No. 6 Nebraska improved to 37-0 all-time against Iowa with its 34th sweep in the series in Friday night’s regular-season road finale.
Three pins cracked double figures in kills as Nebraska (23-3, 15-2 Big Ten) took down the Hawkeyes (8-20, 2-15) 25-14, 25-17, 25-14 in front of a mostly-red crowd in Iowa City.
“Thanks to all the Husker fans … We had a great turnout of fans tonight; that was awesome,” Coach John Cook said during his post-match radio interview. “I feel like half the fans tonight were Nebraska fans, so great job on that … Both teams struggled to pass. I thought they passed probably a little better than we did, but we were not comfortable passing in here tonight and the ball was moving. They’ve got a couple really nice servers, but we steadied out.
“We got better as the match went on and we made some really nice plays. Iowa played a lot better than they did in Lincoln.”
Madi Kubik led everyone with 14 kills on .407 hitting and nine digs. Ally Batenhorst continued her strong stretch of play with 11 kills on .286 hitting. Lindsay Krause added 10 kills on .471 hitting. Whitney Lauenstein made the most of her opportunities with four kills on nine swings (.333 hitting) and two aces.
Cook went with Kennedi Orr over Anni Evans as the second setter in Nebraska’s 6-2 system and the sophomore played well, finishing with 11 assists and eight digs off the bench behind starter Nicklin Hames (15 assists, six digs). Nebraska hit .330 overall and Cook said Orr played well.
“Kennedi played great defense tonight; she plays really good defense,” Cook said. “She should build some confidence. She got Lindsay Krause going tonight.”
The Cornhuskers limited Iowa to .096 hitting and just 26 kills as Lexi Rodriguez recorded a match-high 19 digs and seven assists.
After trading blows early on in the first set, Nebraska ripped off a 7-0 run with Kubik serving to take a 13-5 lead. The Huskers stretched their advantage to 10 at 18-8 before the Hawkeyes fought back with four straight including a pair of blocks as Hames tried to force it to the middle.
The comeback fell far short, however, as the Huskers closed the set on a 7-2 run. Krause delivered the set-point kill to give Nebraska a 1-0 lead.
Nebraska hit .387 behind five kills on nine errorless swings. Nebraska served two aces (one each by Hames and Lauenstein) with just one error while holding Iowa to .118 hitting. Orr led the team with six assists in the set.
“Kennedi’s got great hands and she creates a different tempo,” Cook said. “By not going lower, she can still set it higher and faster, especially when she is doing it on the way up. I told you, she does some things I’ve never seen before. She had couple great sets tonight. I was really proud of her tonight. I threw her in there to serve. If you remember early on, she struggled serving; that was one of the reasons we had to go away from here. She missed the first serve but then she served great after that, so I was really proud of her for working through that. So hopefully we’re going to build on this and Kennedi is just going to keep rising like a rocket.”
The Huskers got off to a slow start in set two with three early attack errors. The set featured nine ties and three lead changes before Nebraska put together a 3-0 run to take a 13-10 lead. The Hawkeyes regrouped and fired back, however, tying two more times before the Huskers took control for good.
Lauenstein served a 5-0 run including her second ace to give the Huskers a 19-14 lead, and Nebraska rolled from there. In total, Nebraska won 11 of the last 14 rallies to take a 2-0 lead at the intermission. Batenhorst hit off the block on set point for a kill that survived an Iowa challenge.
Nebraska hit .205 and held Iowa to .054 as Krause put down five kills on eight swings.
After trading kills to start the third set, Kenzie Knuckles put together a great stint at the service line as Nebraska scored five straight including an ace and a back-row kill from Knuckles. Nebraska led by as much as six before Iowa put together a 5-1 run to cut the deficit to two at 11-9.
Nebraska quickly pulled away again with a 6-1 run that featured heavy doses of Lauenstein and Kubik. The sophomore had two block assists plus a kill off Iowa libero Mari Hinkle’s head whip the senior haha pair of kills to cap the run.
The Huskers steadily pulled away from there and Batenhorst closed out the sweep with back-to-back kills.
Nebraska hit .444 with just three errors in the third set while Iowa hit .111. Kubik led Nebraska with five kills in game three while Batenhorst chipped in four.
“This is not an easy place to play,” Cook said. “We never play real super clean here but I thought our team did a really nice job of staying with it. They made some runs and we made some runs right back. We were five aces, four errors; a great job serving. We were low-error tonight, which we’ve been high-error. We were high-error against Ohio State, had 13 service errors I think, so they did a nice job tonight and we took care of business.”
Speaking of Ohio State, the No. 5 Buckeyes lost to Maryland in four sets on Friday night, dropping them into a tie with Nebraska for second place in the Big Ten. Wisconsin remains atop the league with just one conference loss.
Nebraska will close out the regular season with three straight home matches against top-20 teams starting with No. 19 Purdue on Sunday at noon CT on Big Ten Network.
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.