Junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins was rallying her teammates during the break between the fourth and fifth set as she spoke for the entire break. The No. 6 Huskers had blown a 2-0 match lead to No. 7 Minnesota and needed something to turn around their misfortunes.
The Stivrins talk was what the Huskers needed as Nebraska won the fifth set 15-3, capping off a night that seemed to be heading towards a tale of two halves.
Freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik took over the fifth set and gave Nebraska its first win in Minneapolis since 2014. Kubik had seven kills that final set to cap off a great week.
Kubik was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week at the beginning of this week, after impressive outings against Iowa and Michigan State. Kubik continued her hot streak into Minneapolis where she proved to be the top hitter right away.
Kubik had 20 total kills while hitting .292 and dominated the first two sets. The freshman had 12 kills in the first two sets and helped the Huskers jump to a 2-0 lead over the Gophers. Kubik’s hot streak did not skip a beat.
Kubik had one attack error in the first set but Nebraska had seven attack errors. Those errors usually spell doom for Nebraska, but serving was different on Friday. The Huskers are the worst team in serving aces in the Big Ten yet had four aces the first set.
The much-improved serving gave the Huskers an advantage that head coach John Cook has been stressing all season long. Despite the frequent attack errors, Nebraska’s great serving gave the Huskers a cushion and a 25-22 first set win.
The second set was even better for the Huskers. Kubik had six kills and junior outside hitters Jazz Sweet and Lexi Sun joined the fun as well. Sweet added two more kills while Sun had seven kills in the second set rout.
On defense, Nebraska continued to limit the Gophers. Minnesota had less attack errors than Nebraska but could not find any room. Despite coughing throughout the match and a broken thumb, sophomore middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach was a key part of that lockdown.
The Gophers offense struggled to get going through the first two sets as their star outside hitters had no viable options. Junior outside hitter Stephanie Samedy and senior outside hitter Alexis Hart had three combined kills in the second set.
Nebraska won 25-18 and seemed to be on its way to a road sweep of a top 10 team. However, Minnesota flipped the script in the next two sets.
Senior setter Kylie Miller of the Gophers had been battling injuries and slowly her usage got up. The third set was when Miller finally broke out of her shell and the Gopher offense punished Nebraska.
Minnesota hit over .400 in the third and fourth sets while the Husker offense began to cool off. Kubik had one kill throughout the two sets while Hart had eight kills in the third set alone. Hart’s return also coincided with the Gophers’ middle blockers shoring up on defense.
The Huskers had seven attack errors during the third set and were also blocked three times. Minnesota won 25-19 and gave the Huskers an almost knockout blow in the fourth set.
Minnesota shredded the Huskers 25-11 in the fourth set, the lowest points scored for Nebraska in any set this season. The disastrous fourth set began from the first serve when Minnesota’s Miller had an ace. The Gophers led 6-1 before Cook’s timeout and led 14-6 before his second timeout.
The timeouts did not help the Huskers get out of its funk as the Huskers hit .067. The Huskers were struggling to pass well throughout that set which led to easy offensive possessions for the Gophers.
Those bad digs and passes achieved Nebraska’s worst loss but also rallied the team. Stivrins was a vocal leader for the Huskers and kept the team’s head high.
Once again, Nebraska was in a fifth set but any fear of a Husker collapse disappeared during the final set. Nebraska eviscerated Minnesota 15-3 and went on a game-ending 11-0 run.
Stivrins’ first kill of the set gave Nebraska its first lead over Minnesota since the second set and the Huskers never let go. Kubik had five kills during the run and part of two crucial blocks on Samedy.
The 11-0 run was a combination of everything good for Nebraska volleyball but the biggest piece was sophomore setter Megan Miller. Miller served throughout the run, notching two aces and also served the Gophers out of system.
With Minnesota not in system as much, the Huskers got easier balls that set up their offense to hit over .600. The performance gave Nebraska a crucial win and set the Huskers up for a battle for first place in the conference against No. 5 Wisconsin on Sunday.