A big block and a gritty defensive effort allowed the No. 3 Cornhuskers to survive on a night when their offense wasn’t firing on all cylinders as Nebraska pulled out a five-set win over No. 7 Ohio State on Saturday.
Nebraska (10-1, 2-0) outlasted the Buckeyes (5-5, 1-1) 25-22, 24-26, 19-25, 25-20, 15-13 in front of a loud and rowdy Devaney Center crowd of 8,342.
“Well, it was an interesting match,“ Coach John Cook said. “We struggled at times. Part of it was they’re really good and they forced us to struggle. But we hung in there and if you get it to game five, you’ve got a good shot and we made plays in game five and we got them to give us a few points. So a lot of credit to our players for hanging in there. I told theme there were three things that won that: heart, ‘With each other, for each other’ and their grit that they displayed there because they could have easily packed it in.”
Ohio State out-killed Nebraska 64 to 46 as the Huskers hit just .140, their second-lowest percentage of the season.
“They’re good, and we we had a hard time killing the ball tonight, which we haven’t had all year,” Cook said. “Part of that is they’re very good defensively and we just were never in a great rhythm tonight.”
Madi Kubik led the way with 16 kills on .196 hitting, nine digs, five blocks and one ace. Lindsay Krause added nine kills but also logged a career-high eight attack errors. Whitney Lauenstein was quiet for much of the night with just seven kills on .156 hitting but stepped up in game five.
Kennedi Orr led Nebraska with 20 assists and nine digs while Anni Evans added 18 assists and seven digs. Lexi Rodriguez posted a match-high 19 digs as the Huskers held Ohio State to .151 hitting. Ohio State committed 20 service errors without serving an ace. The Huskers weren’t far behind at 15 errors but offset it somewhat with six aces.
Nebraska out-blocked Ohio State 15 to five. Freshman Bekka Allick led the way with eight blocks while Kaitlyn Hord added six.
“One of the reasons they so many digs is we blocked blocked even more balls that they covered,” Cook said. “We got 15 stuffs, but I’d like to see our block stats on how many balls that they covered. We were blocking everything and that’s that’s one of the advantages of running 6-2 is we’ve got a lot of physicality at the net.”
Nebraska opened the match with a kill from Lauenstein and an ace from Kenzie Knuckles to take an early lead, one the Huskers maintained until a 3-0 Buckeye run knotted the score at 9-9. The Huskers responded with their own 3-0 run, then used two more 3-0 runs at different points to stretch their lead to five at 19-14.
Ohio State took advantage of some missed opportunities for the Huskers to narrow the gap to two at 22-20, but Hord and Lauenstein teamed up for a block and the teams traded sideouts the rest of the way. Ohio State hit the net then missed long on its last two serves.
Nebraska recorded just eight kills and hit .192 in the first set. The Buckeyes contributed nine attack errors and seven service errors to Nebraska’s point total, though the Huskers had five service error themselves.
The teams battled back and forth throughout the second set with 11 ties and four lead changes before the media timeout. The Buckeyes finally took control with a 6-0 run that featured five Nebraska errors (four attack, one ball-handling). Looking for a spark, Cook sent Ally Batenhorst in for Krause to see her first action since leaving the Creighton match with an injury.
Two Ohio State errors (one service, one attack) ended the run then Batenhorst found a touch on her first attack to cut the Buckeye led in half. Ohio State pushed its advantage back to five at 23-18, but Nebraska put together a 6-1 run capped by a Rodriguez ace to tie it up at 24-all.
The comeback ran out of steam at that point, however, as Ohio State won the next two points to tie the match at 1-1. Nebraska hit .053 in the set with nine attack errors. Kubik notched five kills in the set, but it took her 20 swings to do so. Ohio State hit .113.
Nebraska set the tone in game three with a 5-0 start that included three blocks, but Ohio State matched the effort to tie it up at 6-6 then upped the ante with a 6-0 run to take a 13-8 lead. The Huskers’ offensive woes continued with just one kill and three errors on the team’s first 15 swings.
Ohio State stretched its lead to 7 three times before the Huskers used a 6-1 run to cut it to 20-18. However, after a timeout, the Buckeyes responded with three straight kills, then another Nebraska attack error gave Ohio State set point. The teams traded service errors to close out the set.
Nebraska hit .033 with just six kills and five errors. The Buckeyes hit .179 with 16 kills. Cook put Krause back in on the left and tried Batenhorst on the right in place of Maggie Mendelson early in the set, but after the Buckeyes tooled Batenhorst a couple of times he went back to the freshman to finish the mach.
Nebraska got off to another good start in set four as birthday girl Lauenstein served a 5-0 run including an ace off the tape to give Nebraska a 6-2 lead. Nebraska continued to struggle offensively, however, and the Buckeyes chipped away at the deficit until they managed to tie it up at 13-all.
After trading a few sideouts (including an eight-second violation at the service line on Allick coming out of the media timeout), the Huskers created a bit of separation with a 4-1 run that gave them the lead for good. Ohio State pulled within two a couple of times, but the Huskers closed the set on another 4-1 run with Mendelson delivering the set-point kill on an assist from Kubik.
Nebraska hit .345 with Kubik recording six of Nebraska’s 13 kills. The Buckeyes hit .188.
The fifth sent want back and forth with neither side scoring more than two consecutive points until Ohio State pulled ahead 11-9 with a 3-0 run including Nebraska’s first attack error of the set.
Nebraska answered with four in a row including a kill and a solo block from Lauenstein and two errant attacks from the Buckeyes, and the two-point lead was enough to hold on as the teams traded sideouts the rest of the way. Kubik and Allick teamed up for a block on match point to seal the deal.
“I just think because that entire match was so back and forth, we just had to be two points better,” Kubik said. “It really came down to those last couple points and we just trusted it.”
Nebraska hit .167 and held Ohio State to .143. Lauenstein led the Huskers with three kills in the final set after totaling just four in the first four games.
Kubik said the team had Cook in tears after the match, which she said was a big deal.
“It was a tough match to watch because we struggled,” Cook said. “I got emotional just because I’m so proud of them and how they they fought through it. That’s kind of been, I think, something we’re trying to develop with this team and the players from last year is winning these close games and finding a way to win at the end. So I was nothing but proud of proud of them and we work hard, so it feels good when you are able to make it worthwhile and to make it successful.”
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.