Nebraska Volleyball vs. Maryland Photo No. 10

Nebraska’s Lauren Stivrins (26) jumps to attack the ball during the match against Maryland at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins had what appeared to be a routine kill to take a 23-20 lead in the second set of Nebraska volleyball’s sweep of Maryland. Though Stivrins' kill was initially blocked, the Maryland defenders' attempt sailed just out of bounds, afterward.

Then, Maryland challenged the call, but the challenge fell flat as replay cameras showed Stivrins just dodging the ball before it went out of bounds.

Nebraska, up 23-20, closed out the second set with a Stivrins kill, and forced a bad Maryland attack attempt from there. Instead of Maryland taking set two like it did last night, the Huskers took a critical 2-0 advantage. From there, Nebraska  was able to close out a sweep of the Terrapins to extend its record to 4-0. 

After a career performance in Friday’s match against Maryland, Stivrins took a step back with eight kills, four attack errors and hit just .200 on 20 swings. It was a far cry from her 18 kills on 20 swings the night before, but the rest of the offense picked up the slack.

The Huskers had their best offensive performance of the season, hitting .337 and getting 49 kills over just three sets with 42 of those kills being off assists. 

“It shows how much depth we have on our team and that we’re dangerous from all sides of the court,” sophomore outside hitter Riley Zuhn said postgame. “It’s a huge asset for us.”

Senior middle blocker Kayla Caffey made another start for the Huskers on Saturday night. In her third start, she excelled defensively. Even though her offensive capabilities failed to show early on, she caused problems for Maryland despite her 6-foot frame.

As a team, Nebraska had six blocks with Caffey assisting on five of them. In the first set, Caffey was a part of all three, and continued her performance from there. In consecutive blocks, Caffey helped sophomore outside hitter Riley Zuhn and then senior outside hitter Lexi Sun to extend Nebraska’s lead to 14-8 in the first set.

Sophomore outside hitter Riley Zuhn made the starting line-up as well. While Caffey was a defensive force, Zuhn was the first set offensive spark. In the first set, Nebraska hit .458 from the floor with 14 kills, six of which were by Zuhn.

“She can really make hitters think over there because of her size and then you have to deal with her size when you’re blocking her too,” Nebraska volleyball head coach John Cook said postgame. 

Zuhn was a larger part of the resurgent outside hitter offensive attack against Maryland on Saturday night. Sophomore outside hitter Madi Kubik led all players with 12 kills and had her most efficient night of the season, hitting .308 on 26 swings.

Kubik and senior outside hitter Lexi Sun both bounced back from disappointing Friday performances. Sun hit just .261 but only had two errors, a major improvement from the 10 errors the night before. The trio of Kubik, Zuhn and Sun had 31 of Nebraska’s 49 kills while hitting .343 as a trio.

Kubik credited the offensive versatility to junior setter Nicklin Hames, who set up many of the opportunities for them.

“Our goal is to be balanced,” Cook said postgame. “...Give Nicklin a ton of credit. She’s doing good passes, bad passes and she’s really mixing it up. It makes us really hard to defend and think we’re just scratching the surface of what we can do with that.”

Hames was dealing on Saturday night, with 29 assists on 49 kills. However, all the offensive good throughout the match was nearly overshadowed by a tight second set. Maryland came into Saturday’s match 0-5 and dropped the first set 25-14. However, the Terrapins held serve with the Huskers in the second set.

That was despite two Terrapin serving errors as Nebraska’s offense was stifled multiple times by the Maryland front row. Maryland senior outside hitter Erika Pritchard brought Maryland’s offense to a respectable level, as the Terrapins were out-hitting Nebraska through the majority of the second set.

Neither team led by more than two points until a 20-19 Nebraska lead. Led by Kubik and Stivrins, the returning faces took over as the two had four kills and Kubik’s serve being a deciding factor in Nebraska’s 25th point.

Nebraska took the aggression to a new level in the third set, racing to a 15-6 lead with the help of a 9-0 run. Hames got in on the fun, notching two kills during the race and one kill involving such deception. 

Caffey cashed in her blocks with five kills in the third set and took the final point of the set with her eighth kill. Caffey finished with eight kills and hit .538 despite the slow offensive start. 

“[Caffey]’s probably one of our most improved players,” Cook said. “She’s had to make a lot of changes from what she’s done in the past and how we train here. This weekend, I saw a lot of things working on come through and that’s why she’s had some really good stats.”

Maryland’s comeback came too late as Nebraska won 25-18 to cap off its first home series. Usually, the Devaney Center would be rocking following such a result with a packed 8,000 fans. In an empty arena, Cook said the one major adjustment his team made over the weekend was changing their mindset and bringing more energy on the floor.

“Devaney is such an awesome place to play in but going from almost 9,000 fans to … I don’t know how many people there is so different to what Devaney normally feels like,” Kubik said. “We just had to get used to bringing our own energy and bringing that from within.”

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