Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Fights Back from Two-Set Deficit to Hand Ohio State First Loss of Season

March 12, 2021

What appeared destined to be a sweep for Ohio State quickly turned around as a reverse sweep for Nebraska. The No. 4 Huskers defeated the previously undefeated No. 11 Buckeyes on Friday, 21-25, 21-25, 25-20, 25-20, 15-10.

Nebraska (10-1) struggled with communication in its first two sets of the night, something that stumped captains Nicklin Hames and Lauren Stivrins. Neither could explain the reasoning for the poor communication after the game.

“I honestly couldn’t tell you. I couldn’t put my finger on any one thing,” Stivrins said. “We were just kind of waiting for the other team to roll over and stop playing, but with a team like that, they aren’t going to do that.”

Part of the problem for Nebraska was its hitting. While Stivrins and Lexi Sun both had big nights—Stivrins had 18 kills and six blocks while also eclipsing the 1,000 career kills mark, and Sun followed with 17 kills and two blocks—the Huskers hit only .164 in the first two sets. They turned it around in the final three, hitting .322.

Coach John Cook previously stressed the need to get his outside hitters more consistent. That was a struggle for Nebraska again on Friday, primarily over the first two sets. After the second rally of the match, it took until the third set for Riley Zuhn to get a kill from the right side. Did Cook have any concern about that between Zuhn and Jazz Sweet?

“At least we got seven kills,” Cook said. “We had zero last weekend for the whole weekend but we’ve got to continue to develop that and make it a weapon for us.”

Another problem for Nebraska in the first two sets was its communication and energy. Stivrins said the Huskers were simply too amped up in the beginning and needed to calm down. She said they went back to the basics, which paid off.

For Cook, part of the basics was improving the serve. He stressed that if Nebraska was going to come back and win it, the team would have to start attacking with serves. Stivrins took the lead on that, which resulted in the Huskers winning the serving battle in the end. Nebraska had six aces to Ohio State’s two.

“Lauren Stivrins was doing most of the talking so I wasn’t saying much,” Cook said. “I just told them to start thumping their serves more because we weren’t attacking with our serves.”

That communication also translated into better hitting, blocking, you name it. And the Huskers needed all of it to limit Ohio State freshman outside hitter Emily Londot. She finished the night with 23 kills.

Here’s the catch: Only three of those kills came during the final two sets.

“She’s a really athletic pin and I think in the beginning we were a little tentative on making moves on her,” Stivrins said. “The whole time we were talking about where she is, where she might be hitting the ball.”

Which goes back to that communication. After the second set, Hames said Nebraska shifted its mindset. The Huskers knew they weren’t playing well enough to win—”We started really quiet,” she said—and they needed to treat the last three sets as a new game. A fresh slate. That change affected the communication and energy drastically.

As each of the final three sets went on, the communication and energy only grew. By the end of the fourth set, Nebraska seemed to have finally found its groove and the rest was history. Or as Cook would say, “we played Husker volleyball and played like we train.”

Sometimes that’s all it takes is getting back to the basics. The Huskers can’t rest on that though. They’ll have to bring just as much energy back to the Devaney Center on Saturday.

“For me, it’s halftime,” Cook said. “We just went through the first half and we’ve got the second half tomorrow night.”

Nebraska faces Ohio State for round two on Saturday at 8 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

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