After using different lineups in the opening weekend, Coach John Cook changed systems on Thursday night as the No. 2 Huskers swept Loyola Marymount while running a 6-2 offense.
The Huskers swept the Lions 25-17, 25-16, 25-17 in the first match of the Husker Invitational at the Devaney Center. Senior Nicklin Hames started at setter while junior Anni Evans subbed in off the bench, and the two-setter system allowed Cook to rotate four pins throughout the match.
“I was very impressed with Loyola,” Cook said. “They run a really nice offense, do a good job. I thought our serving got to them in game two. When you run that fast offense like that, if you have to slow it down, it becomes more predictable and easier to defend. I thought we just played really steady volleyball and and we were able to kill the ball and and even when we didn’t pass we got some pretty good swings. I thought both setters did a nice job and you’ve got six hitters you’ve got to defend in that system and anybody can get hot. So we’ll see, we’ll see where we go.”
The Huskers responded to the system change by hitting .363. Hames put up 22 assists, three digs and on ace while Evans chipped in nine assists and four digs.
After playing in just one of the team’s three matches last weekend, Ally Batenhorst led a balanced offensive attack with 10 kills on .250 hitting while playing off the bench.
“It was fun,” Batenhorst said. “I just kind of went out there and just did what we do in practice, just kind of hitting high hands, going for it out-of-system. I had my few little moments, but I got through it and I was just going aggressive and using my shots that I knew how to do from practice.”
Whitney Lauenstein nearly matched Batenhorst with nine kills on .368 hitting. Madi Kubik added eight kills on 14 errorless swings (.571 hitting) and nine digs while Kaitlyn Hord chipped in seven kills on 11 swings (.545).
Nebraska held the Lions to .185 hitting as Lexi Rodriguez led the way with 14 digs. After producing just nine aces and 25 services errors in three matches last weekend, Nebraska served five aces with just six errors on Thursday.
Half of those service errors came early the first set, allowing the Lions to hang around, but the Huskers cleaned it up and overpowered Loyola Marymount the rest of the way. They took control with a 7-2 run the put them up 12-6, then used a 3-0 run to double up the Lions again at 18-9.
After a clean start to the match, Nebraska recorded three attack errors in the span of six points to fuel a 5-1 run by the Lions, cutting the lead down to five. After a timeout to regroup, the Huskers won five of the last seven rallies to take the set. Bekka Allick delivered the set-point kill, tying her for the match lead of three with Batenhorst and Hord.
Nebraska hit .429 with seven different players recording at least one kill. The Lions hit .167, though Nebraska didn’t record a block.
Nebraska wasn’t able to carry its momentum into the second set, however, as the first 14 rallies featured six ties and three lead changes. Loyola Marymount pulled ahead 9-7 before the Lions’ fourth service error of the set sent Hames back to the line for Nebraska. She proceeded to rip off an 8-0 run that including an ace and another strong serve that led to an overpass kill from Lauenstein.
“I was just really trying to thump it,” Hames said of her serving. “I’ve been giving free balls on my serve, so I was trying to thump it a little bit. And then he called me the short one and I was like, ‘I’m going to go for it.’ And I served it very short. I almost had a heart attack when I let go of it, I was like, ‘Please go over, please go over,’ and it went over. But I think that kind of got them out of system. I was just focusing on thumping and kind of serving it where they weren’t instead of at them.”
By the time the run ended, Nebraska had taken control of the set. The Huskers won seven of the next 10 rallies to push their lead to eight at 22-14 before cruising to the finish. A kill from Hord gave Nebraska set point and the Lions misfired to end it.
Nebraska hit .423 behind four kills on six swings from Lauenstein. The Lions hit .241 and had five service errors with just one ace in the set. Nebraska had two aces and one error.
The Huskers got off to a slow start with just two kills and three errors on their first 10 swings of the third set. Loyola Marymount notched five kills during the same stretch to pull ahead 8-4. Batenhorst got the Huskers going with three kills in the span of four rallies as Nebraska tied it up at 10-10 then took the lead 13-11 with a 3-0 run.
“She brings a lot of energy,” Hames said about Batenhorst. “She took some really big swings there for us to try to get out of that rut. We were kind of slow to start and when people take big swings like Ally did, it gives us the momentum, gives us the energy. LMU is a really good team and so we had a battle all night, and I thought all of our attackers did a great job, especially Ally.”
The Lions tied it up at 14-all, then Nebraska used a 5-1 run to take control and the Huskers maintained the lead the rest of the way. Nebraska closed the match on a 5-0 run consisting of four kills and a Kenzie Knuckles ace. Kubik delivered the match-point kill.
Nebraska hit .407 after falling behind 8-4, finishing at .270 overall for the set. Batenhorst led the Huskers with five kills on 10 swings while Kubik add four kills on seven attempts.
The Lions will return to the Devaney Center on Friday night to face Ole Miss on day two of the husker Invitational. Nebraska will close out the tournament against Kayla Banwarth and the Rebels on Saturday night.
“I’m proud of her,” Cook said of Banwarth. “She had a great turnaround at Ole Miss and it’s fun when these former players come back here — as long as the Huskers win.”
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.