No. 5 Nebraska got a chance to flex its resiliency muscle on Saturday night as the Huskers bounced back from a third-set blowout and a six-point deficit in the fourth to knock off Kansas State at the Devaney Center.
Nebraska (2-0) beat the Wildcats (1-1) 25-17, 27-25, 11-25, 25-22 to finish 2-0 in the Husker Invitational. The Huskers hit .224 and held the Wildcats to .196 in front of an announced crowd of 7,952.
After starting in a 6-2 (a two-setter system) against Colgate on Friday with Nicklin Hames sidelined, Nebraska returned to its usual 5-1 with freshman Kennedi Orr drawing the start. Coach John Cook turned to sophomore walk-on Anni Evans late in the match, however, and the Waverly product carried the Huskers home.
“I thought we came out really strong,” Cook said. “Everything went great, won a close second game which we knew there would be a close game we’d have to win. And then, I think Kennedi kind of hit the wall, really started struggling. Game three we just lost all of our momentum and rhythm and and game four we were down, made the switch and Anni inspired us. They played really hard for her. She got us back in a rhythm and I think K-State felt the pressure of the crowd because the crowd got into it, and we got the momentum back and made a heck of a run.
“It doesn’t surprise me because this team, they really want to fight for each other, and I don’t think there’s a better example of seeing it in front of 8,000 people and against a really good team.”
Orr recorded her second straight double-double with 34 assists and 10 digs while Evans added 12 assists off the bench. Senior middle blocker Kayla Caffey led the Nebraska attack with 13 kills on a blistering .632 hitting.
“The only people that stop [Caffey] are our setters,” Cook said. “If they get her the ball in the right spot, she’s so good at moving it around. She improved her vertical jump this summer by three inches. She’s playing lightning fast, she’s developed into a really good blocker. You talk about one of our most improved players, it might be her.”
Junior Madi Kubik matched Caffey with 13 kills and freshman Lindsay Krause added 12, but they also recorded seven errors apiece and both hit under .200. Lexi Sun finished with 11 kills on .250 hitting and eight digs. Freshman libero Lexi Rodriguez led the defensive effort with 21 digs.
Sun and Krause got the Huskers going early as Nebraska pulled ahead 7-3 with a 6-0 run. Krause had two kills and a block while Sun set the tone from the service line. Nebraska maintained the lead the rest of the way despite a Wildcat push that cut it to two at 16-14. Nebraska responded with a 7-0 run capped by a Krause ace and the Huskers cruised from there.
The freshman from Papillion led the way with five kills on eight swings while Caffey added four kills on five attempts and two blocks. Nebraska hit .462, recording just two attack errors, and held the Wildcats to .031.
Neither team managed to create separation in game two as the largest lead for either side was two points. The set featured 21 ties and seven lead changes. The Huskers pulled ahead 23-21 on a kill by Caffey and an ace by Sun, but back-to-back Nebraska ball-handling errors tied it up again.
Krause struggled in game two after a strong game one, recording five errors without a kill on her first eight swings, but she turned things around and stepped up late. Krause recorded three straight tie-breaking kills that gave Nebraska set point, and after the third one Kansas State committed an error to give the Huskers the win in extra points.
“Coach talks a lot about growing the resiliency muscle, and I think that showed that, her growth in the match,” Kubik said about Krause’s bounce-back. “Just growing it every single day and I think as a team too that we’re building that and trying to create a larger muscle. I think it just goes to show that she’s resilient and she’s confident and trusts her teammates and knows that we’ll be behind her and be there for her.”
Kubik led the Huskers with six kills on 14 errorless swings in the second set as Nebraska out-hit Kansas State .204 to .122.
The third set was all Kansas State. The Wildcats opened with a 4-0 run then, after Nebraska cut it to two at 7-5, Kansas State blew the game wide open with a 12-0 run served by Teana Adams-Kaonohi.
Kalynn Meyer, in for the first time off the bench, finally ended the run with a kill, but the hole was far too deep for the Huskers to dig themselves out.
Kansas State had 15 kills and zero errors on 27 swings (.556 hitting) while the Huskers barely cleared zero at .054 with seven errors.
Nebraska righted the ship a bit to start game four, winning three of the first four rallies, but Kansas State took control after that with a 7-1 run. The Huskers fell behind 12-6 as they continued to look for answers and Cook changed things up at setter, subbing Evans in for Orr. The change seemed to bring the spark he was hoping for as the Huskers used a 5-1 run to close the gap to two at 16-14.
“I think she just she just did a great job and just came in and brought energy and brought fire and she played her role,” Kubik said about Evans. “I think she just she did a great job and really helped us win that match. She killed it.”
The Huskers kept chipping away until they pulled ahead with a 4-0 run capped by a Keonilei Akana ace. Nebraska tacked one more point onto the run after a Kansas State timeout to pull ahead 20-18. The Wildcats cut the deficit to one four times but never pulled even and Nebraska completed the comeback with kills by Callie Schwarzenbach and Krause.
Nebraska hit .250 as Sun and Kubik led the way with four kills apiece. Kansas State hit .175 with seven attack errors.
Between the first two sets, Nebraska recognized former standout libero and new Olympic gold medalist Justine Wong-Orantes. She was Nebraska’s starting libero 2013-16 and helped Nebraska win a national title in 2015. She made her debut for Team USA at the Olympics in Tokyo this summer and took home Best Libero honors as the Americans captured gold for the first time.
“That gold medal’s beautiful,” Cook said. “Our fans gave her a — it was loud down there. She’s just awesome. I was talking to her, she was up at my office earlier, and I think she’s still in the dream. She’s just giddy and I’m not sure she even realizes what happened. It’s awesome to have her back and looking forward to getting Jordan [Larson] back Oct. 1.”
Nebraska will host three more teams at the Devaney Center next weekend for the Americas Invitational. The Huskers will play Omaha and Georgia on Friday before wrapping things up against Arizona State on Saturday.
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.