No. 1 Nebraska opened the 2022 season with a dominant defensive effort in a sweep over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at the Devaney Center on Friday.
The Huskers took down the Islanders 25-15, 25-16, 25-9 at the Ameritas Players Challenge.
Nebraska held Corpus Christi to just 20 kills and minus-.021 hitting thanks to 12 blocks and 41 digs, led by sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez with 12. Nicklin Hames added eight digs and an ace in her first match as a defensive specialist while Kenzie Knuckles chipped in seven digs, one kill and one ace.
“I felt like we were really well prepared for them and their tempo, and I thought our blockers did a really good job today,” Coach John Cook said. “Our floor defense with Nicklin [Hames], Kenzie and Lexi back there, it’s hard to get balls down.”
Freshman Bekka Allick and Penn State transfer Kaitlyn Hord got the start and combined for 12 kills and 12 blocks. Allick notched seven kills on .667 hitting and five blocks while Hord chipped in five kills on six attempts and seven blocks.
Madi Kubik led the offense with 11 kills on .207 hitting while sophomore opposite Whitney Lauenstein came alive in the last two sets to finish with eight kills on .368 hitting and seven blocks.
“She’s going to have some highlight reels,” Cook said about Lauenstein. “We’ve got to get her going in those long rallies out of system, trying to find kills too. So this will be a good weekend for her to keep developing that and find ways to get kills and mixing up shots, which I think she’s learning how to do and not just hit every bell ball as hard as she can.”
Lindsay Krause, who got the start on the left alongside Kubik, chipped in four kills on 10 attempts.
Sophomore Kennedi Orr recorded 26 assists, seven digs, one ace and one error while setting Nebraska to a .388 hitting percentage. The Huskers finished with just seven attack errors, though 10 service errors offset that a bit.
“We set Madi too much, but for a while there we weren’t passing very well so everything was just going out there and Kennedi was setting her tight and off and Madi might have been trying to do a little too much on some of those,” Cook said. “Game three we sided out 80%, we sided out 75% in game one. When we’re doing that, that’s pretty good. But we can play cleaner. Lexi had a couple sets that should have been better, we had a couple other people set out-of-system sets that weren’t where they were supposed to be. So that’s when I say we can play cleaner.”
After trading service errors to open the match (setting the tone for the whole first set), Hord formally introduced herself to Nebraska fans with the first kill of the season. Outside of some errant serving, the Huskers rolled through the set with nine kills and no errors on their first 12 swings, including four from Kubik.
Some errant passing and setting finally led to a couple of attack errors as Corpus Christi tried to claw its way back into the match after trailing by as much as 12 at 20-8, winning seven of the next 10 points. However, Nebraska slammed the door shut with a Krause kill and a double-block from Lauenstein and Hord.
Nebraska hit .450 while holding the Islanders to .032, though the Huskers also committed five service errors. Allick popped in her first set with three kills on three swings and three block assists.
After trading points to open the second set, the Huskers ripped off a 9-1 run featuring three block assists and three big kills from Lauenstein.
“It feels good, especially since my teammates, I turn around and they’re all like ‘Let’s go!’” Lauenstein said about her second-set run. “So I feel super good that all of them are there to like support me and everything like that.”
The Huskers pushed the lead to 10 at 15-5 before letting it slip a bit again with four errors (two service, one ball-handling, one serve receive).
Nebraska used a timeout to regroup and break up Corpus Christi’s rhythm, leading to a service error then a Kubik kill, and the Huskers cruised the rest of the way. Kubik put down a kill on set-point to give Nebraska a 2-0 lead at the intermission.
Nebraska hit .294 and held A&M-Corpus Christi to minus-.048. After a quiet offensive first set, Lauenstein put down four kills on 11 errorless attempts in the second. Hord added three kills on five swings and five blocks.
“I would pay to watch her play,” Cook said about Hord. “I feel like the game is kind of in slow motion for her, and she’s just very smooth. I’d want her as a teammate if I was playing. I’ve been telling you guys that all year. She doesn’t panic up there and just works. We need to set her more, so we’ll work on that.”
Kubik got going again to start the third set with three quick kills, and the Huskers continued to roll as Hames served a 9-0 run capped by a Knuckles kill that put the Huskers up 13-2.
Nebraska remained in firm control the rest of the way, and freshman walk-on Maisie Boesiger made her debut as a serving sub later in the set. The Norris graduate served Nebraska to two points before catching the net. Soon after, fellow freshman Hayden Kubik made her debut as well, replacing her sister, and Orr went to the younger sister for the match-point kill.
“Oh man, I just got really excited for her,” Allick said. “She’s my roommate as well this semester and right before the play, I’m like, ‘All right, let’s get it roomie,’ a little fist bump. It was awesome because you just get to go see your friends crush it. I was even saying on the sidelines, I was like, ‘Oh, Kubik-Kubik switch.’ So I thought that was really sweet, and then for her to get that match point — I think she also got the point in our spring game, didn’t she? So Hayden strikes again.
“I thought that was really cool, and another thing she’s been working on in practice is just going for it and I think it’s really awesome that all of Husker nation gets to see that because she’s been working really hard in the gym.”
Nebraska hit .462 and held Corpus Christi to minus-.042.
Nebraska will return to action at the Devaney Center on Friday night against Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane fell to Pepperdine in four sets in the first match of the tournament Friday morning. Kayley Cassaday led Tulsa with 14 kills while Bailey Rowe added 11.
First serve is tentatively scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and Cook said he’ll use a different lineup to give others a shot.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.