Fresh off a sweep over No. 19 Creighton in Omaha, the third-ranked Huskers surrendered a 2-0 lead at home and fell to No. 20 Utah in five sets on Saturday night.
The loss is the first of the season for the Huskers, who fell to 6-1. Utah improved to 7-0 with an 18-25, 24-26, 27-25, 25-22, 15-13 victory in front of 8,362 fans at the Devaney Center. Senior captain Nicklin Hames said the mood was “quiet” in the locker room after the match.
“There’s not a lot said,” Hames said. “I think you could feel the disappointment in the room. We’re bummed, obviously. We were two points away from having a sweep. It really shouldn’t have even gone to the fifth set but, yeah, just disappointed.”
Nebraska had a couple of chances to sweep the Utes but couldn’t finish it off, and once the Utes got on a roll the Huskers had no answer.
Star outside hitter Dani Drews recorded 27 kills and 16 digs, but the Huskers made her work for everything she got as she hit just .176. Still, she stepped her game up late in sets and made some big plays.
“I told you Dani Drews was worth the price of admission and she willed that team to a victory,” Coach John Cook said. “I’m really impressed; fans got their money’s worth. It was a great match. We had our chances to win it 3-0, didn’t get it done and let them back in it and they got us in the end. So we’ve just got to make a couple more plays. But I thought we were tentative at times tonight and we weren’t really getting good swings in long rallies like we need to and so that’s something we’ve got to work on.”
Opposite hitter Zoe Weatherington stepped up in a big way for the Utes with 17 kills on .286 hitting and five blocks.
“She hits the crap out of the ball,” Hames said about Weatherington. “All credit to her, she took some really nice swings in big moments for them, and she’s really hard to stop because it’s coming with a lot of pace and even if it gets past the block it’s really challenging to dig. I remember I got hit with one in the chest. So all credit to her, she did a really great job tonight.”
Freshman Lindsay Krause, who got the start at opposite hitter after coming off the bench in Nebraska’s previous two matches, led the Huskers with 15 kills on .317 hitting and five blocks.
Senior middle blocker Kayla Caffey and freshman outside hitter Ally Batenhorst added 10 kills apiece on .292 hitting. The Huskers hit .202 overall while holding the Utes to .191, but the Utes took bigger swings in the big moments late. Nicklin Hames finished with 39 assists and a team-high 17 digs.
Nebraska took a 10-6 lead early in the first set with a 6-0 run featuring a pair of aces from Kubik, but soon after Utah responded with a 5-0 run to pull ahead. After two more ties, Nebraska used a 4-0 surge to regain the lead at 17-13.
Utah scored the next two points to cut the deficit in half, but the Huskers responded with a 6-1 run to earn set point, and Madi Kubik finished it off a few rallies later with her third kill.
Nebraska served four aces and held Utah to minus-.031 hitting in the first set. The Huskers hit .148.
The first half of game two featured three ties and a couple of lead changes as the two sides traded blows. Utah used a 5-1 run to pull ahead 16-12 and managed to hold onto the lead almost the rest of the way as Drews got going. The dynamic outside hitter’s seventh kill of the set gave the Utes a 23-20 lead.
“She’s amazing,” Krause said. “She’s a really good hitter and it’s different seeing a left-handed person on the outside, so that was a little bit of an adjustment to try to make.”
Then the Huskers took over, finishing the set on a 6-1 run including three block assists by Callie Schwarzenbach (two with Lexi Sun, one with Krause). With the Huskers facing set point, Krause put down a kill to tie it, Drews hit wide and then the Huskers blocked Drews to seal it.
Nebraska hit .146 in the second set behind four kills from Krause. The Utes hit .070, giving them 21 attack errors in the first two sets. Drews had seven kills in the set but also committed six attack errors.
Utah pulled ahead 6-2 early in set three, but the Huskers rallied to pull ahead 8-7. Eleven more ties followed as neither side was able to create more than two points of separation. The Huskers earned match point at 24-23, but Utah answered with a kill by Madelyn Robinson.
The Huskers earned another match-point, but Utah responded with a 3-0 run including two kills by Weatherington and an error by Sun to win the set and extend the match. Cook said he thought there was something of an emotionally letdown after the way the third set ended.
“Especially the way we lost it, we just gave it away,” Cook said. “We shanked two balls, hit a couple balls out. I mean, bad misses, and that’s hard. I think there was an emotional letdown there and it gave new life to Utah.”
Nebraska hit .342 in the fourth set, but the Utes hit .326 with three more kills (19 in all) and had a two-point edge from the service line. Drew recorded nine kills and just three errors in the set. Caffey led Nebraska with four kills.
Nebraska opened game four with a 4-0 run, but Utah punched back with five straight. After five different ties, Utah pulled ahead 13-10 with a 3-0 run. Utah continued to control the action from there, stretching the lead to four, then five, then six and finally seven.
The Huskers tried to mount a late comeback with a 6-1 run, but on Utah’s fifth set point the Utes finally closed it out as Weatherington tooled the block for the kill. Utah hit .276 behind four kills apiece from Weatherington and Robinson. The Huskers struggled to terminate all set, hitting .125 with just nine kills.
After Nebraska struck first in the fifth set, the Utes responded with a 4-0 run and drew an early timeout from the Huskers. Nebraska fired back out of the break, scoring three straight including a pair of kills from Krause to tie it up, but Utah responded in kind and played with the lead from there.
The Huskers finally managed to draw even at 11-11, then back-to-back kills by Krause gave Nebraska the lead at 13-12. That was the last point Nebraska scored, however, as Drews put down a deep tip for a kill to tie it up. Nebraska had four chances to terminate on the next rally but Utah got a block touch on the first three and Batenhorst hit long on the fourth to give Utah match point.
Unlike Nebraska, the Utes took advantage and finished off the comeback with a kill.
Utah hit .346 in the fifth behind five kills from Drews. The Huskers hit .233.
Nebraska will have a quick turnaround as the Huskers are getting on a plane on Sunday to fly out west. Nebraska will play at Stanford on Tuesday night, part of a multi-year event the Huskers organized along with Louisville and Kentucky.
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.