No. 3 Nebraska pulled out a tight second set then blew Michigan State out in the third to complete a sweep over the Spartans for the second time in two weeks on Thursday night.
The Huskers (13-1, 5-0 Big Ten) took down the Spartans (10-6, 1-4) 25-18, 25-23, 25-9 in a chilly Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Nebraska bounced back from its worst offensive performance of the season against Maryland to hit .358 with a balanced attack featuring three different hitters with a match-high eight kills.
“I think our setters did a much better job setting here than they did in Maryland,” Coach John Cook said during his post-match radio interview. “Even though it was cold and we didn’t pass very well, I thought they did a great job of putting up hittable balls for hitters, and we ran pretty good middle tonight. We only had 81 total attempts, which is really low, but Kaitlyn [Hord] had 10 and Bekka [Allick] had 11. Sometimes we go four games and that’s all they have.
“So I thought we did a good job running middle and Whitney [Lauenstein] got some great looks tonight. I think it was a combination of understanding we’re not going to get great passes, so we’ve got to better the ball and then make good shots and good choices and they did a good job of that.”
Anni Evans led Nebraska with 15 assists while Kennedi Orr added 13 assists and six digs as Nicklin Hames continues to work her way back from the injury that has sidelined her for the last six matches. Radio play-by-play man John Baylor reported before the match that she is progressing towards a return and has practiced some, but she was in street clothes again on Thursday.
Lauenstein had eight kills on .462 hitting and four blocks. Madi Kubik matched her with eight kills on .200 hitting. As Cook said, the Huskers got strong production from the middles as Allick tied the pins with eight kills on .636 hitting while Hord added six kills on .500 hitting and a team-high six blocks.
“[The setters] were feeding us, just putting the ball where we best can hit it and just keep us high and available but also holding us accountable with speed,” Allick said during her post-match interview on Big Ten Network. “We were working really hard in the last couple of practices about pushing the tempo.”
Nebraska held Michigan State to .031 hitting with a nine-to-four edge in blocks. Lexi Rodriguez led Nebraska with 11 digs.
After trading small runs early in the first set, Nebraska created some separation with a 5-1 run midway through, taking a 13-7 lead and drawing Michigan State’s first timeout. The Huskers pushed their lead to seven three different times thanks to some efficient hitting and strong defense at the net.
Michigan State pulled within four with a 3-0 run including a pair of aces, but the Huskers closed the set on a 5-2 run after a timeout to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
Nebraska hit .565 led by Allick’s four kills on five swings and Lindsay Krause’s three kills on four attempts. The Huskers held the Spartans to .094. Michigan State outscored Nebraska five to one in service points thanks to three Spartan aces and two Nebraska errors.
After four ties early in set two, Nebraska surged ahead to take a 10-6 lead thanks to a 5-1 run. However the Spartans responded with their own 5-1 run to tie it up again, setting the tone for the rest of the set. Every time Nebraska created a bit of separation, the Spartans answered.
Michigan State tied it at 15-15 and 16-16, then pulled within one at 20-19, 23-22 and 24-33, but the Spartans couldn’t get over the hump as Lauenstein delivered a set-point kill to give Nebraska a 2-0 lead at the intermission.
Lauenstein put down five kills on nine swings in the second set after going 2-for-2 in the first. Nebraska hit .243 to Michigan State’s .171. After finding themselves in a battle throughout game two, the talk during the intermission focused on execution.
“We won both the first and second set, but we knew that we could play a lot cleaner and that Husker volleyball is all about execution and just preciseness on our kills, just little things like that,” Allick said. “So that was when we mostly talked about going into the locker room.”
The Huskers opened the third set with a pair of Kenzie Knuckles aces and a double-block from Kubik and Hord, then blew the game open with an 13-2 run, forcing Michigan State to burn both timeouts in the first 15 rallies. Walk-on freshman defensive specialist Maisie Boesiger served a 7-0 run including an ace as the Huskers took an 18-5 lead.
“I was really pleased with Maisie getting in there and she hit some tough serves,” Cook said. “She’s got a great serve, and we have a heck of a time passing it in practice. She did great job, she changed it up and made a big run.”
Nebraska cruised to the finish from there with Lauenstein putting an exclamation point on the win with a match-point kill. The Huskers hit .333 and held Michigan State to minus-.207 thanks to 10 attack errors, five of which were Nebraska blocks.
The Huskers will continue on to Ann Arbor on Friday for the second match of their Michigan road trip. They’ll use it as a practice day while the No. 24 Wolverines will host No. 11 Minnesota Friday night.
First serve between the Huskers and Wolverines on Saturday is set for 6 p.m. CT. The match will be streamed on Big Ten Plus.
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.