Lexi Rodriguez NCAA 12.3

Nebraska’s Lexi Rodriguez (8) receives the ball during the game against Campbell at the Bob Devaney Center on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

It was a familiar sight for the No. 10 Nebraska volleyball team as it returned for its 40th consecutive NCAA tournament on Friday night. However, its opponent, Campbell, was entering the tournament for the first time ever. 

Although the Huskers swept the Fighting Camels in the first round of the tournament, Campbell couldn’t have asked for a better landmark match in the program’s history. 

“It was a great experience,” Campbell volleyball head coach Greg Goral said. “If we were going to go somewhere for our first ever NCAA tournament appearance, we wouldn’t have picked any other place than Nebraska. This is a place where people really appreciate volleyball and have over seven thousand fans in the stands for matches.”

Leading the way for Nebraska in the match was senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins, who finished the night with nine kills, a service ace and a hitting percentage of .412. Senior middle blocker Kayla Caffey was second for the team in kills with seven and a hitting percentage of .214. 

Junior outside hitter Madi Kubik also finished the night with seven kills, eight digs and a .286 hitting percentage. Freshman outside hitter Lindsay Krause was fourth for the team in kills with five and had a hitting percentage of .444. Rounding out the top five was junior defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles finishing the match with four kills and a hitting percentage of .600.

“It was a great game for us,” Stivrins said postgame. “Some of these games are a change of pace compared to the Big Ten. For us to come out here and play at the same level we have is huge for us going forward.”

After Nebraska got off to a 2-0 start in set one, Campbell got on the board with a block. The Fighting Camels tried another block on Caffey, but the senior just responded with another attack, this one hitting Campbell wood. Following two more points by the Huskers, the Fighting Camels dropped in a kill of their own to make the score 5-2. But then, Stivrins fired one down in a wide open pocket on Campbell’s side to start up another Nebraska run.

However, the Fighting Camels quickly put up two straight points to make the score 8-4. This was immediately followed by two straight points from the Huskers, making the score 10-4. After a couple of trades in points by both teams, Nebraska was able to take its now 12-6 lead and pushed it to 16-6 before Campbell scored another point. Then, when the score hit 18-8, the Huskers once again began to widen the gap in their lead.

The Fighting Camels tried to make something happen, delivering another quick 2-0 punch to make the score 22-12. But even with two more Campbell points, Nebraska reached set point and Krause brought down the final kill of the set to take game one 25-14. 

“We stayed disciplined,” Stivrins said. “I feel like sometimes we let our nerves get the best of us. So staying calm and not letting a hit or miss change our game plan was good for us tonight.”

The second set opened up the same as set one, with Nebraska up 2-1. But after the Huskers made the score 4-1, the Fighting Camels quickly made it 4-3. Nebraska tried breaking away with the lead, eventually getting to 10-6, then 11-7.  Then, when the score hit 12-8, the Huskers added a wedge to the lead after going up 14-8. The lead only continued to grow for Nebraska as it soon was up 18-10 over Campbell.

As the set progressed, the Fighting Camels were still lurking in the deficit, but couldn’t put together a formidable run to get back into the game. The Huskers returned to set point where Krause once again put the game away 25-14 following an extended rally.

Like the previous two sets, Nebraska got out to a 2-0 start before Campbell got on the board. The Fighting Camels then made their deficit 3-2, but the Huskers quickly turned it to 6-2. That lead soon stretched to 9-3 for Nebraska as the Husker momentum was seemingly unstoppable. Senior middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach bringing down a massive kill to cap off an extended rally to make it 12-4 seemingly made the sign without a doubt clear. 

The Fighting Camels did continue reaping in some points against Nebraska, even making the score 13-9, but the Huskers’ authority in the match kept things out of reach for Campbell. Senior outside hitter Lexi Sun then put the match away as she sent the ball into the corner to earn the final point and win game three 25-17. 

“It was weird to go from Wisconsin to Purdue to Campbell,” Nebraska volleyball head coach John Cook said postgame. “But we’re happy we got the win. We got another big match to take care of tomorrow. It’ll be a great challenge, but I’m glad we got out of here in three tonight.”

With the win, the Huskers advance to the second round of the tournament and will host Florida State, who swept Kansas State early in the day. The match will begin at 7 p.m. on Dec. 4 and can be viewed on ESPN+ or listened to on Huskers Radio Network. 

sports@dailynebraskan.com