Nebraska improved to 3-0 this season with a 3-1 win over Maryland Friday night thanks to one of the best offensive performances of All-American middle blocker Lauren Stivrins’ outstanding career.
The senior co-captain put down 18 kills (one shy of her career-high) on 20 swings, hitting .850, and she chipped in a block assist and a dig as well.
“It’s a combination of Nicklin [Hames] being able to find her in a lot of situations, so that’s the first thing,” Coach John Cook said. “The second thing is Lauren’s been working really hard. I’ve seen Lauren this past year, and I think you guys have seen it in her interviews, she loves this team, she’s a captain. I’ve never seen her work so hard since she’s been here. I think Tyler has helped Nicklin to be comfortable getting her the ball, and she’s forcing it to her a little bit but Lauren’s also doing a really good job of managing the game, when it’s not there of doing something smart. Her volleyball IQ and her work of watching video and studying great players, it paid off tonight.”
With last weekend’s series against Northwestern getting postponed, Friday’s match against Maryland was Nebraska’s 2021 home-opener, and instead of a packed Devaney Center the Huskers played in front of a small collection of less than 100 family and friends.
Nebraska’s hitters outside of Stivrins struggled to find any consistency, and an error-filled second set cost the Huskers the sweep, but Nebraska (3-0) still prevailed 25-19, 25-27, 25-19 and 25-14. The Huskers hit .248 and held the Terrapins (0-5) to .165.
Senior outside hitter Lexi Sun (14 kills, 12 digs, .100 hitting, three blocks and an ace), sophomore outside hitter Madi Kubik (10 kills, 10 digs and .227 hitting) and junior setter Nicklin hames (52 assists, 12 digs and two aces) all had double-doubles.
Sophomore libero Kenzie Knuckles added 11 digs as the Huskers out-dug the Terps by 10. Nebraska had seven aces and eight service errors while the Terps recorded just three aces and 11 errors.
“I thought at times it was really good,” Cook said about his team’s serving. “We stressed them. We followed our game plan really well. They hit it pretty well. They served us tough at times too, so it’s just part of college volleyball. I thought our serving was good tonight but I think we have another notch in us still.”
Nebraska led wire to wire in the first set as Sun got the Huskers off to a quick start with a kill and a block assist on the first two rallies. The Huskers gradually built up their lead throughout the set, pulling ahead 15-8 at the media timeout then expanding it to 22-13 while the Terps burned through both their timeouts.
Nebraska got a bit sloppy from there surrendering three straight points and allowing Maryland to pull to within five at 23-18, but the Huskers closed it out from there.
Maryland out-hit Nebraska .286 to .261, but the Huskers won the serve and pass battle with four aces while the Terrapins had five errors. Stivrins led the attack with four kills on five attempts.
After leading wire-to-wire in the first set, Nebraska fell behind after the first point in set two and had a battle on its hands. Game two featured 10 different ties and a few lead changes as neither side ever led by more than three points.
After Nebraska took a 15-12 lead into the media timeout, Maryland responded to pull ahead 20-18. The Huskers turned the tables with a 4-0 run including two kills by Kubik, but the Terrapins blocked her on the next rally.
A few points later, Stivrins gave the Huskers a pair of set points with a kill that ricocheted off one defender’s hand into another’s face before dropping for the kill. Maryland called timeout to regroup, then responded with a kill and an ace from Erika Pritchard to even it up. After trading points, Sun hit long then wide for back-to-back errors that gave Maryland the set at 27-25 and evened the match at 1-1.
Maryland only recorded 10 kills in the second set, but the Terrapins also committed just one attack error, hitting .250. Nebraska had 11 errors to go with their 20 kills and .196 hitting. Stivrins had seven kills on seven swings in the set.
“We were just a little out of sync and tentative,” Cook said. “Our middle attack was really good, it was just mainly our outside hitters. They’re amped up a little bit, they’re a little anxious and they’d just get underneath the ball and have a hard time, but they’re trying to hit their shots, and that’s why they’d make errors.”
After seven ties in the first 16 rallies of the third set Nebraska pulled ahead for good with a 3-0 run. The Terrapins cut the deficit to one three times, but Nebraska delivered a knockout blow with a 6-0 run to pull ahead 21-14 and held on to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
With the Huskers leading 22-16 after a kill by Sun, Cook used the double-substitution he’s fond off, sending in Jazz Sweet as a blocking replacement for Nicklin Hames in the front row while true freshman walk-on setter Anni Evans checked in to make her Husker debut as a server. The Waverly product dropped in an ace for her first point in a Nebraska uniform.
“Anni is such a team player,” Stivrins said. “She puts the biggest smile on my face when I talk about her because that girl gets after it every single day. She is a stud and there is not one person in our gym that is not an Anni fan. To see her go in and get that ace, I think that just made everyone’s day so much better because she’s that type of person, she’s that type of player. She’s exactly what it means to be a Nebraska volleyball player. So that was amazing.”
Caffey eventually finished off the set with a kill, her sixth of the night.
Nebraska cleaned things up offensively and committed just three attack errors, hitting .281 in the set while holding the Terps to .135
After exchanging the lead a couple of times early in the fourth set, Nebraska pulled ahead 10-6 on a kill by Stivrins then used a 6-0 run served by Hames to create plenty of separation at 18-10. Nebraska cruised to the finish from there with Kubik tooling the block on match point to seal the win.
After not playing in the first three sets, Callie Schwarzenbach started the fourth and recorded three blocks (one solo), one kill and one attack error. She was the 12th husker to see action. Nebraska hit .278 and held Maryland to .000 in the final game.
The Huskers and Terrapins will run it back on Saturday night at 7:30 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.