No. 2 Nebraska got its senior setter back just in time for her final match at the Devaney Center and the Huskers took down Kansas in four sets on Friday to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16.
With Nicklin hames back in the starting lineup, the Cornhuskers beat the Jayhawks 25-14, 25-18, 19-25, 26-24 in front of a packed Devaney Center crowd.
“It was a great second round match,” Coach John Cook said. “Kansas played really, really well. So a lot of credit to them, they made us dig really deep and our fans dig really deep. The crowd was electric tonight. It was a lot of fun to be in the Devaney tonight and see some great volleyball and great competition by both teams. Both teams played their hearts out tonight. Fans got their money’s worth and both teams need to be complimented for how hard they played tonight.”
Hames said it felt great to be back on the court after a frustrating last week stuck on the sideline.
“The energy was really good and it’s our last game in Devaney, and I guess for me ever,” Hames said. “So it’s pretty special to be back out there with my team and I thought it was a really fun match and we had a lot of fun.”
With Hames (25 assists, six digs) and Anni Evans (20 assists, eight digs) spreading the ball around, Nebraska hit .232 with five different Huskers logging nine or more kills. Coach John Cook said he learned Hames had been cleared to play around noon on Friday and went with Hames and Evans based on a gut feeling.
“Nicklin, in her practices this week — she wasn’t really in a full practice all week — but in the stuff she was allowed to do, she was setting really well and I think the break really helped her,” Cook said. “ironically. She was sick last week and then she got hit in the head. I just think the break, she just looked really fresh. You could tell, she didn’t gas out tonight. She looked really fresh and might have been the healthiest she’s been all year.”
Lindsay Krause led Nebraska in kills for the third straight match, finishing with 13 on .357 hitting including the match-point kill. Krause has averaged 3.15 kills per set on .392 hitting in her last six matches.
“She’s done a great job and she made plays tonight when we needed to need her to,” Hames said. “That last swing, she was fearless and she was going for it, and that’s what we asked her. I think she’s a huge competitor and shines in those moments. It’s been nice to have someone who’s pretty consistent throughout the games.”
The Huskers got strong production from the middle as Kaitlyn Hord finished with nine kills on .350 hitting and seven blocks while Bekka Allick matched her with nine kills on .562 hitting with three blocks (one solo).
Both outside hitters recorded double-doubles, but they also both hit below .100. Madi Kubik had 10 kills, 16 digs and four blocks while Ally Batenhorst added 10 kills and 10 digs, but both also had even attack errors. Whitney Lauenstein started at opposite hitter after dealing with an illness earlier in the week and coming off the bench to play in one set on Friday. She had seven kills and Nebraska’s only ace.
Lexi Rodriguez finished with 14 digs as Nebraska held Kansas to .152 hitting. The Jayhawks won the blocking battle 13 to 11 behind nine blocks from Rachel Langs. Rhian Swanson came off the bench to post 14 kills on .286 hitting in the last three sets.
Former Husker Anezka Szabo got the party started with a sideout kill, but Nebraska countered with a 5-1 run to take an early lead. Kansas tied it up with a kill and an ace, but Nebraska gradually pulled away from there, winning 12 of the next 16 rallies to take a 17-9 lead.
Kansas scored three straight — all on Nebraska errors — but Nebraska won eight of the last 10 rallies to take the set. The last nine Jayhawk points all came on Nebraska miscues as they last point they scored on their own was the ace to make it 5-5.
Nebraska had as many kills as Kansas had attack errors with 10 of each. The Huskers hit .143 and held the Jayhawks to minus-.250 and just two kills.
“We were really good, just following the game plan and they were dialed in,” Cook said about the Huskers’ first-set defense. “Then what happened was Kansas started tipping.”
The second set began with 10 straight sideouts before Kubik hit wide to give Kansas a 6-5 lead. The Huskers responded with three straight, but Kansas tied it up at 8-8 then took the lead at 10-9. Four more ties and a lead change followed before Nebraska used five straight kills from four different players to take an 18-13 lead.
Nebraska mostly traded points the rest of the way ad Allick closed the set strong with a game-point kill, her fifth on eight attempts after taking just one swing in the first set. Nebraska hit a blistering .395 with 19 kills while Kansas hit .237. The setters spread the ball around as Kubik, Batenhorst, Krause and Hord all had three kills apiece as well.
Kansas used a 4-0 run early in set three to take an 8-5 lead before a Batenhorst kill and a solo block by Allick. The Jayhawks continued to swing away, however, using a 6-2 run to take their largest lead yet at 14-9 that included 10 kills.
Nebraska scored two straight, but Kansas pushed the lead back to five. The Huskers cut the deficit down to two with a 3-0 run, but Kansas answered with four straight to build a 21-15 advantage as the Huskers struggled to find ways to kill balls and slow down the Jayhawks.
The teams traded side ups the rest of the way as the set ended on a Nebraska net violation. Kansas hit .310 with 17 kills (three more than the first two sets combined). Swanson had six kills in the set for the Jayhawks. Nebraska hit .132 and Allick didn’t have a kill.
“I think we realized we were really close to sealing the deal and then we kind of sat back on our heels and they took advantage of that with junk balls and exploited our miscommunication,” Allick said. “So that was kudos to them on that.”
Nebraska won three of the first four rallies in set four, but Kansas rallied to tie it up at 3-3 and 6-6. Hord asserted herself with three straight points — two block assists sandwiching an overpass kill — to give Nebraska a lead the Huskers would hold onto until a 3-0 Jayhawk run to pull ahead 15-14.
Nine ties and six lead changes followed as the teams traded blows, leading to a 23-all draw. Krause gave Nebraska match point by tooling the block at the end of an extended rally, but the Jayhawks rebounded to block Krause on the next point.
Evans set Allick in the middle to earn another set point, and this time the Huskers capitalized as Maisie Boesiger checked in and delivered a great serve. Kansas managed to get the ball back over the net, but Evans took first contact, passed it to Boesiger and the former setter bumped the ball to Krause for an emphatic cross-court kill.
“It just took me back to USA volleyball, honestly,” Allick said about the fourth set. “You love the sport, but it’s survival of the fittest. We were just talking about that in a locker room. Every point is a grind. It will never ever be handed to you. So it’s a mixture of satisfaction and relief to know that the war’s over, that mini-battle is over. That fourth set was just electric and you could just feel how raw the hustle and the heart was in the women on both sides of the net.”
Nebraska narrowly edged out Kansas in hitting, .234 to .231, as Krause recorded seven kills on 12 swings and the Huskers slowed down Swanson.
Nebraska advances to the Sweet 16 for the 11th straight season. Unless Purdue upsets top-seeded Louisville on Saturday (5 p.m. CT start time), the Huskers will hit the road next week to continue their journey toward Omaha.
“We’re super excited, super excited to get back in the gym and start preparing for the next teams,” Hames said. “This team has big goals, big dreams, and so we’re really going to go for it here.”
Nebraska will play the winner between No. 3 Oregon and No. 6 Arkansas, which is set for a 9 p.m. start time on Saturday night.
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.