Two of the Big Ten’s best in No. 4 Nebraska and No. 6 Ohio State battled it out in a marathon first set in Columbus on Saturday.
After seven different combined set-points chances, the Buckeyes finally emerged victorious, and they road that momentum to a 3-1 win to even the season series with the Huskers at 1-1.
Ohio State (19-5, 15-1 Big Ten) beat Nebraska (22-3, 14-2) 31-29, 25-21, 26-28, 25-16 with an all-around terrific effort.
“Much respect to Ohio State,” Coach John Cook told John Baylor during his post-match radio interview. “They played really, really well tonight. You saw their system, this is advantage of a 5-1. They’re in a great system, they’re in a great rhythm. They can really push the ball to the net because they’ve got a setter up there three rotations, and hey played great.
“But I was really pleased. Our team played hard, we competed really hard tonight. Heartbreaker in game one. Again, I told you at the beginning, what did I say? You’ve got to win two-point games.”
Sophomore Ally Batenhorst posted a career-high-tying 15 kills on .256 hitting. Madi Kubik notched a double-double with 14 kills and 10 digs but hit just .148. Whitney Lauenstein got going late to finish with 12 kills but hit just .171. Nebraska hit .168 overall and served six aces with 13 errors. Nicklin Hames finished with 32 assists, 21 digs and two aces while Lexi Rodriguez tied for the match-high with 24 digs.
Bekka Allick returned to the lineup after missing Friday’s sweep against Iowa but she and Kaitlyn Hord combined for 13 kills on just .186 hitting and six block assists.
Ohio State hit .254 behind Emily Londot’s 23 kills on .353 hitting, 21 digs and four blocks. Fellow pin Gabby Gonzales added 18 kills on .275 hitting and 20 digs. Ohio State finished with 101 digs, 15 more than Nebraska, and the Buckeyes out blocked Nebraska nine to six.
The Cornhuskers got off to a slow start with a pair of attack and service errors early as the Buckeyes jumped out to an 9-5 lead, but Nebraska settled in and responded with a 6-1 run to take the lead as Batenhorst terminated her first three swings.
Ohio State took the lead back at 14-13, then after a couple of ties the Buckeyes surged ahead 18-15 with back-to-back kills then a block assist from Londot. The Huskers tied it up again at 19-all with a 3-0 run including a Kenzie Knuckles ace and another Batenhorst kill.
Ohio State broke a 20-all tie with back-to-back points and traded sideouts form there, earning set point at 24-all. The Huskers responded with a kill from Batenhorst and an ace from Allick to force the set to extra points. Allick missed on her next serve out of an Ohio State timeout, but the Huskers saved two set points before earning their own game point at 27-26 with back-to-back kills from Lauenstein and Kubik. However, Nebraska couldn’t capitalize as Londot equalized with a kill.
Both teams had another chance to end it, and both times the trailing team tied it up. However, Ohio State finally broke through on its sixth set point opportunity as Londot terminated on back-to-back plays then Allick hit into the net to end it.
Ohio State out-hit Nebraska .228 to .170 behind 12 kills on 19 attempts from Londot. Batenhorst let Nebraska with six kills on nine swings. The Buckeyes had five more kills and seven more digs, though Nebraska recorded the only two aces in the set.
Nebraska got off to a great start in set two, scoring the first two points then taking an 8-2 lead with a 5-0 run featuring Rodriguez at the service line and thee straight kills from Kubik. It didn’t last long, however, as the Buckeyes used an 8-2 run to tie it up at 11-11, then a 3-0 run to take the lead at 16-15.
After three more ties, Nebraska gave Ohio State a 21-18 lead with three straight errors (one service, two attack), and that was enough of a cushion for the Buckeyes to pull out the set.
Ohio State hit .224 behind five more kills from Londot and four from Gonzales. Nebraska hit .127 with seven attack errors. Kubik led Nebraska with five kills in the set but it took her 24 swings to get there.
Ohio State continued to roll in the third set, using a 6-0 run to take a 7-2 lead. The Huskers had two attack errors and surrendered an ace while Ohio State terminated on four of its first six swings.
The Buckeyes maintained a comfortable lead until Nebraska pulled within one at 17-16 with a 4-0 run. The Huskers continued to push, using a 6-2 run to earn set point at 24-22. Lauenstein capped the run with an ace, but followed it with an error and Ohio State served its own ace to tie it up at 24-all.
The teams traded sideouts until Hames appeared to serve an ace at 27-26. Nebraska started to celebrate the point, but the officials let the play go on as Ohio State attempted a pancake and took advantage of Nebraska’s celebration to win the point. A furious Cook immediately pulled the challenge card and a quick review showed the ball clearly hitting the ground, giving the Huskers the set.
Nebraska hit .204 behind five kills from Lauenstein and four from Batenhorst. The Huskers held Ohio State below .200 for the first time at .191. Cook made the change from Anni Evans to Kennedi Orr as the second setter and the sophomore contributed four assists and two digs in her first appearance since Oct. 8.
“Anni was not getting it done and Kennedi has been practicing great, so I thought ‘Well, let’s give her a shot,’” Cook said. “I thought she did really well. She missed a couple sets early and then I thought she set great. But we weren’t running middle. I’m telling them we’ve got to run middle. You look at Ohio State and we’re thumping balls and they’re running middle in trans back on us.”
The momentum was short-lived, however, as Ohio State quickly took control in set four, outscoring Nebraska 13-3 to take a 15-6 lead. The Buckeyes built their largest lead of the day at 19-9 before Nebraska ripped off five straight to cut the lead in half. It was too little and too late, however, and Ohio State ended the match on a 4-0 run.
The Buckeyes out-hit Nebraska .417 to .184.
“Ohio State’s really good,” Cook said. “It’s a team that can win a national championship. So we’re going to have to learn from this and get better and understand how hard we’re going to have to play every point and the sense of urgency we have to play every point … We just made critical errors at critical points. We just gave them points and they didn’t give us anything. We missed serves at crucial times. We made bonehead hits. But Ohio State played great. You can tell they’ve played together for three years now. So we’ll learn and get better from it.”
The loss drops Nebraska into second place in the Big Ten with No. 3 Wisconsin and the Buckeyes still tied in first place.
Up next for Nebraska is a road trip to Iowa City on Friday before closing out the regular season with three home matches against three top-15 teams.
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.