Lexi Sun

Nebraska's Lexi Sun bumps the ball during the NCAA semi-finals against Illinois at the Target Center on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Nebraska’s first road match of the season was a resounding success against Arizona with the Nebraska offense starting off hot and the Husker defense dominating despite being down a starter. 

The No. 2 Huskers beat unranked Arizona 3-1 in Friday’s match. Nebraska won the sets with scores of 25-17, 25-14 and 25-17 in the first, second and fourth sets. Nebraska improved to 3-0 while Arizona fell to 2-2.

Junior outside hitters Lexi Sun and Jazz Sweet were the two best offensive players for Nebraska in Friday’s match. The duo hit over .300 on attacks and combined for 26 kills against Arizona but the two were the only Husker offensive players to hit efficiently.

Surprisingly, junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins had a rocky match on offense as she had six kills but committed six attacking errors. Stivrins had a hitting percentage of zero because of errors and freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik had a .163 hitting percentage despite her 13 kills.

Despite the offensive struggles by most of Nebraska’s players, the Husker offense was rolling through the first two sets. Sun and Sweet had nine of the 17 kills in the first and as a whole, the Huskers had a .328 attacking percentage. The second set was a repeat from the first and a continuation of the offense’s performance from UCLA. Nebraska hit .328 in the first set and .438 in the second set.

The offense was on a roll despite the loss of sophomore middle blocker and starter Callie Schwarzenbach. Schwarzenbach left the match during the first set with an ankle injury and Husker freshman middle blocker Riley Zuhn came in to replace her. Though Schwarzenbach is no Stivrins on offense, her defense puts her in the upper tier of middle blockers.

Nebraska’s defense did not skip a beat with Schwarzenbach off the court. The Wildcats struggled on offense as they had an overall .056 attack percentage. The Wildcats could not convert their chances and junior outside hitters Paige Whipple and Elizabeth Shelton were held to 19 combined kills.

Whipple and Shelton earned .114 and -.115 hitting percentages respectively. The Huskers’ defense remained dominant but the offense heavily regressed and dropped the third set.

Nebraska lost 25-17 in the third set and was down by as much as 11 points. The Wildcats hit .091 in the third set but the Huskers had a negative attack percentage in the third set. The big offensive regression overshadowed the Husker defense limiting Arizona to even lower offensive hitting percentages in the last two sets. Arizona’s second-lowest attack percentage in a set this match was enough for a set victory.

The Huskers won the fourth set but the Nebraska did not reach back to the heights of the first two sets. Nebraska hit .179 in the fourth set and only had 10 kills while the Wildcats sunk further to their match low of .056 despite having 11 kills.

On defense, freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles continued her impressive campaign with 19 digs, while Kubik had 13 digs. Nebraska’s blocking did not suffer despite Schwarzenbach’s loss as Zuhn had four blocks in her debut. The impressive blocking debut also spread to other Huskers as Sun and Stivrins each had three blocks.

The Huskers defense impressed while Nebraska’s offense showed glimpses of how great it can be. The great defensive play by Nebraska on Friday is another recurring theme of the season but the Husker offense will have to become more consistent or the defensive performances will be in vain.

Nebraska continues the San Diego Invitational in a match against No. 25 San Diego Toreros on Saturday at 9 p.m.