A historic performance from senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins carried No. 4 Nebraska (3-0) to a 3-1 win (25-19, 25-27, 25-19, 25-14) against Maryland (0-5) in the Huskers’ home opener Friday.
Stivrins finished the match with 18 kills on 20 attempts and one error. Her .850 hitting percentage is the fifth highest single-match attacking efficiency in program history in the rally scoring era. The two-time All-American credited the return of associate head coach Tyler Hildebrand in helping expand her role in the offense.
“Tyler has brought so many different aspects into the game, and we’ve changed so many things,” Stivrins said after the match.
Head coach John Cook praised Stivrins’ development and practice. He also gave credit to junior setter Nicklin Hames for delivering the ball to her top playmaker.
“It’s a combination of Nicklin being able to find her in a lot of situations. That’s the first thing,” Cook said. “Second thing is Lauren has been working really hard...I’ve never seen her work so hard since she’s been here.”
Aside from the eye-popping performance from Stivrins, the rest of Nebraska’s offense had an uncharacteristically slow night. Senior outside hitter Lexi Sun had 14 kills on the match, but also had 10 errors on 40 swings to hit .100. Sophomore outside hitter Madi Kubik rallied from a negative hitting percentage midway through the match to finish with 10 kills on .227 hitting.
Junior middle blocker Kayla Caffey started the match at the second middle blocker spot for Nebraska. After hitting .214 with six kills, Caffey was subbed out in the third set for junior middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach, who Caffey has split time with this season. Schwarzenbach finished with one kill Friday.
As a team, Nebraska hit .248, a sizable advantage over Maryland’s .165. The Huskers were being outhit by the Terrapins after two sets, however.
Tough serving was a key to bringing down Maryland’s efficiency on offense. Cook chose to feed plenty of serves to Maryland’s left sides. He said afterwards that while he was pleased with the effort behind the line, he’s still looking for more.
“I thought our serving was good tonight. I think we’ve got another notch in us still,” Cook said.
Senior outside hitter Erika Pritchard led the Terrapin offense with 13 kills Friday. The preseason all-Big Ten honoree also added seven digs. Junior middle blocker and right-side hitter Jada Gardner’s .333 hitting percentage was a team-best for Maryland.
Sun began the match with the opening kill. Maryland hitting errors and a service ace from sophomore libero Kenzie Knuckles helped pad an early Husker lead. True freshman defensive specialist Keonilei Akana added an ace of her own to put Nebraska up 7-3. Efficient offense and a strong block had Nebraska up 15-8 at the media timeout. Stivrins notched a few kills from the middle, forcing Maryland to take their first timeout down 18-11.
Nebraska’s lead remained steady until Maryland put together a small run to narrow the score to 22-16. The Huskers prevailed in the end as a kill from Stivrins on the outside gave Nebraska the 25-19 win.
The beginning of set two was closely contested. Nebraska broke the deadlock with a Sun kill on the right pin to go up 6-4. Stivrins continued her offensive dominance, notching her seventh kill of the match early in the set. Overall hitting numbers remained fairly even as Maryland rallied to tie the set at 12. Nebraska responded with three straight points going into the media timeout. The Terrapins then took a 18-17 lead off a strong serving run from Alford. A strong Maryland block forced Nebraska to take a timeout down 20-18.
The Huskers came out of the break hot with three straight points to retake the lead. Maryland took its second timeout as Nebraska had set point up 24-22. A Pritchard kill and ace brought the set to deuce. Later, Maryland took a 27-25 victory in the set after a pair of errors from Sun.
Coming out of intermission, Nebraska took a 4-2 lead in the third set after strong serving from Sun. After short scoring runs from both sides, the Huskers built an 11-8 advantage to force a Maryland timeout. Kubik dished some tough serves to expand the Nebraska lead to 19-14. Near the end of the set, a double substitution from Cook brought true freshman setter Anni Evans and senior right-side hitter Jazz Sweet on the floor for the first time this season. Evans registered an ace, and the Huskers went on to win 25-19.
Both teams held narrow leads to start the fourth set until Nebraska emerged to hold a 7-4 advantage. The Huskers maintained this three-point lead before forcing a Maryland timeout at 12-8. Nebraska’s lead continued to grow, and the Terrapins took their last timeout down 16-10. Using more lethal serves, Nebraska promptly finished off Maryland, winning the fourth set 25-14.
Nebraska will return to the Devaney Center for a rematch against Maryland on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. The match will be televised on the Big Ten Network.