CHI Health Center Omaha played host to history and a fantastic volleyball match on Wednesday night as 15,797 fans in both red and blue watched No. 2 Nebraska outlast No. 17 Creighton in five sets.
The attendance figure shattered the previous NCAA record for a regular-season volleyball-only match of 14,022 set between the same two teams in the same building back in 2018. That match also went five sets.
The Cornhuskers (6-0) took down the Bluejays (5-2) 25-18, 25-23, 25-27, 17-25, 15-9 to improve to 21-0 in the in-state rivalry.
“Well, if Omaha’s going to get over 15,000 In here, we might as well give them a show, and I thought it was a heck of a show tonight,” Coach John Cook said. “A great match, both teams played some great volleyball, both teams played their hearts out, great rallies. It was nerve-wracking watching it because you just think the ball’s down and all of a sudden it’s up, and both sides were doing that. It’s a heartbreaker that somebody can’t win this, but I was really pleased to see our team play some good volleyball and game five, especially after struggling in game four.”
Running a 6-2 for the third straight match, Nebraska out-hit Creighton .244 to .202 behind a monster match from sophomore opposite hitter Whitney Lauenstein. She finished with a career-high 25 kills on .385 hitting.
“Well, she had the same amount of kills as [Mikaela] Foecke did in 2018 and she did it in five less swings,” Cook said. “Foecke’s pretty good. So Whitney’s got to prove it now over a long season, but she came to play tonight.”
Fellow sophomore Lindsay Krause used a big fifth set to finish with 14 kills on .227 hitting while senior Madi Kubik chipped in 14 kills on .225 hitting and 12 digs. Freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick added nine kills on .318 hitting and three blocks (one solo).
Lexi Rodriguez led the defensive effort with 18 digs while setters Nicklin Hames and Anni Evans added 17 apiece while combining for 63 assists (Hames with 38, Evans with 25). Nebraska won despite failing to record a single ace and notching 10 service errors.
Nebraska raced out to a 5-1 start before the Bluejays settled in, fighting back to tie it at 7-7. After trading a few sideouts, the Huskers blitzed the Jays with a flurry of kills as Nebraska reeled off an 11-2 run to take a 20-11 lead. Creighton couldn’t find a way to get the Huskers out of system or terminate against their defense.
Lauenstein converted her first five swings into kills before Creighton finally dug her, but she bounced back with another kill on her next attempt. Nebraska cruised from there and freshman Hayden Kubik subbed in for Ally Batenhorst late in the set. Lauenstein converted the set-point kill, her seventh of the game on her 10th swing.
After the match, Cook said Batenhorst’s abdominal muscle started bothering her in warm-ups, and after giving it a go in the first set she eventually took a seat and did not return to the match. That left the seldom-used freshman to fill in as the fourth pin for the rest of the night.
“We were all so proud of her,” Krause said of the younger Kubik. “I think you could tell she was a little nervous at the beginning, as we all were, but she really stepped into that role and we were all having her back. We kept reminding her ‘Just swing, we’re going to be there to cover you. Swing away; we don’t want any soft stuff.’ So we’re all really proud of her.”
Nebraska hit .286 with 20 kills while holding Creighton to .032 and six kills. The Huskers notched 20 digs in the first set and didn’t surrender a service ace.
Creighton brushed off the first set quickly and won three of the first four rallies of the second set, but Nebraska responded with a 4-0 run to take the lead. After a couple of ties, the Bluejays surged ahead with a 5-0 run to draw Nebraska’s first timeout of the game.
Hayden Kubik ended the run with a kill out of the timeout, sparking a 3-0 run. After not recording an attack error on their first 18 swings, the Bluejays misfired four times in their next 19 swings as Nebraska rallied to tie it up at 16-all.
The Huskers tied it again at 17-17 and 21-21 then pulled ahead 23-22. Madi Kubik hit long to give Creighton the tying point, but the Bluejays returned the favor with an untimely service error (just their second of the night) to give Nebraska set point and Krause took advantage with her fourth kill of game two.
Nebraska hit .280 with 19 more kills. Creighton got its offense going a bit with 15 kills on .224 hitting, but it wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Huskers as Lauenstein notched eight more kills to tie her career-high of 15 in just two sets.
“I knew there was going to be a big crowd tonight and I like the crowds,” Lauenstein said. “I think it’s my time to shine. So that’s when I kind of just stepped up. We had a really long talk with the team after practice yesterday, so who’s going to get the fire under their butt, who’s going to hold everyone accountable? And so I wanted that to be me, so I stood up for my teammates and just gave them everything I’ve got.”
Creighton setter Kendra Wait snapped a streak of nine straight sideouts to open the third set with an ace to give the Jays a 6-4 lead, but Nebraska tied it up then took its first lead at 8-7 thanks to back-to-back kills from Hayden Kubik.
After two more ties, Nebraska fell into a rut with four straight errors (one service, three attack) as the Jays pulled ahead 14-10. The teams traded blows until the Huskers surged ahead with a 6-1 run to take a 20-19 led. Krause had two kills to spark the run and Kaitlyn Hord capped it with a solo block to end an extended rally.
Creighton retook the lead at 23-22, then earned its first set point at 24-23, drawing a timeout from the Huskers. Out of the break, Madi Kubik tooled the block at the right pin to extend the set then Allick crushed an overpass to give Nebraska match point. After its own timeout, Creighton responded with a 3-0 run to extend the match to a fourth set. A spike over the block from Kiara Reinhardt then a well-placed tip from Keeley Davis gave Creighton set point again and Allick hit wide to end it.
Creighton out-hit Nebraska .300 to .255 to hand the Huskers their first set loss of the season. Madi Kubik came alive with seven kills on 10 errorless swings, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Creighton’s balanced attack.
Creighton carried its momentum into the third set, winning the first three rallies then extending its lead to 10-5. Nebraska shaved a couple of points off the deficit, but the Bluejays continued to roll from there, extending the lead to seven four different times before winning it 25-17.
The Bluejays held Nebraska to .054 hitting and just eight kills while hitting .243 themselves.
“I feel like we didn’t serve and pass as well,” Krause said about sets three and four. “I feel like Creighton is a good team, so it is going to be hard to kill balls when you’re out of system the whole time. And I feel like in the fifth set our passers did such a good job of willing balls up to our target.”
The Huskers went to Lauenstein to get the fifth set started and she delivered another kill, but Creighton responded with a 3-0 run. After four straight sideouts, Krause took over the match with three kills and a block assist during a 6-1 Nebraska run that put the Huskers ahead 9-6.
Creighton made one last push, narrowing the deficit to one at 10-9, but the Huskers closed the mach on a 5-0 run. Lauenstein tooled the block twice in a row to give the Huskers match point and Hayden Kubik finished it off with her sixth kill of the night.
“[Krause] is a warrior and she she played great in game five,” Cook said. “In the locker room afterward, I wrote up 33 and 22 and said it equals 55, and those two made a huge difference in game five. Hayden Kubik had a couple of huge swings. Those are big girl swings that she had in game five and we needed those two guys to really step up because we were just relying so much on Whitney and then we were trying to rely on Madi, and then we stopped running middle so we were relying on our pins, and those guys, they were the difference.”
Nebraska hit .407 with just one error in the fifth set and out-killed Creighton (.167 hitting) 12 to six.
The Huskers will return home to face Long Beach State and former assistant coach Tyler Hildebrand on Saturday.
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.