Nebraska was swept at home despite its typically inconsistent offense finally putting it all together and hitting lights out. In a rare reversal, the Huskers’ premier defense was set ablaze by Wisconsin’s quick hitting and it was the defense’s worst performance by far this season.
No. 13 Wisconsin swept No. 2 Nebraska 25-22, 25-21,25-22 and Nebraska dropped its first conference game of the season. Wisconsin beat Penn State and Nebraska in back-to-back road matches and is now atop the Big Ten.
All three sets were extremely close but defense was an afterthought in the match as Nebraska hit .336 while Wisconsin hit .376. This marked head coach John Cook’s first-ever loss when hitting above .300, changing his record to 299-1.
The second set showed the extremes of both team’s offenses where Nebraska hit .424 and Wisconsin hit .517. Junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins was a perfect four for four in the second set while freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik had five kills on 11 attack attempts.
Wisconsin had three players hit over .650 and each had at least four kills. The second set was masterful offensive play but all either team needed was a couple of stops to win.
Wisconsin was up 22-20 before its defense finally made those few stops. Those stops led to the Badgers knocking out Nebraska and the big play came on an attack error from junior outside hitter Lexi Sun to go up 24-20.
Junior outside hitter Molly Haggerty got the final kill and Wisconsin won the second set 25-21 as she was one of several outside hitters to have impressive outings in the match. Haggerty had 11 kills on a .391 hitting percentage.
Nebraska’s offense was clicking through junior outside hitter Jazz Sweet and Stivrins. Sweet had 13 kills and was part of why Nebraska’s offense dominated in the first set right away. The first set was also tight but Nebraska managed a 16-13 lead.
The lead evaporated and Nebraska had a problem: serves. Wisconsin’s serves were killing Nebraska in the first set and forced the Huskers to play more out of system than expected. The Huskers’ offense suffered and bad serve defense turned into easy Wisconsin points.
“We stopped serving tough,” Cook said. “I saw a tired version of our serve blocking defense tonight.”
Serves decimated the Huskers as they had 10 serving errors throughout the match and no aces. Wisconsin had seven serving errors, three aces and got Nebraska out of system way more than it was.
Bad digs and bad serves led the Huskers to their first set loss despite playing their best offensive set of the season. Nebraska lost the first set 25-22 and neither team had shown much defense. After set two, defense seemed to disappear from Lincoln.
Upsets always have someone unexpected step up and that applied to the Badgers. Junior middle blocker Dana Rettke had a great performance but sophomore middle blocker Danielle Hart was the final ingredient.
Hart had 10 kills and had a .643 hitting percentage, which was the best on the Badgers. Hart stepping up was the exact advantage Wisconsin needed as sophomore middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach had only one kill for Nebraska.
Despite Schwarzenbach’s struggles, Nebraska’s offense was just as good as Wisconsin. Stivrins hit .727 with nine kills, Kubik had nine kills on a .364 clip and Sun led Nebraska with 15 kills. In the first two sets, the Huskers offense played great until the 20-point mark and then the offense crashed.
“We’re taking big swings and I think everyone did a really good job offensively,” Stivrins said. “We just couldn’t get enough defensive stops to slow them down.”
Nebraska had only three points in the final leg of the first two sets and the great Nebraska defense was gone. The third set went the same way.
Nebraska and Wisconsin were tied at 20 when Rettke served. A normal serve turned into a nightmare when miscommunication on the incoming serve saw Huskers out of position and led to a free Wisconsin point.
The Badgers went on a quick 3-1 run after that serve and led 24-21. Sweet cut the lead to 24-22 but Hart ended Nebraska’s chance with her kill. The Huskers were swept despite having their finest offensive performance of the season.
“It was those last five points where we struggled a little bit,” sophomore setter Nicklin Hames said. “All those games were right there and we had the lead in most of them.”
The Huskers’ struggles in the clutch overshadow how impressive the offense played tonight. Now, Nebraska continues its home stretch with matches against Michigan and Michigan State next weekend on Friday and Sunday.