There was no hangover from Nebraska’s exhilarating win over Penn State last Saturday as the No. 7 Huskers swept lowly Big Ten foe Northwestern with ease.
“I was pretty nervous about this match,” Cook said. “We’ve just been really flat all week. I was really worried tonight.”
From the opening serve, Nebraska answered any doubts Cook had. The first set was a preview for the thorough domination to come for Northwestern.
Nebraska won the first set 25-18 through its usual formula: Stifling defense and a balanced offensive attack. Six different Huskers had kills in the first set, with freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik leading the way in attack attempts.
Kubik had 12 attempts, doubling every other Husker, and had four kills. Those four were tied with junior outside hitter Jazz Sweet for most individual kills in the opening set. Unlike the first meeting between the two, Nebraska did not need any comeback magic.
The Huskers always seemed to stay just ahead of the Wildcats in the first set until a 5-1 run gave Nebraska a 17-11 lead. Nebraska never came close to losing that lead due to its defense denying any Northwestern chance.
Nebraska’s offense broke its hibernation in the second set as it matched the defense’s intensity. The Huskers put up 15 kills in the 25-7 win and only gave up four kills throughout the second set.
Nebraska’s defense was unstoppable throughout the match but was impenetrable in the second set. The Huskers forced four consecutive attack errors to start the second set and the errors doubled Northwestern’s kills.
“We take a lot of pride in blocking D and hold teams to those percentages,” Kubik said. “We work on it every single day.”
The defense was led by a coalition of Huskers, as five players had a hand in at least one block. Nebraska had eight block assists but when Nebraska was not blocking, Northwestern’s stagnant offense gave the Husker offense great looks.
The Huskers jumped from a .229 hitting percentage to a .538 hitting percentage in the second set. The dominating offense had the same amount of kills in the first set but only one attack error this time.
“I like seeing that number because our goal is always to be above .300,” sophomore setter Nicklin Hames said. “It’s nice when you feel you can flow with your offense… and that really happened in the second set.”
Sophomore middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach had the lone attack error, giving Nebraska a 4-1 lead. The Huskers were up 16-4 before Northwestern got its fifth point and Nebraska cruised to a 25-7 win.
The good times for Nebraska kept rolling into the third set and won 25-18. Northwestern did get its only lead of the match with a 5-3 advantage but Nebraska then went on a 9-0 run. Junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins had four kills during this stretch to extend the lead.
Like the other two sets, Nebraska kept on extending the lead until it led 24-13. The 11-point lead was the Husker defense’s doing as the Wildcats hit below zero again. A negative hitting percentage spelled doom for the Wildcats, but they began to claw back.
The third set was almost over, but the Wildcats kept churning along, going on a quick 3-0 run to cut the lead to 24-16. The run prompted Cook to call a timeout and try to rally the now unfocused players.
“As my captains informed me, we did get a bit squirrely,” Cook said. “They just start to mess around and get a little too silly. I seen it happen a lot with this group but it’s a fun group.”
Nebraska was still up eight points but Cook emphasized that every point should be treated like a point in a national championship. For the players, that meant no plays taken off no matter who they are playing or how much the Huskers are up by.
After the timeout, Nebraska went back out and gave up a serving ace. A Northwestern block followed that up and Northwestern was in its closest set of the match. Up 24-18, Nebraska needed just one point.
Sweet ended the comeback with her 10th kill of the match. Sweet’s kill came off a play that almost ended poorly but was saved by freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles. Knuckles’ pass to Hames set up the match ender.
Nebraska travels east on I-80 to face Iowa this Saturday at 7 p.m.