After a one year hiatus, No. 5 Nebraska traveled to Bloomington, Indiana, for its first game of the 2021 season. The Huskers quickly picked back up their winning habits against the unranked Indiana Hoosiers in convincing fashion.
Nebraska swept Indiana 3-0 and had 41 kills over three sets while hitting .314. The two starting seniors, outside hitter Lexi Sun and middle blocker Lauren Stivrins, didn’t miss a beat in the shutout. Sun and Stivrins combined for 20 kills while hitting .429 on the court.
Sun was especially dominant as a hitter, having two attack errors on just 21 hits. She was also on fire serving during the match. . The senior had four serving aces, three of those coming consecutively at the beginning of the second set, and helped throw Indiana’s offense off early as a result.
Sun’s serving combined with Stivrins’ presence in front of the net formed a wall that Indiana never seemed to break. Nebraska’s roster returned nearly all of its 2019 production, but had some new starters in its first match.
Senior middle blocker and graduate transfer Kayla Caffey was named the other middle blocker starter as junior middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach did not appear in Friday’s match.
Caffey recorded Nebraska’s first kill of the 2021 spring season and along with an early block, Nebraska jumped out to a 5-1 lead over Indiana in the first set. That lead grew to 12-6 before an Indiana timeout.
The rust of a one-year break showed for Nebraska after the timeout as Indiana crawled its way back into the set. Sophomore outside hitter Riley Zuhn, another new starter, was put in over senior outside hitter Jazz Sweet as starter.
There was no official reason as to why Zuhn started over Sweet, but Zuhn struggled in the opposite side role that Sweet usually takes in the first set. Zuhn had two kills but also two attack errors in the first set, hitting .000.
Zuhn was not the only one though, as eight of Nebraska’s first set nine attack errors came after the Hoosier timeout. What started out as a promising offensive start faded away as the Huskers hit .139 against a young Indiana team in the first set.
Indiana trotted out four freshman starters in its first match of the year, two at outside hitter and two at middle blockers. The four had the tall task of limiting Stivrins and Sun, two 2021 preseason All-Big Ten nominees, along with Caffey and sophomore outside hitter Madi Kubik.
Indiana freshmen outside hitters Tommi Stockham and Morgan Geddes along with freshmen middle blockers Leyla Blackwell and Savannah Kjolhede kept Nebraska’s offense in check. On offense, Stockham and Geddes were the main contributors with nine and eight kills, respectively.
The first set was the only time Indiana was able to suppress Nebraska’s offense through the game, as the Huskers jumped from hitting .139 to a .429 in the second set. Still, Indiana did not lag behind as Stockham and Geddes had six second-set kills.
Indiana’s most experienced hitter, junior outside hitter Breana Edwards, was shut down by Nebraska with just two kills and a hit percentage of -.286. Indiana’s offense came from freshmen while the Huskers’ offense came from everyone on the court.
Besides Sun and Stivrins, the rest of the team was ready in the second set. After the first, Kubik played nearly flawless with five kills and one attack error over the next two sets. Caffey’s four second-set kills gave the Husker offense another weapon that Indiana could not defend.
One issue persisted for Nebraska though, and that was unforced errors. In the first two sets, Nebraska had nine serving errors that kept the Hoosiers hanging around. In the second set, two such errors happened when Nebraska was up 16-12 and then 18-14.
The first error by sophomore libero Kenzie Knuckles was right after a Hoosier serving error, while the second came from freshman defensive specialist Keonilei Akana. Akana struggled as a server, notching four serving errors.
Despite the early serving woes, Nebraska overcame the rut to dominate the third set.
Nebraska hit .480 in the final set and had only one serving error, giving Indiana barely any free points in the third.
Indiana went from a .240 hit percentage in the second set to a .071 hitting percent in the final set, due in part to a robust Husker defense. Nebraska played its first complete set of the season and cruised to a 25-17 third set win. After a year of waiting, there was no Nebraska letdown to open the season.