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No. 3 Nebraska’s Big Block Too Much for No. 14 Penn State

October 14, 2022

The nation’s leading defense flexed its collective muscles again on Friday night as No. 3 Nebraska swept No. 14 Penn State in the Huskers’ return to the Devaney Center after two weeks on the road.

The Cornhuskers (15-1, 7-0 Big Ten) beat the Nittany Lions (14-4, 3-4) 25-18, 25-22, 25-9 on Friday night and held Penn State to a season-low .017 hitting with 27 kills and 25 errors.

“I thought our Huskers tonight, they really followed a great game plan,” Coach John Cook said. “We prepared really hard for Penn State and I just thought Penn State never got comfortable all night. We just put tremendous serve, block and defense pressure on them and I thought that was the key to the match.”

Sixteen of those attack errors were blocks as Nebraska put on a dominant display at the net. Kaitlyn Hord led the way with a season-high nine block assists against her former team while Whitney Lauenstein added eight blocks plus seven kills. Freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick returned to the lineup after missing the Michigan match with an illness and added six blocks, six kills and an ace.

Nicklin Hames made her return to the lineup as well, starting at setter and putting up 20 assists and eight digs. Cook said he went with Lindsay Krause on the right side behind Lauenstein and Ally Batenhorst on the left behind Madi Kubik in part because he wasn’t sure if Allick would be ready and had Maggie Mendelson practice all week at middle instead of opposite.

“The other decision was Nicklin and Kennedi [Orr],” Cook said. “Nicklin practiced two-and-a-half days this week and was feeling pretty good and I thought she set really well this week, so we went with that option.” 

Kubik led Nebraska with nine kills, though she hit just .167, and Krause added four kills on 10 errorless swings.

Friday was the first time Nebraska had everyone available since the beginning of the Creighton match on Sept. 7.

“It’s awesome,” Hord said. “It’s a great feeling and I’ve said it before, everybody on our bench can come in and do amazing things. So that just gets proven every game that we bring somebody new in.”

Lexi Rodriguez led the back row with 16 digs while Kenzie Knuckles added seven. Nebraska’s defense held one-time Husker Kashauna Williams, Penn State’s kills leader, to five kills on minus-.143 hitting.

Hames went right to Kubik on the first rally of the game and the senior pin put the ball away to give the Huskers an early lead. A 3-0 run including an ace from Lauenstein put the Huskers up 5-3, but Penn State tied it up again soon after at 7-all.

Nebraska used another 3-0 run to take a 10-7 lead and draw Penn State’s first timeout then maintained a cushion the rest of the way thanks in large part to a big block led by Hord. The Nittany Lions cut the lead down to one at one point, but the Huskers responded with a 4-0 run to take a five-point lead, then pushed the advantage to seven at 23-16 with another 3-0 spurt.

The Huskers traded sideouts from there to take a 1-0 match lead. Lauenstein delivered the set-point kill.

Batenhorst led Nebraska with four kills as the Huskers hit .179. Nebraska out-blocked Penn State seven to one as Hord notched six block assists and Lauenstein added four. The Nittany Lions hit just .026.

“I hope they were feeling the pressure because we were bringing it,” Allick said of Nebraska’s blocking effort. “I think we were forcing them to hit shots they weren’t used to hitting. We worked a lot on their tendencies, so we were trying to force them to hit their secondary shots, usually things that they’re not comfortable with. So I can say that they looked like they felt the pressure.”

After five ties and a couple of lead changes early in set two, Nebraska pulled ahead 13-8 with a 7-2 run that featured plenty of Penn State mistakes. The Huskers returned the favor with three miscues of their own (two attack, one service) as Penn State scored four straight to pull within one.

The Huskers settled down from there as Kubik recorded a kill and a block assist during a 3-0 run to put the Huskers up 16-12 and Nebraska maintained the lead until Penn State threatened again, scoring three straight to make it a one-point game at 21-20.

Hord and Lauenstein teamed up for another block out of a timeout then Penn State hit long, and the teams traded sideouts until a kill by Kubik ended the set and gave Nebraska a 2-0 match lead.

The Huskers only hit .135 but held Penn State to .073 with five more blocks.

Nebraska played its best volleyball of the night coming out of the intermission, starting with a 3-0 run then using a 5-0 stretch capped by two Allick kills to take a 9-2 lead. The Huskers continued to roll as a 4-0 run pushed the lead to 10 at 14-4 and Nebraska dominated the rest of the way.

Nebraska closed out the match on a 7-0 run including a back-row kill from Knuckles to set up match point. Penn State then hit wide to end it.

“It was smooth,” Allick said of the third set. “We were all on the same page, nothing felt rushed. It was just here in the moment, just having fun and giving our best effort. It just felt smooth.”

Nebraska hit .333 in the third behind four kills from Kubik and held Penn State to minus-.050 with six kills and eight errors. 

Nebraska will return to the Devaney Center on Sunday for an afternoon meeting with Northwestern. First serve is set for 2 p.m. on Nebraska Public Media.

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