rallies, but Minnesota got rolling midway through the set and the Huskers couldn’t do anything to stop them. The Gophers ripped off 11 straight points to take a commanding 23-11 lead. Nebraska scored three straight before Minnesota closed out the set.
The Gophers held Nebraska to .030 hitting, allowing just eight kills and forcing seven errors, and hit .256 with five different players notching at least two kills in the set.
Minnesota broke a 4-4 tie with a 3-0 run. Stivrins put down a kill on the next point but Minnesota responded with two straight and the Huskers got no closer than three points the rest of the way. Minnesota stretched its lead first to five at 12-7 then to seven at 17-10.
The Huskers showed some signs of life with a 5-1 run to cut it to 19-16 but Nebraska couldn’t string together enough points to get any closer. Minnesota had match-point at 24-19 before Nebraska scored two in a row, but Seliger-Swenson ended it with a setter dump to snap Nebraska’s 14-match winning streak.
Nebraska will return to the Devaney Center on Wednesday night to host Indiana at 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.