No. 3 Nebraska’s bad habit of starting slow reared its ugly head again on Saturday night, but the Huskers dug themselves out of an early hole and finished strong in a sweep at Northwestern.
The Huskers (10-1, 2-0 Big Ten) beat the Wildcats (9-5, 0-2) 25-21, 25-17, 30-28 behind another strong performance from junior opposite hitter Jazz Sweet.
Nebraska hit a blistering .316, its second-highest percentage of the season, and tied its season high with seven aces. The Huskers out-blocked the Wildcats 10 to two and held them to .190 hitting. Freshman outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara, who entered Saturday’s match second in the Big Ten in kills, recorded a match-high 16 kills but the Huskers made her earn them as she hit .159 with nine errors.
For the second straight match, Sweet led the Huskers in kills with 13 on a season-high .526 hitting. Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun added 11 kills on .290 hitting. Junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins had 10 kills on 13 swings (season-high .615 hitting), three blocks and a season-high three aces. Sophomore setter Nicklin Hames finished with 38 assists, nine digs and an ace while freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles chipped in a match-high 10 digs.
Nebraska’s offense was a mess to start the match as Northwestern jumped out to a 4-0 lead then stretched it first to 9-2 then to 11-3. Northwestern held onto the lead for most of the set until Nebraska hit it with an 8-0 run served by sophomore defensive specialist Megan Miller.
The run gave Nebraska a 22-18 lead and the Huskers maintained that advantage to take a 1-0 lead. The Wildcats out-hit Nebraska .212 to .200 with three more kills but they also committed two setting errors, two ball-handling errors and two service errors to open the door for Nebraska’s comeback. Stivrins terminated all four of her swings.
Northwestern led for most of the first 15 rallies of the second set as well, but Nebraska put together a 12-3 run that including three straight aces by Stivrins to pull ahead 18-11. Northwestern responded with a 3-0 run to pull within four, but that’s as close as they got as Nebraska closed out the set on a 7-3 run. Sweet had five kills in the set and did not commit an attack error. As a team, Nebraska only had one error and hit .478 while holding the Wildcats to .129.
After five ties and two lead changes in the first two sets, game three featured 16 ties and six lead changes. Each time one side threatened to pull away, the other rallied to even the score. Nebraska used a 5-0 run served by hames to take its biggest lead of the set at 16-12, but Northwestern responded with a 4-0 run of its own.
After Nebraska had pulled ahead by two, Northwestern ripped off four straight points to take a 21-19 lead. Nebraska tied it up at 22-22 and 23-23 before Northwestern earned its first set point on a service error by Stivrins. Sun and Sweet notched two kills apiece to keep the Huskers alive as the teams continued alternating points. Nebraska finally snapped that streak as Hames blocked Thomas-Ailara, but Northwestern responded with a kill to make it 28-28. Nebraska finally ended it with a pair of kills, the first by Stivrins and the second by Sun with the aid of a Northwestern net violation.
Illinois pushed Nebraska to extra points twice on Friday night, and the Huskers lost both sets. On Saturday, they found a way to win. After recording 22 kills in the first two sets, the Huskers had 21 in the third, hitting .310. Northwestern hit .220 with 16 kills.
Nebraska has one more road match before the Huskers return to the friendly confines of the Devaney Center as the Huskers will head to Rutgers on Wednesday for a mid-week match. First serve is set for 6 p.m. CT.
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.