No. 2 Nebraska escaped from San Diego with a pair of wins after battling back from a 2-1 hole to beat No. 25 San Diego in five at the SDSU/USD Challenge.
Nebraska (4-0) took down the Toreros (2-3) 22-25, 25-19, 22-25, 25-22, 15-11 in the team’s first five-set match of the season. The Huskers struggled offensively in the first two sets but picked it up the rest of the way to hit .252 for the match. Nebraska out-blocked San Diego 12 to seven.
San Diego area native Lexi Sun led everyone with 21 kills on .318 hitting, tying her career-high in kills. She added 12 digs and four blocks to round out her stat line. Junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins bounced back from a poor showing on Friday to finish with 14 kills (.393 hitting) and eight blocks. Freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik had a double-double with 11 kills and 16 digs.
Sophomore setter Nicklin Hames recorded her third double-double in four matches with 49 assists, 17 digs and three blocks. Freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles added 14 digs and six assists while sophomore defensive specialist Megan Miller chipped in 11 digs.
After missing the last three sets against Arizona on Friday with an ankle injury, sophomore middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach was back in the lineup and played in four of the five sets against San Diego.
A sloppy start for the Huskers featuring multiple net violations and defensive breakdowns allowed the Toreros to take an 11-8 lead early in the first set. Nebraska found some rhythm on both ends gayer that as Knuckles served up a 6-0 run capped by an ace, turning the deficit into a 14-11 lead.
A pair of San Diego errors pushed Nebraska’s lead to four at 16-12, but the Toreros responded with a 5-1 run to tie the match at 17-all. After ties at 18-18 and 19-19, San Diego pulled ahead with a 3-0 run, then earned set point at 24-20. Kubik put down back-to-back kills to keep the Huskers alive and draw a timeout from San Diego, but the Toreros ended the set on the next rally with a kill.
Nebraska hit .097 with eight attack errors while San Diego hit .237. Sun led everyone with six kills but she also had three errors and the rest of the Huskers combined for just five kills and five errors.
John Cook opted to start freshman Riley Zuhn in Schwarzenbach’s place in the third set and Zuhn responded with three kills on four swings.
Nebraska got off to a better start in the second set, jumping out to an 8-3 lead and drawing an early timeout from San Diego. The Toreros cut the lead down to three before Nebraska stretched it out to six at 16-10.
San Diego tried to climb back into it a few rallies later with a 3-0 that made it 19-16, but after a timeout to regroup the Huskers ripped off five straight to create set point at 24-16. The Toreros held on for three points before Hames finished it off with a setter dump.
Nebraska didn’t fix all of its offense woes but it was better, out-hitting San Diego .167 to .128. Sun added four more kills to her tally to give her 10 through two sets.
The third set was neck-and-neck throughout as it featured 18 ties and eight lead changes. The final tie was at 19-19 as San Diego put together a 5-1 run to give the Toreros set point and create some separation for the first time in the set. Nebraska saved two set points with a pair of kills by Sun but San Diego finished it off with a kill.
Nebraska hit .316 with 17 kills but San Diego was just a little bit better at .325, equaling the Huskers in kills but recording one less error. Kubik led the Huskers with five kills in the set.
San Diego opened the fourth set with a pair of kills to take a 2-0 lead and the Huskers played from behind until a 5-0 run served by sophomore Hayley Densberger gave Nebraska a 9-6 lead. San Diego tied it up at 11-11, and 10 more ties followed as neither side was able to take control.
The Toreros pulled ahead 22-21 on a kill and Cook called a timeout. After the break, the Huskers ripped off four straight points including three kills by Sun to force a decisive fifth set.
The Huskers misfired just three times in the fourth set, hitting .273 overall and holding San Diego to .195. Schwarzenbach subbed back in for Zuhn a few points into the set and finished the match.
The fifth was back and forth early but Nebraska pulled ahead 8-6 at the changeover thanks to a kill by Sweet and a double-block by Sweet and Schwarzenbach. San Diego pulled within one but the Huskers scored five of the next seven to pull ahead 13-9, drawing San Diego’s last timeout.
San Diego scored out of the timeout but Nebraska countered with the slide to Stivrins to give the Huskers match point at 14-10. San Diego saved one point but Sun finished it off with her 21st kill of the night. Stivrins led the Huskers with four kills in the set. Sweet, who finished with nine kills, terminated on three of her four swings in the fifth. Nebraska hit .440 in the second, recording 11 kills and no errors.
Sun finished the weekend averaging 4.0 digs (.333 hitting) and 2.22 digs with seven blocks and three aces in her return home.
Next up for the Huskers is the annual Americas Players Challenge. This year’s tournament, which begins on Friday, will bring High Point, Denver and Loyola Marymount to Lincoln.
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.