No. 2 Nebraska swept High Point 25-16, 25-22, 25-8 in its first of two matches in the Ameritas Players Challenge on Friday.
Announced attendance for the 1 p.m. start at the Devaney Center was 7,907.
A strong finish led to the Huskers (5-0) out-hitting the Panthers (2-6) .349 to .033 despite a slow start in Coach John Cook’s eyes. The Huskers out-blocked the Panthers eight to one and out-dug them 41 to 30.
“They got the message,” Cook said. “I know it’s tough, the game [before] goes five, they’re standing around for a long time, but this team has to understand that they’ve got to be focused in and dialed in to play well. I just think they were kind of going through the motions. Everybody got challenged and I thought they responded really well.”
Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun led the way with 14 kills on .650 hitting. She terminated on 13 of her 16 sets in the final two sets with her only error coming in game one.
“I think that’s just how Lexi can play,” Cook said. “I thought she was really focused tonight. Nicklin was getting her in great spots and she was making really good decisions. Lexi is one of the few people who followed the game plan this afternoon on how we were going to attack them.”
Freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik was good offensively in the first and third sets and finished with nine kills on .273 hitting, though she also had four service and two reception errors. Junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins ripped in seven kills on 12 swings and four blocks. Sophomore middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach showed some offensive pop as well with a season-high six kills on .364 hitting plus four blocks.
Nebraska had good balance defensively with sophomore setter Nicklin Hames, freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles and Sun leading the way with eight digs apiece while Kubik and sophomore defensive specialist Megan Miller each chipped in seven. Hames also added 31 assists, two blocks and an ace to her stat line.
Hames did a good job of spreading the ball around early as Nebraska jumped out to a 10-5 lead featuring five kills by five different Huskers including Hames calling her own number once. After going back and forth a bit, the Huskers opened things up with a 5-1 run that pushed the lead to eight at 18-10. A 3-0 run pushed the lead into double figures at 23-13 before the Panthers put together a 3-0 run of their own. A High Point attack error ended the run and Hames closed it out with an ace.
Kubik led the Huskers with four kills on eight error-less swings while Stivrins matched her with four kills of her own. Nebraska hit .281 and held the Panthers to .065. The Huskers sided out at a 75% clip.
High Point hung around for most of the second set as the Huskers outside of Sun struggled to terminate. After Nebraska took a 15-12 lead at the media timeout, High Point rallied to tie the match at 16-16. The huskers took four of the next five rallies to pull by three again but High Point wouldn’t go away. The Panthers tied it up again at 21-all and drew a timeout from Cook. Nebraska regrouped and scored three straight to earn set point before Sun misfired on a serve. Kubik closed it out with her seventh kill on the next point.
Sun was white-hot during the set, putting eight of her nine swings down for kills to give her nine through two games. Nebraska hit .321 in the set. The Panthers went after it from the service line, resulting in five aces as well as six errors in the second set.
After a start that included one kill and one error on eight swings plus a reception error, Cook sent Anezka Szabo in for Jazz Sweet early in the set. He also subbed freshman Riley Zuhn in later and Zuhn also started the third set.
Sun joked that the media didn’t want to know what Cook had to say to them in the locker room during the intermission between sets two and three.
“It was all butterflies and flowers and give them some candy and we’re all good,” Cook said.
Whatever was said worked as the Huskers jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the third including Szabo’s first kill of the season on an overpass smash.
“That overpass, I wish I could do that again; that felt really good,” Szabo said. “Really good.”
Nebraska continued to roll and stretched the lead out to 10 at 14-4 thanks to a 5-0 run served by Kubik. Nebraska didn’t slow down any from that point as Hames served a 5-0 run that gave the Huskers a 21-6 lead. At that point, Cook subbed freshman Nicole Drewnick in for Hames to close out the match. Nebraska cruised to a 25-8 win.
“Anezka brought in a bunch of energy,” Cook said. “I got Riley in there. I thought Nicole came in off the bench and did a pretty nice job for the last few points there; that’s hard to do. But we started playing better as the match went on and we’ll have to definitely be more focused and prepared tonight.”
Nebraska dominated the third set, hitting .462 and holding the Panthers to minus-.125 with five kills and nine errors. After allowing five aces in the second set, the Huskers played clean third in serve receive.
“I just felt like we got in a rhythm,” Cook said. “We got aced six times in the first two games. Game one was 25-16, so we weren’t in a very good rhythm, we weren’t passing the ball. I just think we got in a nice rhythm and went from there. We started ball-handling. As we say — we work on first contact the most — when you put the ball in the box, good things happen. When you don’t, the game looks hard.”
The Huskers will return to the court for round two on Friday to face Denver at 7 p.m., or half an hour after the conclusion of the preceding match between High Point and Loyola Marymount. Denver beat Loyola Marymount 3-2 on Friday morning to open the Ameritas Players Challenge. Junior outside hitter Lydia Bartalo led a balanced attack for the Pioneers with 12 kills and eight digs against the Lions.
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.