After two relatively easy sweeps on Friday, No. 1 Nebraska got a chance to flex its resiliency muscle against Pepperdine in the final match of the Ameritas Players Challenge on Saturday night.
The Huskers never quite got into a rhythm offensively and had to play from behind at multiple points throughout the match, but Nebraska found a way to get out of the Devaney Center with a 26-24, 25-19, 25-22 sweep over the Waves.
“This match was a little bit tougher and matches like these help us to grow our resilience muscle,” Madi Kubik said. “We played in some tight sets and being able to find a way in big points is what we need to get good at going into the Big Ten. So I think this match is really good for us and our young team.”
Nebraska (3-0) hit just .120 with 24 attack errors and 10 service errors. However, the Huskers balanced that out by holding Pepperdine (2-1) to .009 hitting with the help of 10 blocks.
“Pepperdine played really well tonight,” Coach John Cook said. “They played fearless, they were serving us really tough and had a great game plan. I thought we weathered the storm, made a nice comeback in game one and we just kept getting a couple points here and there to get a little little bit of a lead in games two and three and and stayed with it, even though it was ugly. The good news is we made a lot of errors for us but we shut them down.”
Kaitlyn Hord earned tournament MVP honors while Kubik, Lexi Rodriguez and Whitney Lauenstein joined her on the all-tournament team. Pepperdine setter Isabelle Zelaya, Tulsa outside hitter Kayley Cassady and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi libero Carissa Barnes rounded out the team.
After changing out half the lineup in Friday night’s match, Cook went back to the group that started in the season opener with Kennedi Orr at setter, Lindsay Krause at outside hitter and Bekka Allick at middle blocker.
Kubik was the only player who cracked double figures in kills with 11, but she hit just .133. All of Nebraska’s hitters finished below .240. Defensively, Nicklin Hames led the way with 12 digs while Rodriguez chipped in 11. Hord posted a team-high six blocks while Orr added five blocks and six digs to go with her 27 assists.
Nebraska scored the first five points of the night to take control early and led by as much as six at 11-5 before the Waves fought back into it. A few Nebraska miscues allowed Pepperdine to cut the deficit to two at 12-10 before a 3-0 Nebraska run stretched it out again.
Pepperdine cut it back to two several times as the teams traded sideouts for a bit, then the Waves surged ahead with a 5-0 run that made it 22-20 Pepperdine. Krause snapped the run with a kill, Kubik tied it up with one of her own then the Waves hit wide to give the lead back to to the Huskers. However, Nebraska followed that with a service error and a hitting error to give Pepperdine set point.
Lauenstein put down her first kill of the night to tie it up once again and then consecutive attack errors from Vanessa Polk gave the Huskers a 26-24 win. Nebraska hit just .091 but held Pepperdine to .000. The Huskers had 10 attack errors and six service errors in the first set. Krause led the way with six kills while Kubik added five on nine attempts.
“We’re trying to win two-point games,” Cook said. “There was our first shot and we found a way to do it, so that was great. I told them before the match that we would be in close games and then afterward I said, ‘Hey, you showed you can do that.’ There are a lot of new players out there. They haven’t been in that situation and they made plays. That’s what we’ve got to get better at.”
After seven early ties in set two, Nebraska created a little separation at 11-8 with a 3-0 run sparked by Hord’s first kill of the night. After trading sideouts a couple of times, the Huskers opened it up even more with a 7-1 run including an ace from Kubik, the only one of the night for Nebraska.
The Huskers led by as much as eight before the Waves made a dent in the deficit by saving three set points. Nebraska closed it out on their fourth try, however, with a Pepperdine attack sailing wide. The Cornhuskers hit .175 in the set and held Pepperdine to .030 after the Waves spent much of the frame at or below zero. Lauenstein had four kills and Krause chipped in three on seven errorless swings apiece.
Nebraska’s sloppy play continued with five attack errors, a service error and a serve receive error in the first 20 rallies as Pepperdine built up a 12-8 lead midway through the third set. Then it was Pepperdine’s turn to shoot itself in the foot as Nebraska put together a 9-2 run featuring eight errors from the Waves (six attack, one service, one ball-handling).
The Huskers pushed their lead to four at 19-15 then held on the rest of the way to complete the sweep. The Waves made it interesting late, saving three match points, but Hord and Orr teamed up for a block to end it on Nebraska’s four attempt.
Nebraska narrowly edged out Pepperdine in hitting, .091 to .000.
“I feel like [our defense] keeps us in rallies and defense kind of shifts the momentum,” Hames said. “When you get big digs and can keep the ball up, it’s kind of deflating for the other team. So I think that’s why our defense is so huge for us because it keeps us in matches even when we’re struggling offensively.”
Nebraska will welcome Loyola Marymount and Ole Miss to the Devaney Center next week for the Husker Invitational. The Huskers will open play on Thursday night against the Lions.
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.