Nebraska’s first conference match proved to be as tough as any match comes. Nebraska played Illinois in a five set fight but the Huskers pulled out with an impressive road win.
The No. 3 Huskers improve to 9-1 and 1-0 in the Big Ten while No. 20 Illinois fell to 5-5 and 0-1.
Nebraska won 25-23 in the first set behind a good offensive performance. The Huskers slow start issue was non-existent as the Huskers hit an efficient .321 clip with 12 kills. On defense, the Huskers held the Fighting Illini to a negative attack percentage.
Illinois had nine kills and 10 attack errors but had three serving aces. Those serving aces were a part of why the match was so close despite the offensive extremes from each team. For the Fighting Illini, they turned around their disastrous first set defensive performance.
The match became a defensive slugfest in the second set as Illinois won 27-25. Both offenses hit below .200 but Nebraska’s attack errors were too much to overcome. The Huskers committed 11 attack errors compared to Illinois’ six errors.
Illinois’ defense made significant strides in the blocking department too with five blocks. Illinois had one block in the first set and the improvement was a big part of Illinois not going down 2-0. Illinois had 14 kills compared to Nebraska’s 16 kills in the second set, but the Fighting Illini offense cracked a hole in the Husker defense.
Nebraska’s defense had played great through the first set two sets, giving up -.030 and .174 hitting rates, respectively. The Husker defense was led by sophomore middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach who had eight blocks and junior outside hitter Lexi Sun with five blocks. Despite rock solid play from two of Nebraska’s best, the third set was Nebraska’s worst.
With the match tied at 1-1, the third set reversed from the last set and was all offense. The third set was the only set to see both teams hit above .250. Illinois hit .310, its best of the match and won the set 28-26.
Illinois senior middle blocker Ashlyn Fleming had six kills in the set and senior outside hitter Jacqueline Quade had five kills to lead the Illini offense. Illinois had 18 kills while Nebraska had 15 kills. Despite Illinois’ better offensive performance, Nebraska was up 23-20 and poised to win the third set.
Illinois came back and with the set tied at 26, it ended the set with a quick two points. Nebraska was once again down 2-1 in a match.
The Huskers were down 2-1 for the third time this season. Unlike the Stanford match, the Huskers bounced back to win the fourth set 25-22. The main difference between the third and fourth set was a resurgent Nebraska defensive performance and a Husker offense continuing its consistent play.
Illinois went down to a .167 hitting percentage and the Huskers had three blocks in the fourth set. The tight fourth set saw the Huskers in a back-and-forth with Illinois until the teams were tied at 15 apiece. Then, junior outside hitter Jazz Sweet had two consecutive kills to give Nebraska a 17-15 lead that it never lost.
Sweet had her best offensive performance of the season with 17 kills on a .333 clip but was not the only Husker to have her best offensive night yet.
Schwarzenbach also shined, having eight kills to go with her eight blocks and attacked on a .583 rate. That was the best for any player on either team. The fourth set win set up Nebraska for its second fifth set of the year while Illinois played its fifth.
Nebraska took over the fifth set and won the deciding match 15-10. Nebraska put together its most complete set of the match with a mix of great offense and defense.
On offense, Nebraska had its best hitting percentage of the match with a .474 clip and had 10 kills. The Huskers offense played clean, with only two attack errors despite having more attack attempts than Illinois. The Huskers jumped to a quick 3-0 lead and that set the tone for the set.
Freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik rose up in the fifth set as she had four out of Nebraska’s 10 kills. Kubik’s great fifth set performance came after she only had seven kills through the first four sets. Kubik was the last piece needed for Nebraska’s offense to play its best in the final set.
On defense, Illinois hit .267 but the offense was not enough to catch up with Nebraska. Up 14-10, Nebraska ended the match with a decisive Stivrins kill.
Next, Nebraska travels to Northwestern on Sept. 28 and the game will be at 7 p.m.