Northwestern pushed No. 4 Nebraska to the brink of defeat the last time the Huskers took the floor, but Nebraska rallied to win the match in five and remains tied atop the Big Ten standings heading into week
The Huskers had no answer for Northwestern star Temi Thomas-Ailara for long stretches of the match and were staring defeat in the face, down 23-21 in the fourth, but Nebraska outscored the Wildcats 19-6 the rest of the way to win in five.
“TTA was at another level; she was on another planet,” Coach John Cook said. “So we had to weather the storm on that. They played great. We we weren’t sharp, but we hung in there and we let her come back down to our planet and found a way to win it.”
“Two points better” was the theme of the offseason for Nebraska, but deuce games have been a sore spot recently. Nebraska dropped two games by two points against Wisconsin and two more against Northwestern before falling to win the fourth by two.
“We’ve got to be better if we want to keep winning,” Cook said. “It comes down, like I’ve been saying all year and I’m going to talk to you about this today, it comes down to two-point games. We win game one, maybe we win 3-0 at Northwestern. But we made two below-average plays to lose that first game. Wisconsin, we lose two deuce games. So we’ve got to find a way to win close games. Right now, we’re 11-8 in two-point games on the season. So our percentage has got to go up. So what I’ve learned about them is we’ve got to get better.”
One player whose numbers have gotten better recently is sophomore Lindsay Krause. She’s hit .462, .471 and .379 in her last three matches and put up 14 kills in the win against Northwestern. Krause is leading Nebraska’s pins in hitting percentage during conference play at .250, good for sixth among all outside and opposite hitters league-wide. Krause’s production and efficiency has fluctuated, as has her role, but Cook said her approach has never changed, calling her a warrior who gets after it every day.
“I feel like I’ve gotten into a groove here and I feel like, overall as a team, we’ve gotten into a bit of a groove,” Krause said. “I feel like we’ve had a couple of matches where we haven’t necessarily played our best, but we’re putting our best foot forward as far as our mental game. There are some games where we feel like we’re not like playing our best volleyball, not necessarily playing Nebraska volleyball, but we were all very mentally engaged, we were able to work through that, keep our composure through those games and we were able to overall get the job done, which is what’s most important.”
Next up for Nebraska is a home match against Iowa, which will mark the program’s 3000th consecutive sellout, a streak that began before Krause and many of her teammates were born.
“I think it’s really insane,” Krause said. “I think getting to have our celebration with the original Nebraska volleyball team here a couple of weeks ago, that was really eye-opening to see the women that really started our program and were trailblazers in that and to have a sellout streak of people wanting to be engaged in a women’s sport from that early on before women’s were really at the forefront of athletics, and that’s super special to be able to continue that.”
Krause didn’t attend any matches at the Coliseum, where the streak began, but she’s heard plenty of stories about if from her father, Pat Krause. She attended her first match at the Devaney Center in 2015, when she was 12.
“It was super special,” Krause said. “It was cool to see the environment there and the people there. I think at that point, I knew that volleyball was big but I didn’t realize the kind of the environment that it was in Nebraska and how special that was here. So that really opened my eyes, along with the Final Four being in Omaha that year. I got to go to those matches as well.”
Iowa has a new coach this season in Jim Barnes, who accepted the job in late December of 2021 following a 6-24 season by the Hawkeyes. Iowa lost its star player in Courtney Buzzerio (4.08 kills per set) but Barnes brought in seven transfers to add to the group of returners.
“They have some players from last year, but he came from Tulane, so they brought some other players in,” Cook said. “He was at Baylor for a long time, so when we were in the Big 12 we played them all the time. He’s a very good coach, his teams play really hard, and you cannot take anybody for granted or lightly in the Big Ten. Look at all the crazy scores.”
Iowa is 7-18 this season and just 1-13 in Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes are last in the Big Ten in opponent hitting percentage (.234) and blocks (1.84 per set) and 12th in hitting (.194) and aces allowed (1.45 per set). Tulane transfer Michelle Urquhart is leading the team in kills at 2.58 per set but is hitting just .152. Middle blocker Amiya Jones, a returner, is averaging 2.56 kills per set on .246 hitting and 0.40 aces per set.
After facing Iowa, the Huskers will hit the road to close out the weekend with a rematch against No. 6 Ohio State (17-5) on Sunday. The Buckeyes are also 13-1 in Big Ten play, tied with Nebraska and No. 3 Wisconsin at the top of the conference standings. That one conference loss was to Nebraska, back during the first week of league play. The Huskers pulled out a five-set win on Sept. 24 at the Devaney Center and will now head to Columbus for round two.
“I just remember it was a dog fight, that’s really all I do remember,” Krause said. “I know that we were playing some great defense. We showed a lot of grit that match after we went down 2-1 to come back in that fourth set and really put them away in that fifth set. I know that playing at Ohio State from last year, it’s a very tough gym to play in. They’ve got some quite passionate fans there, but I think it’ll be super fun to just get to have a rematch with them and hopefully get another W.”
Ohio State has won 12 straight matches since that loss to the Huskers. The Buckeyes are third in the Big Ten in both hitting (.258) and opponent hitting (.176). They’re first in kills and assists with All-Big Ten setter Mac Podraza orchestrating the offense and leading the conference with 10.82 assists per set. Ohio State has three pins averaging better than 3.0 kills per set in Emily Londot (3.73 on .227 hitting), Gabby Gonzales (3.34 on .220 hitting) and Jenaisya Moore (3.08 on .28 hitting). Libero Kylie Murr is third in the Big Ten in disc at 4.23 per set.
“I think we’re a much better team, but I think they are too,” Cook said. “They’re playing really well right now and it’s going to be a big challenge. But we have Iowa first, so let’s not get too far ahead.”
First serve against Iowa at the Devaney Center is set for 6 p.m. CT Friday on Nebraska Public Media.
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.