Nebraska volleyball bounced back from its first loss of the season and swept No. 5 Minnesota (25-17, 25-15, 25-22) Sunday in a rematch of Friday night’s four-set battle.
Sunday’s win leaves Nebraska with a 7-1 record, while the Golden Gophers received their first loss of the season to fall to 9-1.
After Minnesota put up 20 team blocks Friday, the Golden Gophers only had four in the rematch. Head coach John Cook said that his team had no changes in strategy to achieve this dramatically different result.
“Our players played like they are trained,” Cook said following the match. “Nicklin set a little better tonight, so that helped.”
Post-match comments from Cook, as well as senior outside hitter Lexi Sun and senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins, emphasized that Sunday’s victory was simply a return to normalcy for the team.
“We just kind of had an attack mindset,” Sun said. “I think that we were playing hesitant on Friday night, and I think that we were having more fun with it this morning.”
Sun had a redeeming performance Sunday after having 10 hitting errors Friday night. She had a team-high 13 kills on .321 hitting in the win.
As a team, Nebraska hit .300 on the match after a lackluster .151 hitting percentage in the series opener. Minnesota was held to .153.
Stivrins continued her hot streak offensively with eight kills on .400 hitting. The two-year captain said the team is more accustomed to this kind of success.
“What happened on Friday was so unlike us and the way that we practice and the way that we train,” Stivrins said.
True freshman outside hitter Taylor Landfair led Minnesota with 14 kills Sunday. Her counterpart on the left side, junior Adanna Rollins, was held out of the match with an illness unrelated to COVID-19. True freshman outside hitter Jenna Wenaas started in place of Rollins and had four kills on 21 swings.
Cook changed the look of Nebraska’s rotational matchups Sunday. Junior setter Nicklin Hames, who normally begins sets at the service line, found herself starting in the front row.
“We wanted to make sure we weren’t in a certain rotation when CC McGraw was serving, and we wanted to make sure we could always have either Riley [Zuhn] or Lexi on [Stephanie] Samedy,” Cook said.
Samedy finished Sunday’s match with 12 kills on .135 hitting after having 27 on Friday. The senior and back-to-back Big Ten Player of the Week was held to her lowest single-match hitting percentage of the season.
Nebraska made up for Friday’s slow starts with a 3-0 streak to begin the match. The lead was extended to 5-1, with Sun notching three early kills. The Huskers continued to put the pressure on, and Minnesota took its first timeout down 8-2.
The Golden Gophers narrowed the deficit slightly after a pair of Landfair kills. Nebraska forced several Minnesota errors, though, and held a 16-10 lead. More passing breakdowns from the Golden Gophers forced their second timeout at 18-12. The Huskers never relinquished their lead and won 25-17, hitting .333 in the first set.
The Huskers scored the first two points of the second set, including a crushing slide from Stivrins down the right sideline. A kill and block from junior middle blocker Kayla Caffey sparked another Nebraska scoring run to stretch the lead to four. An 11-6 lead for Nebraska prompted Minnesota’s first timeout of the second set.
Minnesota senior outside hitter Airi Miyabe and junior setter Bayley McMenimen checked in for the first time with the Golden Gophers down by six. Senior right-side hitter Jazz Sweet made her first appearance of the match for Nebraska soon after. Minnesota narrowed the score to 14-11, forcing Nebraska’s first timeout.
A successful challenge on an erroneous touch call gave Nebraska a 16-12 lead. A block from sophomore right-side hitter Riley Zuhn and a Sun ace padded the Husker lead further. The Golden Gophers called their second timeout to regroup down 21-15, but Akana’s serve let Nebraska cruise to a 25-15 victory.
Both teams traded points to start the third set. Redshirt junior Katie Myers made her first appearance of the match at middle blocker for the Gophers. Minnesota took a 10-8 lead with strong serving and blocking. The Huskers returned the pressure, though, and led 15-14 at the media timeout.
Minnesota tied the match at 17 before Nebraska scored three straight. After a Golden Gopher timeout, Minnesota tied the match on a 3-0 run. The Golden Gophers appeared to take a 22-21 lead, but a successful net challenge put the score in Nebraska’s favor. After Samedy tied the match at 22, Stivrins came back with a kill.
At 23-22, Cook used a double substitution, bringing Sweet and true freshman setter Anni Evans into the match. Evans set up Sun for the last two kills of the match to secure the Husker sweep.
Nebraska will be back on the court in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday and Saturday night to face the top-ranked Wisconsin Badgers (9-0). Both matches will be televised on the Big Ten Network.