To say Nebraska volleyball’s series history against Iowa is lopsided is a massive understatement. Nebraska is 30-0 all-time and has only lost three sets ever against Iowa. The 9-17 Hawkeyes came to Devaney Center one week after being swept by Nebraska for the 27th time
After a close first set win for Nebraska, the Hawkeyes made program history and won two consecutive sets to take a 2-1 lead. That was the first ever match lead Iowa has held against the Huskers and was the first time it has ever won two sets against Nebraska.
“[The Hawkeyes] just were playing fearless,” head coach John Cook said. “They played very inspiring and very good volleyball tonight but nothing ever surprises me in this conference.”
Iowa won the second set, its fourth set win against the Huskers in the history between the two schools. The Hawkeyes won 25-23 and had their second 1-1 tie with the Huskers since 2011.
The Hawkeyes maintained their cool by shutting down the hard-hitting Husker outside hitters. Nebraska hit .325 in the first set and dropped to a .179 in the second set. That steep decline let the Hawkeyes hang around despite their equal offensive performance.
Sophomore middle blocker Amiya Jones and sophomore setter/outside hitter Courtney Buzzerio led the Hawkeye offense throughout the second set. The duo had 10 of Iowa’s 14 kills in the second set and were both hitting at least .450.
Nebraska’s first set win was in-part to cleaning up its act in the final stages. Iowa led 17-13 before giving up a 12-3 run that let the Huskers take a set away from Iowa. Buzzerio had one kill down that first set stretch.
The second set was another tight one for the Huskers as they were down by two or three points throughout the match. Like the first set, Nebraska began cutting back into the lead and tied the second set at 22-22.
Junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins led the charge as she had three consecutive attack attempts, resulting in two kills. The Huskers were tied and poised to take another set away from Iowa.
Buzzerio and freshman outside hitter Edina Schmidt then had the three biggest kills of the second set to take a 25-23 win. Iowa won its fourth ever set against the Huskers and did so by neutralizing Husker outside hitters.
Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun had 14 kills in the sweep last week but this time, she had four kills through three sets. One of Sun’s worst performances was the third set, where she had six attack errors, zero kills and hit -.400.
The bad performance was overshadowed by freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik’s bounce back from an equally bad second set. Kubik had five kills and no attack errors in the third set, a step forward from four kills and four errors the set before.
“They were just playing fearless,” Kubik said. “Going after it, taking bigger swings at the beginning of the match but throughout the match we started to play more fearlessly.”
The resurgent Kubik, along with Stivrins’ six kills, was still not enough for Nebraska to overcome Iowa. Neither school led by more than a point for a good portion of the set and the largest lead was a four-point Hawkeye advantage.
Iowa was trading blows and eventually found a hole in the Husker defense. Buzzerio scored three consecutive points that gave Iowa a 24-20 lead. The Huskers rushed back and led 25-24 before a Husker serving error and two Iowa kills ended the set by a score of 27-25.
Iowa led 2-1, without its starting setter, and was on the verge of one of the biggest upsets this volleyball season. Then, Nebraska snapped out of its funk.
Nebraska dominated Iowa 25-18 in the fourth set and began to play like its usual self. Freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles was a part of that turnaround and shifted the tides in Nebraska’s favor.
“I kept telling her in the first three games,’Kenzie, it’s your court’,” Cook said. “She just played fearless in games four and four.”
Knuckles only had three digs but was instrumental in reversing the defensive misfortunes. The first three sets not only saw the Huskers being outhit but they also had much more communication errors and slip-ups.
Those uncharacteristic errors were cleaned up in the fourth set and with a much better Husker offense, Nebraska took the fourth set and set up for a daunting fifth set.
Junior outside hitter Jazz Sweet was the driving force for Nebraska in the last two sets. Sweet hit .500 with six kills in the fourth set and took that performance up a notch. Sweet almost had a flawless game in the final set.
The magic for Iowa faded away in the fifth set as the Hawkeye offense struggled to get a good kill. Two blocks by sophomore Callie Schwarzenbach kicked off the set before Sweet got her first of four kills in the set to lead 3-0.
Nebraska controlled the entire set and kept adding on to its lead. Sweet had no errors and Stivrins’ had the final kill to take the set 15-6 and cap off a funky five-set win.
“Any win in the Big Ten is a good win,” Sweet said. “Any of these teams can go five...It’s just a tough conference so any win is a good win.”
No. 6 Nebraska next travels to No. 5 Minnesota on Nov. 22 and then No. 7 Wisconsin on Nov. 24.