No. 4 Nebraska (9-1) put together its best offensive match of the season on Saturday night to sweep Missouri State (7-6) and keep the Husker Invite title in Lincoln.
Nebraska hit a season-high .500 and recorded 13 blocks in a 25-17, 25-12, 25-4 win over the Bears in front of 8,149 fans at the Devaney Center.
“I think it felt the best because we were in such a good rhythm, things were flowing so well for us,” Coach John Cook said. “What'd we have? Four hitting errors in three games. I can tell you this: we had four errors in hitting warm-ups with no block on an open net; that’s pretty good.”
Senior libero Kenzie Maloney had a match-high 17 digs, a new season high for a three-set match and she led a defense that held Missouri State to -.011 hitting for the match. She was named MVP of the tournament.
“I nominated her for MVP of the tournament; I thought she was really good the whole weekend,” Cook said. “She just controlled the back court, she kept everybody calm back there, she was picking everything up, putting it right on Nicklin’s head. I just though she served really tough when we needed it. Kenzie is just kind of our rock back there. I think she installs confidence in other players too.”
Freshman setter Nicklin Hames served Nebraska to leads of 4-0, 5-0 and 4-0 to begin each game, setting the tone for the rest of the match. She finished with 35 assists, six digs, two blocks, two kills and an ace.
“It feels good,” Hames said about her serving runs. “I think you kind of get the momentum when you get to go on those long service runs so just having control — like Coach says, it’s just you and the ball and you can control how the game goes. We’ve been really working on my serve and picking it up and increasing the speed of how I serve. I’ve been working on it a lot so it’s felt good to help my team on this sling runs.”
Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins recorded 11 kills on just 14 swings for a .714 hitting percentage. Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke matched Stivrins with 11 kills on .478 hitting and also notched 11 digs for the double-double.
Sophomore Lexi Sun started her second straight match and finished with 11 kills on .368 hitting plus seven digs. Fellow sophomore Jazz Sweet had eight kills on .500 hitting and tied her career high with five blocks which was set in Nebraska’s previous match against New Mexico. Freshman middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach followed up a 13-block performance against the Lobos with nine blocks and five kills on .417 hitting.
Foecke, Hames and Stivrins joined Maloney on the all-tournament team along with Missouri State’s Aubrey Chaffy and Laynie Dake, New Mexico’s Marisa Carrasco and Central Michigan’s Lyza Myers.
Despite the hot start with Hames serving, Nebraska allowed the Bears back into the game with a 6-1 run before Sun tied it up at 6-6 with a kill. The teams battled back and forth with neither side managing to gain more than a two-point advantage until three straight miscues by Missouri State gave Nebraska a 17-14 lead. The Bears pulled within two at 21-19 but Nebraska finished off the set with a 4-0 run served by Foecke that included an ace on set point.
The first set included eight ties and two lead changes. The second and third sets, however, included zero of each as Nebraska led the rest of the way. Nebraska jumped out to an 8-2 lead in set two and never looked back as the Bears only mustered seven kills while committing the same number of attack errors.
“After a shaky start — we’ve got to figure that out — I thought we got in a really good rhythm tonight, we got in a really good flow and started playing Husker volleyball,” Cook said. “That was probably the first night I’ve seen that kind of blossoming.”
The third set was complete and utter domination by the Huskers. The Huskers did not commit a single error in the game, hitting a blistering .696. They recorded five blocks and held the Bears to -.148. The Huskers put together runs of 11-1 with Hames and Foecke serving, 5-0 with Maloney serving, 5-0 with sophomore Hayley Densberger serving and 4-0 with Sun serving. Nebraska didn’t even make it through its full serving rotation and the four points scored by Missouri State tie the lowest for an opponent against Nebraska in a set during the rally scoring era.
“I didn’t even realize that was the score until we got to 20 because we were just so in the zone and connecting with each other,” Hames said. “I think that made it a lot of fun … It felt really good. We just had that connection. We weren’t really thinking about what we were doing; we were just playing and using our training. We were just laughing and having fun, so it was a really good time.”
The Huskers will open Big Ten play at home against No. 19 Michigan on Friday at 8 p.m. then Michigan State (receiving votes) will swing through Lincoln on Sunday for a 2 p.m. match.
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.