No. 2 Nebraska volleyball kicked off the season with an important win against in-state rival No. 18 Creighton. The sellout crowd at the Devaney Center got their money’s worth as the teams were locked in for a grueling match.
“It’s a great celebration for Nebraska volleyball in this state” head coach John Cook said earlier this week.
The Huskers won the match 3-1 against Creighton, taking the first, third and fourth sets. The match was an up and down performance for the Huskers with a new starting lineup. Junior Lexi Sun led Nebraska with 13 kills and 14.5 points.
True freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles and freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik made their debuts in the starting line-up in the match. The two were instrumental in the win for Nebraska as Knuckles’ college debut saw her lead both teams with 22 digs.
The Nebraska defense did not skip a beat from last season as the defense held Creighton to a .067 hitting percentage and forced 33 attack errors in the match. Nebraska achieved this by limiting sophomore outside hitter Jaela Zimmerman and senior middle blocker Megan Ballenger. The two combined for 21 points but their hitting percentages were both in the negatives, meaning they had more hitting errors than kills.
The Husker defense masked some of the offensive problems Nebraska had against Creighton. The Huskers managed a .176 hitting percentage and had more serving and reception errors than Creighton. After all, Nebraska won the first set 25-19 despite having four serving errors.
The second set was a different story for Nebraska as they lost the set 26-24. The Husker offense struggled despite an early 7-4 lead. The lead vanished and the set became more back and forth from seven points on.
The main culprit of the second set was Nebraska’s inconsistent passing. In the first set, Nebraska players scored 19 points off 13 assists but the second set saw Nebraska score 12 points off seven assists. The offensive struggles were most seen with junior middle blocker and All-American Lauren Stivrins as she had .5 points in the second set.
Despite the offensive struggles, the Huskers were deadlocked at 24 with Creighton and could steal the set despite its sloppy offense. Creighton’s Zimmerman ended the set with a serving ace and a kill, tying up the match.
“I think that we’re on assignment in the last few games and we were more focused on our side,” Sun said.
The Huskers bounced back with two impressive set wins. The third set was an early glimpse into how dominant Nebraska can be this season. The offense finally got going due to Stivrins getting involved after being essentially double-teamed the entire game.
“I don’t think our setup was bad on [Stivrins]. She’s just good,” Creighton volleyball head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said. “She was going over us some. We just unfortunately couldn’t make the plan.
Stivrins had 4.5 points in the third set and sophomore middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach had three blocks. The offense returning to form allowed the Husker defense to shine as the Bluejays were forced to play catch up.
Creighton had 46 attack attempts which netted it nine kills and 12 attack errors. Creighton had a -.065 hitting percentage in the third set and Nebraska’s biggest lead was 19-10. The Bluejays salvaged the mess through redshirt freshman outside hitter Keeley Davis.
Davis had seven points in the third set and was the best player for the Bluejays. She had 15 points and had a .128 hitting percentage on 47 attempts. Her performance in the third set got the game to 23-17 before Nebraska won 25-17.
The fourth set was similar to the second set score wise. Nebraska won 25-21 to finish the match off. The Bluejays carried their late set momentum into the final set where the two schools were in a dogfight.
Though Creighton had a significantly worse hitting percentage, the game was tied at 21 before the Huskers scored four consecutive points to win their first match of the season. The offense converted here while the defense caused havoc by forcing two errors, including the game ending point.
The Huskers opening win now makes them 19-0 all-time against in-state rival Creighton. The Huskers play UCLA at 7 p.m. on Saturday at home.