After a five-set marathon win over No. 7 Penn State on Friday night that that lasted nearly three hours, the No. 8 Huskers needed just 82 minutes to take care of business against Rutgers on Saturday night.
Nebraska (18-6, 9-5) swept Rutgers (6-21, 0-14) 25-14, 25-12 and 25-13 in front of 8,332 fans at the Devaney Center. The Huskers out-hit the Scarlet Knights .427 to .024, doubled them up in blocks 12 to six and nearly did the same in digs, 37 to 19.
“I just told them I was as proud of them tonight as I was last night because this was a trap match for us,” Coach John Cook said. “It could be a big letdown and I just thought we played really clean volleyball and did a nice job. And of course, it’s always good for morale when I can get a lot of players into the match as well.”
To make sure the Huskers didn’t overlook their opponents coming off the five-setter against Penn State, Cook put up pictures of mouse traps all over the gym during the team’s pre-match serve-and-pass session.
Senior libero Kenzie Maloney said she hadn’t ever seen that stunt from her coach, although he did tell her he tries to do it at least once during every player’s career.
Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke played a clean match, finishing with a match-high 11 kills without an attack error. She hit .524 and chipped in four aces, four digs and four blocks. Freshman setter Nicklin Hames recorded her 18th double-double of the season with 30 assists, 13 digs and four blocks. Sophomore outside hitter Lexi Sun added seven kills on 13 swings (.308 hitting).
Nebraska got strong production from its middles as well as sophomore Lauren Stivrins and freshman Callie Schwarzenbach combined for 10 kills on 15 swings and 12 blocks. Stivrins finished the three-match home stand with 23 blocks including eight against the Scarlet Knights.
“She was amazing,” Hames said about Stivrins. “She’s a beast. I have flashbacks from yesterday’s game a little bit, just her crushing some balls and then her bounce-blocking people. I think this whole weekend she stepped up and we really needed her to. I think she did a great job.”
Nebraska used a 4-0 run early in the first set to take a 9-4 lead then used a 5-0 run to stretch it out to 20-10 before cruising to victory. The Huskers out-hit the Scarlet Knights .448 to .069, committing just three attack errors all set. Foecke put down kills on six of her nine swings.
One of the highlights of the first set was the bench having a little fun during a challenge.
The @Huskervball bench was having a little fun during Nebraska's challenge.
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) November 4, 2018
Cook said the crowd did help him decide to call for a review after sophomore Jazz Sweet’s attack was called long.
“The players weren’t saying anything and they were thinking it might be a touch and then I heard the crowd and I said ‘What do you guys think?’ and they said ‘It’s close,’” Cook said. “And then the crowd was going when they saw it on the replay and my bench guy said ‘Hey, it looks in; let’s go.’ It was a team effort.”
Rutgers took the lead a few times early in set two, but Nebraska used a 6-0 run served by Foecke to pull ahead 11-6. The run included two aces by the senior co-captain. That 6-0 run turned into an 11-1 stretch and the Huskers continued to roll from there as Rutgers could do nothing to stem the tide.
Nebraska finished off the Scarlet Knights with a 5-0 run to seal a 13-point win in set two. The Huskers cooled off a bit offensively (.238 hitting) but held the Scarlet Knights to -.182 with nine errors.
Sun got the Huskers on the board first with a kill on the first rally, the Scarlet Knights tied it with a kill on the next point and then it was all Nebraska from then on. A 4-0 Huskers run gave Nebraska an 8-3 lead. The teams traded points over the next several rallies until a 4-1 run gave Nebraska a 15-8 lead at the media timeout.
Rutgers put together a 3-0 run after the break to pull within four but Rutgers only scored two more points the rest of the way as the Huskers closed out the match on a 9-1 run. With the match in hand, Cook worked some of his reserves into the match in the third set and senior setter Brooke Smith set up sophomore outside hitter Sami Slaughter for the kill on match point.
“It’s awesome,” Maloney said. “Our motto is ‘We Over Me’ so I think just focusing on getting that big lead so those players can come in and then seeing them do well is something that you always love to see for your team. It’s just great to see them perform well like that.”
After going 2-for-2 off the bench against Penn State on Friday, freshman outside hitter Capri Davis put down four kills on five swings in game three.
“[She showed] what she does in practice,” Cook said about Davis. “She takes big swings and she did exactly what she’s been training to do.”
Nebraska needed a 2-0 weekend in the worst way coming off a stretch that featured five losses in seven games and that is what the Huskers did.
“It was getting discouraging and it starts placing doubt, especially in like Kenzie and Mikaela,” Cook said. “You start questioning everything, I’m questioning everything myself. But that’s what teams need. You have to manufacture big wins to get that. It almost feels like any win in the Big Ten is great win this year because it’s tough. That’s the best Rutgers team I’ve seen since we’ve been playing them. They’ve got some nice players over there, they serve really tough, they pass well and they’re really young.”
Nebraska will hit the road next week starting with a trip to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes on Wednesday night. The Huskers won the first meeting between the two teams in Lincoln in four sets. First serve is set for 7 p.m. on BTN.
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.