No. 3 Nebraska held No. 7 Illinois to a season-low .157 hitting on Saturday night as the Huskers handed the Illini their first loss of the season. Nebraska (13-1, 4-0) beat the Illini (14-1, 3-1) 25-14, 19-25, 25-17, 25-19 in front of 3,569 at Huff Hall in Champaign.
The Huskers served up eight aces with just five errors, hit .257 and recorded 14 blocks in the four-set win. Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke led the way with 13 kills on .321 hitting and 11 digs. Following sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins’ perfect outing on Friday, freshman Callie Schwarzenbach stepped up in the middle with nine kills on 11 swings (.818 hitting) with eight blocks. Stivrins played well in her own right on Saturday as well with eight kills, four blocks and three aces.
Sophomore outside hitter Lexi Sun struggled a bit with errors (seven of them) but still finished with nine kills and eight digs. Senior libero Kenzie Maloney added 13 digs.
Junior outside hitter Jacqueline Quade put up some big numbers for Illinois with 22 kills on .269 hitting and the Illini out-killed Nebraska 50 to 49, but a seven-point edge in blocking and a nine-point advantage from the service line proved to be too much for Illinois to overcome.
Nebraska and Illinois battled back and forth throughout the first part of the match with neither side leading by more than one until a 10-1 run by the Huskers blew the game wide open and took it from a 10-10 tie to a 20-11 lead for Nebraska. The onslaught continued from there as Nebraska scored five of the final eight points to take the first set and hold the Illini to their lowest point total in a set so far this season.
Nebraska’s left sides came out swinging in the first set as Foecke and Sun combined for nine kills on 13 errorless swings. The Huskers out-hit Illinois .478 to .069 and served up four aces with just two errors.
Nebraska continued to roll into the second set, jumping out to an 8-4 lead. The Illini picked it up, however and battled back to tie the match at 12-12 before ripping off a 5-0 run to pull ahead 18-14. Nebraska pulled within two at 21-19 but the Illini closed the set on a 4-0 run to knot the match at 1-1 heading into the intermission.
Nebraska started hot again in the third set, building up an early 7-2 lead, but mistakes started popping up again, allowing Illinois to take a 12-11 lead. Nebraska regrouped with a 4-0 run to pull back ahead 15-12. The Huskers continued to stretch out their lead with nine of the next 12 points to set up set-point at 24-15. Illinois scored a couple of points before Stivrins finished off the game with a kill. The Huskers out-hit the Illini .321 to .118 and out-blocked them six to three.
Nebraska took control early in the fourth set as well with a 9-4 start which became a 13-7 lead, but Illinois scored three straight to make it 13-10 and force a Nebraska timeout. Both teams were hitting below .060 in the set at that point.
The Illini pulled within two a few times but kills by Foecke and Sun stretched the lead back to four at 19-15 and drew the Illini’s last timeout. Schwarzenbach and Sun teamed up for Nebraska’s 14th block of the match to take a 23-17 lead and the Huskers finished it off with kills by Schwarzenbach and sophomore right side hitter Jazz Sweet.
Nebraska will return to Lincoln for a mid-week match-up against Iowa on Wednesday night. First serve on BTN is set for 6 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.