LINCOLN, Neb. – Heading into tonight’s match, the No. 1 Huskers had no doubt that they were going to win against No. 4 Wisconsin, and by the end of the night, no one else had any doubts about Nebraska either as the Huskers swept the Badgers 25-21, 25-22, 25-15.
We’re starting to click together, we’re starting to get all the little pieces together
“We’re starting to click together, we’re starting to get all the little pieces together,” senior middle blocker Amber Rolfzen said. “I know a lot of us, we just knew we were going to win today. We just went in to the match knowing we were going to win. We played like that the entire match. It was just a really good game.”
Nebraska fans turned out in force to support the Huskers on Friday night, as fans lined the standing-room-only sections all around the top of the arena. The official tally was a season-high 8,476.
“Our crowd was great tonight,” Coach John Cook said. “There was definitely a different energy in there tonight than there has been for some of the other matches.”
Nebraska has now beaten six straight top-five opponents, with the last three in straight sets. The Huskers never trailed in the match, and the game only included six total ties – four in the first, two in the second and none in the third.
“The Huskers did a really good job tonight of following the game plan,” Cook said. “I thought our serve and pass, we won that battle. And for the most part, the long rallies, I think we got the majority of those. I thought that was the key going in was serve, pass and who could win the long rallies because I felt like there would be a lot of long rallies tonight. Both teams are really good defensive teams and both teams serve tough.”
Amber Rolfzen led all players with 16 kills, which ties a career-high.
“We passed really, really well today so Kelly [Hunter] was allowed to set whoever she wanted basically at all times; we were one-on-one,” Rolfzen said. “Kelly and I had a really good connection today on pretty much everything.”
Rolfzen was unstoppable early, terminating her first eight swings. She hit .609 for the match and added three blocks and two digs.
“It’s always really good when our passers are passing it on the money so I always have those options,” Hunter said. “It’s so fun to get that quick middle play that fakes everyone out and when there’s no blockers up and she just crushes it, it’s kind of like a momentum type of play.”
Getting the middles going has been one of the team’s goals for a while, and in addition to Rolfzen’s spectacular play, Briana Holman finished with seven kills and just one error on her 15 swings.
“They’re a team where they read, so basically they keep their blockers on the middle and they don’t really shift one way or the other, so a quick middle usually beats that,” Hunter said. “That’s been one of our goals all season and it’s just been kind of waiting to break out and I think tonight was kind of the debut.”
Cook had plenty of praise for his setter as well, who guided the Huskers to a .330 hitting effort against a top five opponent. She finished with a game-high 41 assists, five digs and three blocks.
“Kelly was really good tonight,” Cook said. “When we went back a year ago, she did not have a great match against Wisconsin and I think trying to compare yourself to [Wisconsin setter Lauren] Carlini is tough. But I think Kelly showed tonight she’s really made a lot of progress and set a great match tonight.”
On defense, the Huskers held the Badgers and their star setter Carlini to .179 hitting, out-dug them 48-38 and won the blocks battle 10-5.5.
“[Our defense was] really good,” Cook said. “I thought Andie [Malloy] did a really good job blocking their slide. Of course their back row, we out-dug them by 10 … We forced them into some errors and our block was really good tonight. That’s a very good offensive team and of course Carlini is one of the best ever.”
The Huskers gradually pulled away from the Badgers in each of the first two sets and held off late rallies to take a 2-0 lead into the intermission. They came back out and jumped on Wisconsin right away in the third, building up a 9-1 lead to start the set before cruising to a 10-point victory.
“Tonight we showed everyone exactly what we’re capable of,” Hunter said. “I think we just need to go out and like Coach always says, trust our training, trust each other, trust yourself, trust the coaches. It’s basically just going out there and trusting that we’re going to win the game. Like Amber said, we all felt like we were going to win, so we need to go out and just be ourselves, be loose, be aggressive and just take the offensive.”
The Huskers can’t afford a let-down on Sunday as the schedule doesn’t get any easier with No. 3 Minnesota coming to Lincoln. Cook expects his team to be ready.
“I think this team understands this conference,” Cook said. “It’s going to be a battle every night and Sunday is another really big match. As we go each week, these matches become more and more important in regards to postseason and conference championship. I think they’ll be excited to play. We lost a heart-breaker to Minnesota last year, so it will be really big time.”
Last year’s Big Ten champs lost the conference player of the year in outside hitter Daly Santana to graduation, but they returned almost everybody else and added an impressive freshman in Lexi Hart.
“They replaced [Santana] with a great freshman and they’ve got everybody back and the setter [Samantha Seliger-Swenson] is a year older and they were a couple points away from playing for the national championship, so they just reloaded,” Cook said.
First serve at the Devaney Center is set for 1 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.