The No. 9 Nebraska volleyball team lost to No. 6 Illinois 3-1 on Saturday in Lincoln.
The loss drops Nebraska to 16-6 overall and 7-5 in the Big Ten. The Huskers have lost five of its last seven matches, all against top-10 teams.
Illinois improved to 20-3 (9-3 Big Ten) with the victory and is now on a five-match win streak.
“We’ve just got to learn to be better at the end of games,” head coach John Cook said after the match. “We competed really hard, I have to give our team credit on that, but now we have to compete smarter, especially after 20 points.”
In two of the sets the Huskers lost, they scored over 20 points, and in one of those two sets, they scored 25.
Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke led Nebraska with 17 kills and earned a double-double with 14 digs, but she only hit .145 in the match. Sophomore outside hitter Lexi Sun added another 15 kills, but 10 attacking errors brought her hitting percentage down .085.
As a team, the Huskers hit just .099 in the match, including a .000 mark in the second set.
Nebraska’s freshman and sophomore middle blockers Callie Schwarzenbach and Lauren Stivrins were both bright spots for the Huskers. Schwarzenbach led the team with seven blocks and added four kills, while Stivrins collected nine kills, led the team in hitting percentage at .292 and had five blocks.
Nebraska recorded 99 digs as a team to set a new school record for digs in a match in the rally scoring era. Senior libero Kenzie Maloney, freshman setter Nicklin Hames and Sun all finished with at least 20 digs.
Illinois junior outside hitter Jacqueline Quade led all players with 23 kills, completing a double-double with 13 digs.
In the first set, the service line was Nebraska’s friend. The Huskers scored two ace serves in the beginning stages to take an early 5-3 advantage, but Illinois fought back to tie the set back up at 7-7.
Nebraska pulled back out ahead on a 5-1 scoring run to take a 12-8 advantage, but watched the lead slip away again as the Illini tied it up at 14.
From there, the teams traded points back and forth and remained deadlocked at 19. Twice during this span when the Illini pulled into a tie with Nebraska, they committed a service error and gave the lead and serve right back to Nebraska. The Huskers gained some separation by scoring back-to-back points on a Schwarzenbach kill and error by Quade and took a 21-19 lead.
After an Illinois timeout, the script then flipped and Illinois earned two straight points on an error by Schwarzenbach and a kill by Quade, tying the set at 21.
In the later stages of the set, Nebraska middle blockers Schwarzenbach and Stivrins made the difference. Trailing 22-21, Schwarzenbach combined with Foecke for a block that tied the setat 22. Two points later, a solo stuff by Stivrins gave the Huskers their first set point of the match at 24-22.
When Nebraska couldn’t convert that set point, Stivrins nailed a kill to put the Huskers up 25-24, and when they didn’t capitalize again, she got another kill to make it 26-25 in favor of Nebraska. Then, tied at 26, Stivrins came through again to force another set point, but Nebraska still couldn’t put the match away, and the teams stayed knotted at 27.
When Stivrins got subbed out after that point, Schwarzenbach stepped into her role and she scored a kill to put Nebraska up 28-27. On the next point Schwarzenbach and Sweet blocked an attack by Quade to finally end the first set in Nebraska’s favor 29-27.
The second set did not go well offensively for the Huskers. Nebraska had a zero percent hitting performance as nine kills were canceled out by nine attack errors.
The Huskers also had two service errors to go with their pair of service aces.
Early on, however, Nebraska took a 5-2 lead with the help of three kills by Foecke. The lead would not last as the Illini tied the set back up at eight.
Illinois kept its momentum rolling with a 5-2 scoring run to take a 13-10 lead, and wouldn’t look back. The Illini saw their advantage grow to as much as seven points at a score of 21-14.
Nebraska refused to go down easily, though. The Huskers, aided by back-to-back ace serves by Hames, scored four points in a row to cut Illinois’ lead to three at 21-18.
That would be as close as Nebraska would get to the lead, as it only scored one more point in the set. A kill by the Illini’s Megan Cooney was the final nail in the coffin and gave Illinois a 25-19 win in the set.
Set three was a back-and-forth battle similar to set one. The Illini jumped out to a 4-1 lead early in the set, but Nebraska tied it up at four thanks in part to back-to-back ace serves by Sun. The squads saw ties at five and six, but Illinois then scored three straight points to a 9-6 lead.
Trailing 10-7, Nebraska embarked on a 7-1 scoring run to take the momentum and a 14-11 lead. During the run, Sun had four kills for Nebraska. The Huskers were able to maintain their three-point lead and remained on top 17-14 until the Illini scored three straight to erase the Huskers’ advantage.
The Illini scored three of the next four points to go up 21-18 and looked to take a 2-1 lead. Nebraska managed to tie the match up at 23 and two Sun kills kept the Huskers alive as the set remained deadlocked at 25. Quade then put the set away for Illinois with back-to-back kills, giving set three to the Illini by a score of 27-25.
Nebraska looked poised to send the match to a fifth set with the way it came out of the gates in set four. The Huskers raced out to a 4-0 lead and watched it grow to 8-3 before Illinois took a timeout.
Out of the timeout, the two teams appeared to swap roles as Illinois outscored Nebraska 8-3 to tie the set at 11, and Nebraska took a timeout. On the next point, Quade put the Illini up 12-11 on her final kill of the night.
Unfortunately for the Huskers, it was also the last lead change of the night.
The Illini took a 16-12 lead, and despite the Huskers’ best efforts — even tying the set up at 19 at one point — they could not pull back into the lead. When Nebraska forced the tie, Illinois scored three consecutive points to take the lead right back at 22-19. Nebraska continued to fight and tied the match back up at 22. The Illini came right back and scored three points in a row to win the set 25-22 and the match 3-1.
The Huskers’ next test is not easier. Nebraska stays at home and faces the No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions on Friday, Nov. 2. First serve from the Bob Devaney Sports Center is set for 7 p.m. and it will air on BTN.