No. 1 Nebraska (8-1) rebounded from Wednesday’s loss to Stanford and closed out the nonconference schedule with a sweep over Wichita State on Saturday, though Coach John Cook wasn’t totally pleased with the effort.
“We took care of business today but it didn’t feel as good to me as the scores indicated and I just thought we were a little sloppy today and keep making mental errors,” Cook said. “We’re going to have to get that fixed by next Friday and Saturday.”
The Huskers dominated most of the match, holding the Shockers (3-9) to .000 hitting in the 25-17, 25-10, 25-15 win. Nebraska hit .283 with 10 blocks and four aces in front of an afternoon crowd of 8,063 at the Devaney Center.
“I thought our effort was pretty good [defensively] and we made some really nice scramble plays,” Cook said. “I think our defense was pretty good. What bothered me was we had some really easy plays and we shanked them all over the place, which just can’t happen.”
Junior opposite hitter Jazz Sweet finished with a match-high 11 kills on a season-high .435 hitting percentage. She added four blocks and three digs while committing just one attack error.
“Part of it for Jazz is she need a pretty good set; Nicklin [Hames] set her really well tonight,” Cook said. “Jazz I think is probably our leading hitter among outside hitters right now efficiency-wise, which she should be because she’s on the right over there and she’s only in three rotations. But we get Jazz in a good spot, she can do good things … But Nicklin set her great tonight, probably the best match of the year that Nicklin set Jazz, got her some really good swings with really good tempo.”
Junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins added nine kills on .467 hitting and six blocks (two solo). Hames, the sophomore setter, had 28 assists, eight digs, three aces and three kills.
Freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles did not play in the match. Cook said she had a headache after taking a shot to the nose, but expects her back for next weekend’s matches. Sophomore Megan Miller started in her place and recorded a match-high 14 digs and served tough with an ace and a few extended serving runs.
“I thought she did pretty well,” Cook said. “We made some nice runs with her serving and I thought Megan did a nice job. I haven’t seen her passing stats but I thought she passed pretty well … She looked really calm and confident out there, which she should.”
Miller officially learned that she’d be starting at libero on Friday, though she had an idea that would be the case on Thursday.
“I was just hoping to do everything I could to fill Kenzie’s shoes and bring energy and do everything that I can,” Miller said. “I know that it was a little weird for everyone but I was just trying to be as comfortable as possible and make everyone else feel comfortable around me.”
Wichita State senior Kara Brown, a Lincoln East alumna, started at libero and finished with a team-high nine digs. She received an ovation from the the crowd during starting lineups and Cook gave her one of the mini volleyballs the Huskers throw out before the match.
Nebraska scored the first two points of the match, but after five early ties, Wichita State used a 4-0 run to take a 9-6 lead.
Nebraska tried to feed the middles early but didn’t have much success as Stivrins and sophomore Callie Schwarzenbach produced two kills and five errors on their first 10 swings. The Shockers allowed the Huskers to re-take the lead at 13-12 with four straight errors before an attack rolled down the net and landed on Nebraska’s side for a kill to tie it up again.
After the slow start, the middles came alive with a kill and a block each during a 6-0 Nebraska run. Miller was at the service line for that run and capped it with an ace that put the Huskers cup 20-14.
.@meggmillerrr adds onto the run. ♠️
Six straight points for NU. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/uwAeq5HC7r
— Husker Volleyball (@Huskervball) September 21, 2019
Wichita State ended the run with a kill but Nebraska won five of the final seven rallies in the the set. The Huskers only hit .150 but held the Shockers to .056 thanks in part to four first-set blocks. Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun, who delivered the winner on set-point, led the Huskers with three kills.
“I just think we kind of talked about some of the things that we spoke about working on after our Stanford match, so we were just trying to fine-tune those things that were getting out of control in that first set,” Sweet said about the mid-set turnaround. “We tuned into those for the second and third set and corrected that.”
Nebraska used runs of 4-1 and 5-0 to take a 15-5 lead midway through the second set. Seven of Wichita State’s first 16 swings were errors while Nebraska converted six of its first nine attacks into kills.
Nebraska used a 4-0 run to push the lead to 12 at 19-7 and continued to build on it the rest of the way. Sophomore outside hitter Capri Davis, who returned from a strained abdominal muscle on Wednesday against Stanford, subbed in for freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik with Nebraska up 21-8. Stivrins closed it out with a kill on set point thanks to a net violation by the Shockers. The junio co-captain had two swings and two kills in game two.
Sweet had six kills on 11 swings in the second set to give her a match-high eight at the intermission. Nebraska hit .346 and held the Shockers to. -.091 in the second set.
During the break, Nebraska honored the 1989 team that finished as the national runner-up and still holds the program record for kills in a season with 2,031.
Nebraska jumped out to an 8-1 lead in game three thanks to a 6-0 run served by Miller. The Huskers had five kills without an error during that stretch before hitting into the Wichita State block. Nebraska continued to roll as Hames served back-to-back aces to put the Huskers up 16-7 before hitting into the net. Nebraska used a 4-0 run served by Miller that included a solo stuff and a kill by Stivrins to pull ahead 20-8.
Cook subbed in a couple of his freshmen to close out the match. Nebraska earned match-point at 24-11 but the Shockers scored four straight to stay alive. Sun finally finished it off on Nebraska’s fifth match-point try with her sixth kill of the match.
Nebraska hit .423 with just two errors and held Wichita State to .038. Stivrins had four kills on six sets in the third. Davis, who started the third set for Kubik, put down three kills on four swings. After eight ties and six lead changes in the first set, Nebraska led wire-to-wire in the last two.
Cook said this week’s practices leading up to Saturday’s match were not quite up to his standard.
“We’ve been very flat and not very inspired and very low energy and today was probably one of the worst game-day practices I’ve ever seen,” Cook said. “Now it kind of makes sense because I just saw what happened to Stanford with BYU [a 3-1 loss]. Now I have a better understanding why, because I think both teams probably spent a lot of energy Wednesday night. It was a hard match, it was very intense. We might still be recovering from that. But here’s the deal in the Big Ten: you have to play two ranked teams in a row, back-to-back. You're going to play two tough teams and travel back-to-back, so we can’t use that as an excuse.”
Nebraska opens Big Ten play on Friday with a trip to Champaign to take on No. 18 Illinois at 7:30 p.m. After that, the Huskers will head to Evanston to take on Northwestern on Saturday with a 7 p.m. start time. Cook said the Huskers can’t continue to get off to slow starts and they can’t walk into any match assuming they’re going to win in conference play.
“In the Big Ten, you don’t have a choice — you better be up for every match,” Cook said. “That’s what we’re trying to teach this week. Every match has to be like Stanford: same mindset, same preparation and so on.”
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.