Photo Credit: Eric Francis

No. 3 Huskers Sweep No. 19 Bluejays with Strong Defensive Effort

September 08, 2021

The last time Nebraska traveled to Omaha to take on Creighton at the CHI Health Center, the Huskers had to battle back from a 0-2 deficit to win in five. Wednesday’s meeting featured much less drama, however, as No. 3 Nebraska swept the 19th-ranked Bluejays behind a dominant defensive effort.

“That was a really good match,” Coach John Cook said. “I thought the Huskers wore them down a little bit with our serve, block and defense. They had a hard time killing the ball and that’s the way we’ve got to win games like this. It was great to have a big crowd there and this was a big-time feel out there playing volleyball for our players and I’m sure for the Creighton players.

“They’ve got a really nice team and we’re very fortunate to come out of this 3-0. I thought our players played really hard tonight and didn’t let balls hit the floor.”

Nebraska took down Creighton 25-14, 25-22, 25-16 in front of an announced blue and red crowd of 11,279 to improve to 6-0. The Bluejays fell to 6-1.

“I think you can tell the support that the sport of volleyball has in Nebraska and I think that that showed tonight, and obviously two great teams going head to head and competing,” Senior Lexi Sun said. “I think it was an awesome game.”

Nebraska held Creighton to a season-low .053. The Huskers recorded 69 digs in three sets and Creighton’s top two attackers, freshman Norah Sis and senior Jaela Zimmerman, combined for 12 kills on minus-.012 hitting.

“They blocked really well, they were getting a lot of touches, but I think the key is if you look at Zimmerman and Norah, I mean I think they had about 80-something sets and I think they had negative,” Cook said. “That’s how you have to beat that team, you can’t let those two go off. I think that’s what it was, it was a left-side slugfest against our block and defense and we won more than they did. That was a difference in the match.”

Senior Lexi Sun led the Huskers with 11 kills on .250 hitting. Freshman Lexi Rodriguez recorded a team-high 17 digs. Senior Nicklin Hames notched her fourth straight double-double to start the season with 30 assists, 12 digs and an ace.

The Huskers kept the Jays off-balance all night from the service line with five aces just five errors. Sophomore Keonilei Akana orchestrated a couple extended serving runs and led the Huskers with three aces in addition to a season-high 13 digs.

“This past weekend, we really struggled with our serving during the games that we had, so I think Coach want us to come in and focus throughout the week,” Akana said. “I think our team did a really good job serving tonight and I think we had a lot of confidence also serving.”

Both teams struggled to terminate early thanks to some stellar floor defense on both sides of the net. Creighton pulled ahead 6-4, but Nebraska dominated the rest of the way. A 6-1 run gave the Huskers an 11-7 lead, then a 6-0 run stretched the lead out to 19-10 as Creighton had a tough time finding the floor no matter what they did.

Nebraska cruised to the 11-point win from there, holding Creighton to .070 hitting. Sis, Creighton’s leading attacker, swung 14 times without a kill. The Huskers hit .282 behind a combined 11 kills on .500 hitting from the pins, Madi Kubik and Sun.

Creighton stepped up its aggression in the second set, racing out to a 7-2 lead. Cook called timeout with the Huskers trailing 9-5, clearly displeased with what he saw on the last point. After the break, Nebraska started chipping away at the deficit.

Sis finally recorded her first kill on her 18th swing of the night to give Creighton an 11-8 lead, but Nebraska countered with a 4-1 run to tie the set at 12-12. Soon after, Creighton put together a 4-0 run to retake the lead.

After trading sideouts, Nebraska ripped off an 8-0 run featuring Akana at the service line to turn the game around and pull ahead 22-18. Creighton cut the deficit in half at 23-21 but could get no closer.

“It was crazy to see her go back there and trust her serve and get us back in the game,” Sun said. “I think it was 15-18 and then we were up. So it’s just really awesome to see and I think that that definitely, her serve and everyone being on defense, really turned around the game.”

Senior Kayla Caffey and Sun led Nebraska with four kills apiece as the Huskers hit .146. Creighton blocked Nebraska five times, but the Jays only hit .100.

Freshman Ally Batenhorst started the third set in place of Kubik who hit .000 in the second set after going off in the first. After four ties to open the set, Nebraska took control with a 7-0 run served by Akana and featuring three kills by Batenhorst.

The Huskers rolled from there. A 5-0 run served by Hames made it 20-9 and the Huskers cruised to the finish. The Jays saved three match points late but on the fourth try Caffey finished it off with her eighth kill of the night.

Nebraska only hit .108 but held the Bluejays to minus-.026. Batenhorst led the Huskers with five kills. Whitney Lauenstein started at opposite hitter for the second straight match, but Lindsay Krause got reps in the third set after filling in s a blocking substitute at different points during the first two sets.

Cook said Wednesday was the first time all season he’s been pleased with the way the Huskers got off to a good start and then finished strong.

“Now we’ve got to keep it going, and they’ve got to understand it has to be like this every night, because it just gets tougher,” Cook said. “It’s a good learning match for us; again, we’ve got a lot of young players. I think almost everybody played again tonight, which is great. We’ve got some people that can play we’re going to continue to rotate them in there.”

Nebraska will have a couple days to prepare for another ranked opponent as No. 20 Utah visits the Devaney Center on Saturday. First serve is set for 7:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network+.

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