No. 6 Nebraska took care of business on Friday night, shaking off a slow start to sweep Maryland at the Devaney Center behind a balanced offensive attack.
Lexi Sun and Lauren Stivrins carried the load early, Madi Kubik took over in the middle and Jazz Sweet closed it out as the Huskers (24-4, 16-3 Big Ten) toppled the Terrapins (13-18, 5-14) 25-20, 25-15, 25-18 in front of a crowd of 8,038.
“We got it done,” Coach John Cook said. “These are always scary matches a day after Thanksgiving. I thought we looked like we were still at Thanksgiving to start that match, but we played our way into that a little bit and got going, did some nice things. I thought Nicklin … did a nice job getting us really good swings and our serving picked up. It was good to get that one out of the way and get a win 3-0.”
Four players hit over .300 and had at least seven kills as Nebraska hit .359 for the match. Sophomore setter Nicklin Hames finished with 36 assists, six digs and three kills while spreading the ball all over the court.
Sweet, the junior opposite hitter, had 10 kills on .526 hitting, finishing the match without an error. Sun, the junior outside hitter, matched her with 10 kills on .304 hitting while chipping in a match-high nine digs, three blocks and two aces. Kubik, a freshman outside hitter, had nine kills on .375 hitting and four digs. Stivrins recorded seven kills and no errors on 12 swings (.583 hitting) and a team-best four blocks.
“You’ve got to deal with five hitters, and then Nicklin attacking, not just relying on one hitter or just setting out of system all the time,” Cook said. “It makes it hard to defend; you can’t gang up n people. That’s why we hit for a high number.”
Nebraska held Maryland to .167 hitting. Both sides finished with nine service errors but the Huskers doubled up the Terps in aces, six to three. Nebraska sided out at a 78% clip.
Both teams got off to a sloppy start as the first 29 rallies included nine ties, four lead changes, nine service errors and seven attack errors. After all that, Nebraska led 15-14 at the media timeout.
Stivrins got a kill when play resumed before the teams traded a few sideouts. Kubik terminated then Schwarzenbach and Sun teamed up for a kill to give Nebraska a 19-16 lead. Maryland cut the deficit back to one before Nebraska hit the Terrapins with a 3-0 run including back-to-back aces by Sun to make it 22-18.
“I think we’re a tough serving team when we keep it in and when we trust our training,” Sun said.
After a few sideouts, Stivrins closed it out with back-to-back kills. Sun led the Huskers with four kills in the first set. After a slow start, the Huskers picked it up offensively and hit .292. On the other side of the net, Maryland hit .087 with six errors.
“We just settled down,” Cook said. “We had some really ugly plays to start that match and I just think we kind of settled down and got a little more comfortable. Like I said, this is a really weird week. There’s no school, there’s Thanksgiving, there can be a big natural letdown. We played Sunday, so that really threw off the week a little bit. I think it just took us a while to get back into it and playing and we just started smoothing out a bit.”
Maryland took an early 5-4 lead in set two, but Kubik stepped up to spark a 3-0 run with two kills and a block assist. Maryland notched a kill but the Huskers responded with a 4-0 run featuring Kubik at the service line to take an 11-6 lead.
Nebraska controlled the game from then on as the lead bounced between four and seven until a 4-0 run that featured Kubik at the service line once again pushed it to 10 at 23-13. Nebraska traded points from there until Maryland missed a serve on set point.
Kubik had four kills on five swings while Sun and Stivrins both tacked on four more kills as well. The Huskers hit .484 in the set with 16 kills and one error while the Terps hit .143.
Nebraska never trailed in set three, jumping out to a 6-2 lead early. After six straight sideouts, Maryland put together a 3-0 run to pull within one at 9-8. Maryland played Nebraska to a draw over the next 10 rallies before Nebraska delivered the knockout blow in the form of a 5-0 run served by sophomore defensive specialist Megan Miller. After taking a 19-13 lead, the Huskers cruised to the finish line. Sweet got a tip to fall on match point to end it.
Nebraska out-hit Maryland .297 to .242 in the third set while the Terps recorded three service errors without an ace. Sweet recorded seven kills on 10 swings in the final game.
“I just think we started more evenly distributing the ball,” Sweet said. “I had no one up on me; they were definitely going heavy to the left sides. I just kind of saw that they were holding the block for me and they let me go at the end.”
Nebraska will close out the regular season at home on Saturday against Ohio State (15-16, 8-11). Prior to Friday night when Penn State beat Wisconsin in five sets, the Buckeyes were the only team to beat the fifth-ranked Badgers in Big Ten play.
“They served [the Badgers] really tough, was the first thing,” Cook said about the Buckeyes. “Second thing is it’s hard to say what Ohio State does really well because they change lineups. They play about 15 people, they mix their setters, they mix everybody, they’re switching positions, so they can confuse you. You have to be really disciplined and not let their chaos affect you. They’ve got some great arms and some great players and they caught Wisconsin at the right time and got them. You get into close games and they made some plays.”
First serve is set for 7 p.m. on NET.
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.