One final night in the Devaney Center for 2021.
Per usual, it was packed 8,000 strong for Nebraska volleyball’s match against Florida State. The Huskers did not disappoint, dispatching the Seminoles in straight sets 25-20, 25-22, 25-17.
In the end, Nebraska senior setter Nicklin Hames led the Huskers in a tradition shelved since the beginning of the pandemic, the victory lap.
“It was kinda a spur of the moment thing,” Hames said postgame. “It’s always us giving back to the fans, they support us through this long season and they’ve been there.”
Nebraska head coach John Cook touched on the value of the fanbase as well.
“Our fans are great, 8,000 a night,” Cook said postgame. “We never take it for granted. Our fans need to know that they are a huge difference maker.”
The victory lap wasn’t totally normal. Elements of the Covid-19 pandemic safety still remain.
“Our trainer probably had a little freakout that we were high-fiving everyone,” Hames said. “We all washed our hands and hand sanitizer.”
Junior defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles started Nebraska off by rifling an ace serve down the left line. But, the Seminoles did not let that early miscue set the tone for the first set.
Each team traded blows until back-to-back kills by junior outside hitter Madi Kubik and freshman outside hitter Ally Batenhorst pushed Nebraska ahead. A service ace from Hames gave the Huskers a 10-8 lead on a 3-0 run. Moments later, a kill from senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins grew the Nebraska advantage to four at 15-11.
After a Nebraska timeout, Stivrins notched her second kill of the evening, making it 18-14. Down 24-17 the Seminoles rallied. Florida State scored three in a row and Cook, frustrated, slammed his leather notepad on the scorers table before calling timeout.
After four set points, Nebraska took the first 25-20. The Huskers hit .294 and Kubik led all attackers with seven kills. Three separate Seminoles had three kills and Florida State hit .171 in the set.
Both teams had only a day to prepare. Sometimes that means things show up in the game that weren’t on film. For Nebraska defensively, that thing was Seminole serving.
“They had a couple servers that were really giving us fits that we didn’t see on video,” Cook said.
One of the serves that gave the Huskers the most trouble was a “yo-yo” serve, one where the ball drops significantly once over the net.
“There was a lot of movement on ‘em,” Hames said. “They would serve over the stat like over the blockers so it’s really challenging for our passers to be able to see where the ball is coming from.”
Once again, the second set began with a bang. Freshman outside hitter Lindsay Krause sent a missile off a Seminole defender that spiraled into the student section. Powered by two Stivrins blocks, the Huskers grew their lead to 7-2 and forced a Florida State timeout.
Then the runs came.
First it was a 4-0 response from the Seminoles, cutting the Husker lead to one. Then a 4-0 run from Nebraska as Florida State burned its second timeout. Lastly, a 3-0 got the Seminoles back in it as the Huskers whistled for their first timeout leading 11-9.
The Seminoles drew within three at 21-18 after hitting errors by Batenhorst and Stivrins. The Huskers went right back to Stivrins and Batenhorst and they delivered. First it was Stivrins on the slide for her fifth kill and then Batenhorst for her eighth of the match.
Nebraska led 24-19 but again struggled to finish. The Seminoles forced three set points before Cook signaled for his second timeout by slamming the notepad once more. The timeout was enough to push the Huskers over the top as they took a 2-0 stranglehold on the match with a 25-22 win.
The story of the set was the Huskers’ young outside hitters. Batenhorst had two kills in the set, but closed hitting .412 for the match. Krause tallied six kills in the set for the Huskers. The Seminoles continued their balanced attack with four hitters notching four or more kills.
“I think mentally I’ve come a long way,” Batenhorst said postgame. “I developed a mindset where I wasn’t going to worry about anything. I was going to go for it with full confidence.”
Cook felt that at this level of competition, it’s hard to finish sets. Nebraska struggled in that area Saturday night.
“You get to this point, you’ve got to find a way to finish,” Cook said. “They played well at the end of those games and made us earn it.”
An early 4-1 Seminole lead evaporated behind three kills by Stivrins in four rallies. Batenhorst put Nebraska ahead by one, a Florida State attack error and another kill from Stivrins put the Huskers ahead 8-5.
Florida State continued to hang within three of Nebraska until midway through the set when the Huskers took four straight capped by a Knuckles service ace. The Seminoles elected to take a timeout with the Huskers leading 17-11.
The Nebraska middle blockers dominated the set so it was fitting that a swing from senior middle blocker Kayla Caffey ended it. She powered her fifth kill of the set to the floor as the Huskers earned the sweep. This time, it took Nebraska three set points to do so.
Stivrins and Caffey combined for 10 kills in the set for Nebraska. Caffey finished with nine kills and a .318 attack percentage while Stivrins had 10 kills and hit .429.
“There’s always a focus on setting the middles as much as we can,” Hames said. “Our offense overall flows a lot better when we can get them the ball because then it opens up.”
Hames finished with 39 assists and three kills. Cook applauded her efforts at spreading the ball around.
“Nicklin did a great job of getting everyone involved tonight,” Cook said. “Nicklin got three kills, so her goal is a kill per game.”
Nebraska faces Illinois, who upset No. 7 Kentucky in the Second Round next Thursday. The Huskers swept Illinois twice this season.
“It’s a big win for them,” Cook said. “They’re gonna be feeling it.”