In the largest Devaney Center crowd ever, the No. 1 Huskers once again fell to No. 2 Stanford in a national championship rematch, but this time there were no close calls. Stanford came in and dominated the match to win the battle between the top two ranked teams.
Nebraska lost to Stanford in four sets, dropping its first match of the season. The Huskers lost the first, second and fourth sets with scores of 25-21, 25-17 and 25-16 and won the second set 25-22. Stanford finished its Big Ten gauntlet at 2-1 and showed its experience on Wednesday.
Stanford raced to a 8-2 lead in the opening set behind a great offensive attack and errors committed by the Huskers. Stanford’s lead grew to a commanding 18-10 lead and Nebraska’s struggles came early.
The Huskers let two Stanford serves hit the floor without any form of attack by the defense. Those judgement lapses for the Huskers were instrumental in the eight point deficit and the offense struggling was a recipe for disaster.
Then, Nebraska began its comeback attempt. Freshman Madi Kubik was instrumental in preventing the first set from being a lost cause with her team-high five kills. The Huskers went on a 9-2 run to cut Stanford’s lead to 20-18. Freshman Madi Kubik had a key role in the run and was a big part of the Husker offense.
“Loved how Madi competed. She was aggressive,” head coach John Cook said. “She ended up making a lot of errors but thought she played her best match and...she was taking really big swings.”
Kubik had the most attack attempts with 46 and five kills in the first set. Kubik’s offensive arrival saw 10 attack errors throughout the match but her play kept Nebraska in the match. Despite Nebraska’s best efforts, the comeback fell short and Nebraska lost the set 25-21. The comeback momentum carried over into the second set where the Huskers won.
The second set was an intense back-and-forth where neither team led by more than three points. Nebraska’s defense rebounded and had Stanford’s senior outside hitters Kathryn Plummer and Audriana Fitzmorris swinging. The two had eight kills combined and both hit below .300.
Nebraska’s offense ran much better with a .278 hitting percentage and junior outside hitter Jazz Sweet had three kills during the set. Sweet’s role added another dimension to the offense and let junior outside hitter Lexi Sun hit .600 with three kills.
Nebraska finished off the second set with a 3-0 run to win 25-22 and now tied at one game apiece, the third set was instrumental to either team’s winning chances.
The crucial third set started off close. The teams were tied at eight when Stanford went on a 6-0 run, but unlike the first set, the Huskers could not crawl their way out of the hole. Although Nebraska limited to Plummer to three kills and a .083 hitting percentage, Stanford freshman outside hitter Kendall Kipp and senior middle blocker Madeleine Gates stole the show.
Kipp had four kills on a .429 clip and Gates’ three kills beat out Nebraska’s zero kills from its middle blockers. The two were a part of the block party launched on the Huskers in the third set. Stanford had five blocks and the Husker offense regressed to the negatives.
“If we serve easy and they set Stivrins, then it was a kill,” Stanford head coach Kevin Hambly said. “We were able to kind of take her out a little bit because we were able to take her off the net.”
Nebraska’s middle blockers disappeared in the third set and overall had a rough night. Junior Lauren Stivrins had nine kills and hit at a .190 rate while sophomore Callie Schwarzenbach had only one kill. They also struggled on defense, which is usually a strength for the duo, as Stanford’s Gates and sophomore Holly Campbell had 16 kills and both hit above a .340.
Nebraska lost 25-17 and fell into the same situation in the fourth set. The Huskers were with Stanford early on and then Stanford went on a 8-0 run to lead 19-9. This time the Huskers were beaten down by Plummer who had six kills and no errors. Still, Nebraska fought to the bitter end.
Hames had two consecutive kills that extended the game to 24-16 but an attack error by Sun ended any comeback chance. The last play was a fitting way to end the match, as the Huskers committed 26 attack errors. The match was a measuring stick and Nebraska showed glimpses of what it can become.
“I think it shows where we need to get better,” Hames said. “We want to be one of the top teams... and it’s a good motivation just knowing what we need to get better.”
Nebraska plays its final non-conference game against Wichita State on Sept. 21 at 3:00 p.m.