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Whitney Lauenstein (13)
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

No. 4 Huskers Survive Upset Bid in Evanston

November 06, 2022

A record-setting crowd turned out for No. 4 Nebraska’s match at Northwestern on Sunday afternoon, and the two teams delivered an incredible show.

The home team was two points away from handing the Huskers a four-set loss, but Nebraska rallied to send the match to a fifth game and took care of business from there to avoid the upset.

The Huskers (21-2, 13-1 Big Ten) took down the Wildcats (17-9, 6-8) 27-29, 25-20, 23-25, 25-23, 15-6 in front of a Welsh-Ryan Center volleyball record-setting crowd of 4,019 despite a monster performance from Northwestern’s star outside hitter, Temi Thomas-Ailara.

“Northwestern played really well tonight,” Coach John Cook said during his post-match radio interview. “Temi was unbelievable. But I told our team before the match if she has a big night, they’re really good. And she had a big night. There was a long time there where we couldn’t do anything and I think that impacted how we played on our side of the net, because we’re not used to somebody going off like that. A lot of credit to them. It was a great match. It was good for us to get down and fight back and get in a slugfest like this.” 

Thomas-Ailara posted a match-high 26 kills on .333 hitting. Hanna Lesion added 15 kills but hit just .122 as the Wildcats hit .189 as a team.

Nebraska hit .289 behind another big match from Whitney Lauenstein who finished with 16 kills on .353 hitting and seven blocks. Madi Kubik added 15 kills on .270 hitting, Lindsay Krause had 14 kills on .379 hitting and Ally Batenhorst chipped in nine kills on .240 hitting.

Nicklin Hames had a match-high 19 digs to go with her 31 assists. Kaitlyn Hord notched nine blocks and added seven kills on .417 hitting. Nebraska had four aces (three by Bekka Allick, one by Hames) but also had 14 service errors. The Huskers doubled up the Wildcats in blocks with 14 of them.

Hames got things started off on a high note with an ace and the Huskers played from ahead early, but Nebraska’s passing broke down as Northwestern ripped off a 6-0 run to take a 10-6 lead. Northwestern extended that lead to six at 14-8 before the Huskers got going with a 4-0 run including a pair of kills from Batenhorst.

Nebraska pulled within two a couple of times before Thomas-Ailara scored three straight with a kill and two block assists to put the Wildcats ahead 22-17. She terminated on each of her first eight swings.

Nebraska regrouped during a timeout then fired back with a 5-0 run including two aces from Allick and a block on Thomas-Ailara’s ninth swing to tie it at 22-22.

Five more ties and a couple lead changes followed as each team had its chances to close out the set. In the end, Thomas-Ailara proved to be too much as she put down three straight kills to win it 29-27 for Northwestern.

Thomas-Ailara had 11 kills on 12 swings in the first set as Northwestern hit .344. Krause led Nebraska with four kills as the Huskers hit .273. 

The teams traded points early in the second until a 4-0 run for Nebraska including a pair of kills from Allick gave the Huskers an 8-5 lead. Nebraska used a 3-0 run to stretch the lead to six, then another one to make it eight at 16-8. Northwestern pushed back down the stretch, cutting the Huskers’ lead to four a few times, but the Wildcats hit the antenna on set point to give Nebraska the game.

The Huskers did a better job of limiting Thomas-Ailara, with three kills and one error on 10 swings, as the Wildcats hit just .152. Kubik, Batenhorst and Lauenstein had four kills apiece as Nebraska hit .368.

Nebraska got off to a rough start in the third with two attack errors and one service error as Northwestern used a 5-0 run to take a 6-2 lead. The Wildcats stretched that lead to five at 11-6 as Thomas-Ailara notched four more kills early in the set.

Nebraska pulled within two a couple of times before surging ahead 15-14 with a 4-0 run including a block assist and a kill from Lauenstein. The Wildcats didn’t buckle, however, and regained control with a 3-0 run that made it 16-19 and never gave up the lead.

The Huskers pulled within one at 20-19 but Northwestern responded with a 4-1 run to earn set point. It took the Wildcats three tries but they finally closed it out with a back-row kill from Thomas-Ailara.

“She was really good,” Cook said of Thomas-Ailara. “She hit some shots where we’d do everything right and it didn’t matter. She hit off our block, inside our block. There aren’t many players in the country that can do that. Like I told our team I said, when she’s in the front row, we’ve got to side out. Side out, side out, side out. You cannot let her get up there and make runs, and the games we lost, she was up there and made runs.”

Thomas-Ailara tacked on seven more kills while Lesiak added six as Northwestern out-hit Nebraska .286 to .256. Lauenstein had six kills on eight swings in the set for Nebraska to double her total.

The teams traded runs early in the fourth set as Nebraska raced out to a 5-1 lead, the Wildcats answered with six straight for an 8-6 advantage then Nebraska used a 6-1 run to jump back in front at 12-9.

The Huskers maintained their lead until Northwestern put together a 7-2 run to take a 21-19 lead aided by one service and two attack errors from Nebraska. The teams traded sideouts from there until Allick and Lauenstein combined to block Lesiak to tie it up at 23-all. Northwestern hit long to give Nebraska set point and Lauenstein finished it off to send the match to a fifth game.

Nebraska narrowly edged out Northwestern in hitting, .194 to .171. Lauenstein and Krause had four kills apiece.

“They were playing great,” Cook said. “We weren’t having success. We got flustered, it affected our passing, our serving. We did not serve well today or tough until the end. I think at some point, they just made a decision, ‘We’ve got to go for it and play fearless.,’ because what we were doing wasn’t working. I was talking to them about it, but they made that decision as a team and we got some momentum. We made a couple big plays and got some momentum. To win in the fourth gave us a lot of momentum.”

Lauenstein misfired on her first swing of the fifth set, but the Huskers scored four straight to take the lead and continued to roll from there. Hord had a kill and teamed up with Lauenstein for two blocks on Thomas-Ailara during the run.

Nebraska used two 3-0 runs to open up a 9-3 lead before a scary play that saw Northwestern’s freshman setter, Sienna Noordermeer, chase into the stands to save a ball. Noordermeer appeared to have hit her head on something and stayed down for a long time as trainers attended to her. They eventually brought the cart out to stretcher her off, though she was moving.

With their only other setter out with an injury, Northwestern turned to junior defensive specialist Grace Reininga, who had played in just three sets all year, to set the offense. She found Kathryn Randorf for a kill on her first play and the Wildcats followed it up with an ace to pull within four, but Nebraska closed the match on a 6-1 run.

Nebraska hit .455 and held Northwestern to minus-.235 in game five. Kubik added four kills to her total.

After the match, the Cornhuskers gathered together in a circle with the Wildcats to comfort their opponents in the wake of their teammate’s injury.

“I feel awful for what happened and it was a tough one,” Cook said. “I’ve never seen that in all my years of coaching … It’s tough for all these kids to have to see that and then see somebody carted off like that.  I’ve been coaching how long and I’ve never seen that. This is a first time for all of us”

After three weeks of mid-week matches, Nebraska will get a chance to spend some quality time on the practice floor this coming week as the Huskers don’t playa again until Iowa visits Lincoln on Friday.

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