No. 6 Nebraska notched its seventh straight win on Friday night with a sweep over Ohio State powered by big performance from Lexi Sun at the Devaney Center.
The Huskers (23-6, 14-5) took down the Buckeyes (12-19) 25-15, 25-12, 25-12 in an 80-minute match in front of a crowd of 8,267. It’s Nebraska’s first win over the Buckeyes at the Devaney Center as Nebraska’s last win in Lincoln over Ohio State happened in 2011 at the NU Coliseum.
“I thought we took care of business tonight,” Coach John Cook said. “It’s tough playing a team that’s basically got nothing to lose and they were going for it tonight, but I thought we handled it really well and our serve, block and defense was really good tonight … I thought we prepared really well and executed our game plan.”
Nebraska has struggled with errors for much of the season but the Huskers committed just six attack errors – the fewest for the Huskers in a Big Ten match since 2012 – on 85 swings, hitting .353 for the match on Friday. Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins called it some of the cleanest volleyball the Huskers have played all year.
“We’ve been working really hard on situations, what shots to hit, bettering the ball, getting it in a good position so that we can do something with it as opposed to juts getting up in the air, so it’s a combination of all those things,” Cook said.
Defensively, Nebraska tied its season high for blocks in a three-set match with 13 and held Ohio State to a season-low -.044 hitting. The Buckeyes hit .000 or worse in all three sets.
Sun, the sophomore outside hitter, finished with a match-high 12 kills on .522 hitting and chipped in nine digs, four blocks and two aces as well. Cook said Sun had struggled in practice all week, but she stepped up when it really mattered.
“She was really bad this week, and Mikaela’s done that too — they’ve really struggled in practice, but again, we’re putting them in really tough situations,” Cook said. “I’ve seen this: they struggle and then they get to the game and it’s easier than practice, and that’s what we try to do with how we train our players. We’ve got to put them in those situations. Lexi was seeing it really well tonight. Neckline had her in a great rhythm tonight. It was good.”
Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke added nine kills on .318 hitting, nine digs and four blocks. Freshman setter Nicklin Hames finished with 28 assists and eight digs while senior libero Kenzie Maloney added a match-high 13 digs. Stivrins chipped in six kills on nine swings and seven blocks.
Nebraska used a 3-0 run early in the first set to take an 8-4 lead, then expanded its advantage with a 5-0 run that made it 14-6 Huskers. Nebraska got a little sloppy from there, surrendering a 3-0 run to the Buckeyes, but after a timeout to regroup the Huskers put together another 5-0 run to pull ahead 22-13 before cruising to victory.
Sun delivered the final kill, capping a dominant first set that saw her convert nine of her 13 swings into kills without committing a single error. She chipped in two block assists as well for good measure to finish the first set with 10 points by herself.
Nebraska held the Buckeyes to .000 hitting in the first set with four blocks and 17 digs while hitting .312 itself behind Sun’s .692.
The start of the second set mirrored the first as a 3-0 run once again gave the Huskers an early 8-4 lead. Nebraska continued to pull away with a 5-1 stretch that made it 13-6, then a 5-2 run that made it 20-11.
The Buckeyes had no answer as the Huskers closed out the set with a 5-0 run. Sun teamed up with Schwarzenbach for a block on set point to send the Huskers into the locker room with a 2-0 lead in the match.
After Sun stole the show in the first set, Hames got Foecke more involved in the second as the senior saw the ball come her way 10 times and she put down four of them for kills without committing an error. Nebraska recorded six blocks in the second set and held the Buckeyes to -.100 hitting. Meanwhile, the Huskers made it through the first two sets and 60 swings with just four attack errors. They hit .321 in the second.
Nebraska used yet another early 3-0 run to jump out to a 7-3 lead in the third set, but this time the Buckeyes responded in kind to pull within one. A kill by Foecke ended the run then a block put the Huskers back up three, then the teams traded points over the next few rallies.
Leading 11-9, Nebraska delivered the knockout blow with a 7-0 run served by Sun that included back-to-back aces. Ohio State scored two straight to make it 19-12 and the Huskers finished the set on a 6-0 run served by sophomore defensive specialist Hayley Densberger. Foecke sealed the win with a solo block on match-point.
“It was fun. I feel like it’s been forever for some reason. We were getting ready for the game and I was like, ‘I feel like we haven’t been here in alike months.’ But it was great to be home and tomorrow night we’re really excited to be here as well and play for the seniors.”
The match was Nebraska’s first at home after a four-match road trip. The Huskers hd played eight of their last 11 away from home.
“It was fun,” Sun said. “I feel like it’s been forever for some reason. We were getting ready for the game and I was like, ‘I feel like we haven’t been here in like months.’ But it was great to be home and tomorrow night we’re really excited to be here as well and play for the seniors.”
The Huskers will return to the Devaney Center on Saturday night to celebrate Senior Night and close out the regular season against Maryland. First serve is set for 7 p.m. on NET.
Cook said that even in a match like Friday’s, where the Huskers were in control for most of the night, he struggles to sit back and have a little fun. He’s always focusing on what his team can improve. He said he’s going to try to enjoy Saturday’s match, however.
“It’s senior night — Mikaela, Kenzie, Brooke [Smith] … Got a lot to be thankful for with those guys,” Cook said. “They’ve had a hell of a career here.”
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.