No. 2 Nebraska closed out a long weekend with a long match but managed to come out on top 3-1 against Loyola Marymount.
The Huskers (7-0) beat the Lions (4-5) 31-33, 25-19, 25-20, 27-25 in two hours and 40 minutes front of 8,037 fans to finish 3-0 in the Ameritas Players Challenge.
“I told the team before the match that Loyola was going to play really hard and they were going to go for it, and they certainly did,” Coach John Cook said. “They played a great match, great effort. They really pressured us with everything they were doing. Fortunately, we were able to make some adjustments and find a way to win game four. I would not have wanted to go five in that situation. It was a really nice comeback by us and we made some big plays to get there. After losing the first game by two, I think it was good for our team to win a close game.”
Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun was named MVP of the tournament after averaging 4.4 kills, 2.5 digs and 0.9 blocks per set while hitting .306 in Nebraska’s three wins. She was joined on the All-Tournament team by sophomore setter Nicklin Hames (10.3 assists and 3.2 digs per set) and junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins (2.2 kills and 1.7 blocks per set while hitting .341).
Nebraska hit .256 but allowed the Lions to hit .221, just the second time this season Nebraska has let an opponent hit better than .200.
Sun led the Huskers with 23 kills, 14 digs, three blocks and two aces but seven attack errors in her last two sets dragged her hitting percentage down to .190.
After getting benched midway through the first match of the weekend and totaling six kills in five sets, junior opposite hitter Jazz Sweet came alive with 14 kills on .387 hitting and three blocks.
“I feel like Jazz has a lot of potential and she’s been showing that in spurts,” Hames said. “She really came out today and just showed her dominance and I think that’s pretty awesome because that’s what we see every day in practice. We just kind of connected on a better level today.”
Stivrins added nine kills on .316 hitting and seven blocks. Fellow middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach totaled a season-high seven kills on 12 swings and added four blocks.
Freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik finished with eight kills, 15 digs and two aces. Hames had a season-high 51 assists and a match-high 17 digs. Freshman libero Kenzie Maloney added 13 digs and seven assists.
Loyola Marymount outside hitter Savannah Slattery got off to a fast start with eight kills and just one error in the first set but the Huskers clamped down on her after that, allowing 11 kills and forcing six errors on 30 swings (.166 hitting) the rest of the way.
“I had to make a little bit of an adjustment,” Hames said. “I was kind of flying by her and the balls were dying inside, so I had to be a little more disciplined and see where the ball was going and take her cross-body. In the first set I wasn’t really doing that and it was leading to her getting kills.”
Loyola Marymount used a 4-0 run to pull ahead 7-5 early in the first, notching six kills on its first 11 swings. After a dominant defensive showing at the net for the Huskers Friday night against Denver, the Lions had a lot of success early tooling the Nebraska block.
Loyola pulled ahead 10-7 before Nebraska scored three of the next four points to tie it up. Sun got stuffed to end a marathon rally but Nebraska ripped off four in a row to pull ahead 15-12. A 6-0 run by Loyola put the Lions up 20-17 before Kubik — who committed three straight attack errors during that run — terminated then served an ace to pull the Huskers within one at 20-19. Back-to-back kills by Sun pulled the Huskers even at 22-22.
Loyola scored two in a row to earn set point but Nebraska responded with three straight to earn its own set point before serving into the net. Loyola got an ace but four of the next five points were service errors as neither side was able to capitalize on set point. Nebraska’s last chance came at 31-30 but the Lions responded with three straight kills to take a 1-0 lead.
Loyola hit .302 in the first set, recording just four errors on 53 swings. The Huskers did not record a single block as Loyola star Savannah Slattery put down eight kills on 15 attempts.
Nebraska hit .277 led by Sun with six kills and Sweet with five on in swings. The two sides combined for nine service errors in the first set.
Loyola opened the second set with a 4-0 run and played from ahead until Nebraska pulled even at 14-14. The Lions pulled ahead at the media timeout 15-14 but Nebraska scored four of the next five points, three of which were kills by Sun, to take an 18-16 lead. Loyola tied it up but Nebraska closed the set on a 7-1 run to tie the match up heading into the intermission.
Sweet and Stivrins teamed up for a block on set point, the Huskers’ fourth of the set. Nebraska hit .294 while Loyola hit .219 with just 12 kills. Sun added eight more kills to her tally to lead everyone with 14 through two games.
Loyola jumped out to a 7-4 lead with a 3-0 run and drew a Nebraska timeout early in the third. The start featured five kills and no errors by the Lions and three kills and two errors by the Huskers as Nebraska still wasn’t looking sharp offensively or defensively.
After the break, the Huskers put together a 4-0 run to take the lead at 8-7. Loyola tied it up twice before a 7-0 Husker run gave the Huskers a 16-9 lead. Nebraska continued to stretch out the lead and earned several set points at 24-15. The Lions made it interesting with a 5-0 run but Nebraska finally put them away with a kill by Schwarzenbach.
The Huskers hit .214 in the third while holding Loyola to .064, adding four more blocks to their total. Suns had a rough third set with five kills and four errors on 17 swings but the Huskers got five kills out of their middles (three by Stivrins, two by Schwarzenbach) after they combined fir five total in the first two sets
Loyola got off to another good start in the fourth, taking an early 8-4 lead. The Lions stretched that lead out to six at 13-7 and Nebraska spent the next several rallies trying to chip away at the deficit. Nebraska used a 3-0 run to pull within one at 19-18, then another 3-0 run to take its first lead at 21-20. Loyola Marymount tied it up at 21-21 then again at 23-23, and Cook called a timeout to discuss things.
The Lions came out of the break and served wide, but the Huskers were whistled for a net violation. Loyola missed its serve again, but the Huskers couldn’t finish them off as Rose Booth tied it up with a kill. Nebraska went to Stivrins on the slide to create another match point opportunity and the third time proved to be the charm as Loyola hit wide on the final rally.
The Lions out-hit the Huskers .300 to .243 with two more kills in the last set but Nebraska still found a way to win.
The Huskers recorded 11 blocks in the last three sets after the Lions took advantage of a slow start by the Nebraska block and defense in the first set.
“I think they were just beating our seams,” Stivrins said. “We were going too high and kind of letting balls fall between us and the net. In those next few games, we really just calmed down a little bit and focused on getting over first. Pretty much getting back to the basics.”
Next up for Nebraska is a battle with the top-ranked team in the country as Stanford comes to town. The Cardinal took the Huskers down in five sets in the 2018 national championship match and Nebraska had a picture of Stanford celebrating hanging in the player lounge all offseason.
“I think we’re going to have to go to another level against Stanford; that’s our only choice,” Cook said. “That’s where we’re at and what I think and that will be the message Monday and Tuesday in practice. It has to be another level, and that’s why we play these matches because those teams force you to go to another level and we’re going to see a bunch of those teams when we get to the Big Ten.”
First serve at the Devaney Center is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
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.