Nebraska Volleyball vs Stanford Photo No. 11

Nebraska’s volleyball team celebrates a point during the game against Stanford at the Bob Devaney sports center on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Nebraska concluded a road trip in Ann Arbor on Saturday,  facing No. 24 Michigan, the Huskers’ first ranked foe in two weeks. 

Notching their eleventh sweep of the season, the Huskers (25-14, 26-24, 25-19) came out firing on all cylinders. 

The first set of the match established a strong tone for Nebraska. The Huskers earned their first point of the set through the form of a double block by senior middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord and sophomore outside hitter Whitney Lauenstein. Hord scored Nebraska’s first two points with a kill following the block. 

Nebraska’s lineup depth, which is among the best in the nation, was displayed early as freshman middle blocker Maggie Mendelson received increased playing time as fellow freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick was sidelined with an unnamed illness. Offensively, the Huskers were overwhelming, not trailing once in the first set and forcing the Wolverines to exhaust both of their timeouts early, the second coming as they trailed the Huskers 9-17. The Huskers replicated that same dominance defensively, holding the Wolverines to a clip of .179 and only 10 kills. The first set began as it ended, with a point scored by Hord. 

Service errors and setting issues have been pains in the side of the Huskers, but the first set showed some positive signs of change. Nebraska recorded three service aces and only two service errors.Orr, along with junior setter Anni Evans, appeared more comfortable than usual which allowed for every front row player in the rotation to record a kill. Senior outside hitter Madi Kubik led the way with five kills in the set, a clip of .625 and zero attacking errors. 

Michigan’s first-set jitters appeared to be temporary. As did Nebraska’s positive margin at the service line, as it added four service errors and only one ace. The ace came from Mendelson, the first of her collegiate career. The Wolverines, trailing 5-6, managed a 4-0 scoring run to force a Husker timeout. Out of the timeout, Michigan extended its lead to 17-13, but a 4-0 Nebraska scoring run brought the Huskers back into the second set, causing a tie and a Wolverine timeout. Kubik, who continued to lead the Huskers in kills and hitting percentage, added seven kills and remained over .600 with a clip of .611.

The second set featured 14 ties and seven lead changes, a competitiveness consistent with what the Wolverines have offered in conference play thus far. Following a 24-24 tie, the set was ended with back-to-back kills by Kubik and Lauenstein.

The third time was indeed the charm as Nebraska closed out the sweep, its third in its past four matches. The competitiveness of the second set carried into the third set, but as has been the case numerous times throughout the season, the Huskers were able to outlast their opponent. In the third set, Nebraska added three service errors and two aces for a total of nine service errors and six aces. The Huskers have not tallied under five service errors in a single match played this season, with Saturday’s match marking their second-lowest total of the season. While Nebraska won the third set with some relative distance, the set showed that improvements in several areas of the game are still needed. 

Kubik and Lauenstein led the night with 15 and 10 kills, respectively, with clips of .519 and .240. Lauenstein recorded six blocks – one shy of Hord, who recorded seven. In total, the Huskers recorded 11 blocks and were defensively sound at the net. The defensive showcase included stifling the Wolverines for a clip of .184 and 19 attacking errors, many of which were results of Nebraska blocks. 

While the service line continued to be an issue for the Huskers, signs of growth and newfound confidence were displayed in their setters, Orr and Evans, who were both filling in for senior defensive specialist/setter Nicklin Hames, sidelined with a back injury. Nebraska’s offense was strong and effective, with each of its pin hitters recording six kills or better. However, the Huskers will still need to figure out ways to “set middle” and get their middle blockers — Hord, Mendelson and Allick —  involved in their offensive scheme. With no timeline for Hames’ awaited return, expanding the comfort and confidence displayed by the fill-in setters, which fostered a clip of .330 for the team and 45 total kills, will be crucial as Nebraska’s slate of conference opponents gets tougher.

With the win and Purdue’s loss on Saturday, Nebraska moved to the top of the Big Ten standings as the last team remaining unbeaten in conference play. The Huskers will get a little under a week of preparation before taking on another formidable opponent when they host No. 13 Penn State on Oct. 14.