Nebraska (11-1, 2-0) finished off the weekend sweep over the visiting Michigan teams with a four-set win over Michigan State (12-3, 0-1) at the Devaney Center on Sunday afternoon.
Scores in Nebraska’s favor were 25-15, 25-9, 21-25, 25-15 against a Michigan State team that was just outside the top 25 in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll. The listed attendance for the match was 8,102.
“I thought we did some good stuff for the first two games,” Coach John Cook said. “Then typical volleyball, blowing somebody out then you relax and it’s hard to get the momentum back. I thought [freshman setter] Nicklin Hames in game four came in and served really tough and got us a big run to get us some of the momentum back and get the crowd back into it … It was a good win. We’ve got a lot to work on and a lot to learn from this match.”
Nebraska hit .224 and improved on their nation-leading opponent attack percentage by holding the Spartans to .047. Nebraska out-blocked the Spartans 12 to nine and out-dug them 56 to 34.
“It feels good,” Hames said about the team’s defensive performance. “We’re challenging them, making them really hit the ball smart and hit the ball hard to get it down. I think it gives you a lot of momentum when you’re just digging everything that they’re hitting at you.”
The pin-hitters led the way for Nebraska offensively with 27 kills between them. Sophomore Lexi Sun finished with a match-high 15 kills and senior Mikaela Foecke added 12 kills on .417 hitting.
“You set up a ball, they get a kill, and sometimes even when you don’t give them the most perfect set they still make something out of it,” Hames said. “They’re super fun to play with, super competitive and I thought they did a great job today.”
Hames had another double-double with 40 assists, 16 digs and two aces. Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivirns pitched in seven kills and six blocks. Senior libero Kenzie Maloney led everyone with 17 digs and she served up two aces as ell.
Nebraska got off to strong start defensively, forcing five early attacks errors by the Spartans to take a 12-7 lead and force a Michigan State timeout. Nebraska got a little sloppy on its side of the net following the break, however, allowing the Spartans to close the gap to 15-13 as the Huskers’ error count reached five as well.
Following a timeout to regroup, Nebraska cleaned things up and only committed one attack error the rest of the way. Nebraska used a 4-1 run capped by an ace from Stivrins to create a little separation at 21-16 and cruised to the finish line from here.
Nebraska held Michigan State to .030 while hitting at a .222 clip on their side. Foecke had four kills on seven swings in the opening frame.
Nebraska jumped out to a 6-1 lead in set two then stretched the lead to seven at 11-4. After going back and forth for a few rallies, Nebraska blew the game open with a 9-1 run to build a 23-8 lead and finished it off three rallies later. Stivrins delivered the final blow on the slide, blasting a kill off the body of Michigan State’s libero.
The Huskers out-hit the Spartans .407 to -.030, recorded four blocks and served up four aces with one error in the second set. Foecke put down another four kills on seven swings in the second set and had eight kills on .500 hitting at the intermission.
Michigan State came out of the locker room locked in to open the third set, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. The Huskers played from behind until a 4-1 run knotted the game at 14-all. Michigan State fired back with a 3-0 run to draw a timeout from Cook. Another 3-0 Spartan run stretched the deficit to five at 21-16 before Nebraska ripped off its own 3-0 run to pull within two but that was as close as Nebraska would get. Maddie Haggerty put down back-to-back kills to give the Spartans set point at 24-20 and after a kill by Sun, an arrant attack by Hames gave Michigan State the game.
After holding the Spartans to .000 hitting through the first two sets, Nebraska gave up .258 hitting in the third.
The fourth set featured as many attack errors as kills with both teams hitting in the negative for most of the set, but the Huskers got off to a quick start with a 5-1 lead and held on the rest of the way. Michigan State pulled within one a couple of times including at 11-10 but Nebraska ripped off six straight to blow the game open and cruised from there. The Huskers ended the match on a 5-0 run served by sophomore defensive specialist Hayley Densberger.
“It was good for us to respond in that way,” Cook said. “Ideally I would like us not to have to respond; when we’ve got a team down, we have to go for it and that was one of the lessons we talked about. In this conference, it’s not over, ever. You’ve got to continue to battle point-by-point and keep the pressure on teams. We let them get back in the match. Fortunately we were able to turn it around and get that momentum back and start playing better volleyball, but we kind of imploded game three.”
The win was the 11th straight for the Huskers after dropping the season-owner to a top-10 Florida team.
“It feels great,” Maloney said. “Eleven straight gives us a lot of confidence, especially starting off conference play. I think we have a really good feeling as conference goes on, especially because we’re going to keep playing tough teams.”
The young Huskers will leave Nebraska for the first time all season next weekend as the Huskers will head to Northwestern on Friday and Illinois on Saturday.
“The next step for us is we’re going on the road,” Cook said. “We haven’t been on the road, so that’s going to be kind of our mindset — we’re going to have to get after it and we’re going to have to go in and attack in these road matches. I’m hoping that’s what happens when we go on the road now because we’ve really only been up to Omaha. That’s going to be a new experience for us.”
First serve against the Wildcats is set for 7 p.m.
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.