Coming off a five-set win against No. 7 Minnesota, No. 6 Nebraska traveled to Madison, Wisconsin, for a shot at taking the Big Ten crown against the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers. The winner of Sunday’s match would lead the conference and be a potential top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Wisconsin swept Nebraska back in October despite the Huskers hitting over .300, marking the first time that ever happened in head coach John Cook’s tenure.
The sweep proved to be no fluke for the Badgers as they pulled out the brooms despite the offensive showcase by both sides again in a 3-0 sweep of Nebraska on Saturday.
Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun led the way for the Huskers offense, notching 16 kills while hitting .316. Sun’s hitting could not translate to the rest of the team for the first set, where Nebraska lost 25-19.
Sun was the only Husker to have more than three kills during the first set while four Badgers had at least three kills. Despite the stark contrast, the Huskers kept it close with Wisconsin during the first half of the set.
Nebraska kept it close until Sun was shut down for the rest of the set. Sun’s last kill came when Nebraska cut the Badger lead to 14-12. After that, Nebraska got within one point but never got another consistent hitting presence.
Freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik had five kills in the match, a steep dropoff from her 20 kills against Minnesota as she got two kills that were too late in the first set. Nebraska hit .250 in the set but Wisconsin once again hit above .300.
The Badgers’ offense wrecked Nebraska’s middle in the first match and they did it again. Junior middle blocker Dana Rettke and sophomore middle blocker Danielle Hart combined for seven kills in the first set. The duo controlled the middle by also limiting junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins to two kills.
Rettke is the star of the Badgers’ offense, being near the top of the Big Ten in both kills per set and hitting percentage, but junior outside hitter Molly Haggerty took the spotlight today. Haggerty led Wisconsin with 16 kills and kept up with Sun throughout the match.
Unlike Sun, Haggerty was another wrinkle of the Badger offense while Sun carried the load for Nebraska. Five Badgers had more than five kills while Nebraska just had Sun and Stivrins.
Despite that, Nebraska hit over .400 in the second set. The offensive turnaround was powered by Nebraska continuing to play clean, committing only three attack errors and 18 kills.
Kubik and junior outside hitter Jazz Sweet each got three kills during the set while Sun had seven kills. Nebraska’s outside hitters were dealing on the court but the Badgers dealt a stronger hand.
No team has hit over .500 in a set against Nebraska this season except for Wisconsin, who did it twice. The Badgers hit .517 back in October during the second set and did it again this set. Wisconsin hit .500, led by Rettke and Haggerty again.
Both had five kills each while Hart had three kills and senior outside hitter Madison Duello got four kills. Nebraska and Wisconsin were locked in another shootout, reminiscent of the first match back at the Devaney.
Like in October, Wisconsin pulled away at the end of the second set. The Badgers got the only ace of the set along with a block by Rettke to give themselves an important lead cushion. Now with a two-point lead, Wisconsin never let go and went back to exchanging points to remain up two or three points for the rest of the set.
Nebraska lost 25-22 and trailed 2-0 for only the second time this season. The Huskers’ defense is top in opponent hitting percentage during Big Ten play yet the Badgers were hitting above .300 in every set.
Even when Nebraska was answering Wisconsin’s offense, other errors dug the Huskers their grave. Nebraska had five serving errors and gave up four aces through the first two sets, giving nine points away to Wisconsin. Nebraska had no aces.
In the Huskers’ last match, Minnesota proved it was possible to come back from down 2-0, so Nebraska put on its rally caps. The Huskers finally limited Wisconsin to below .300 hitting in a set for the first time this season but Nebraska’s offense began to struggle.
The Huskers hit .057 and had just 10 kills, contributing to the 25-21 third-set loss for the Huskers. Sun had four kills and Stivrins had three kills that set and those two were not enough to overcome the superior Badger offense.
Wisconsin had its worst set performance against Nebraska and still had 16 kills. Like the other sets, the Badgers controlled the middle of the court on offense and defense as they had four blocks while their outside hitters had more kills than Nebraska.
Haggerty had six kills and similar to the first match, Nebraska could not close out the third set. Nebraska was down 21-20 and lost 25-21, marking the first time Nebraska lost twice to Wisconsin in one season.
Nebraska went 1-1 against two top-10 teams over the weekend and now travels back home for the last weekend of the regular season. Nebraska squares off against Maryland on Nov. 29 before playing Ohio State the next day to cap off the season.