The state’s two top 25 teams put on a show in front of 15,797 fans, a new NCAA regular season record. The previous record, 14,022, was also set by Creighton and Nebraska in 2017.
At the onset, both teams seemed to be on a mission as they fed off the crowd’s energy. It was tight through the first 10 points of the opening set, but behind seven first-set kills from sophomore outside hitter Whitney Lauenstein, Nebraska pulled away and eventually took the set 25-18.
Going into the second set, the Bluejays knew they had to alter their strategy. They made sure to get their star players more involved, leading to two kills from sophomore outside hitter Norah Sis in the first three points. Senior outside hitter Keeley Davis also provided a few kills of her own, giving Creighton a four-point lead early on.
The Bluejays held a solid lead for a majority of the second set, but the Huskers managed to eventually tie it up at 21. The last few points continued to be highly contested, but a service error by Creighton gave Nebraska a 24-23 lead and a kill by senior outside hitter Madi Kubik finished it off, 25-23.
The third set was very similar. The Bluejays came out firing once again, holding a lead almost the entire set, but the Huskers seemingly never went away. As soon as they made it close again, it seemed like the same story from the second set replayed once more. A late challenge, this time by Creighton, was unsuccessful and the two teams eventually found themselves tied up once again at 23 points each. A kill from Creighton’s senior middle blocker Kiana Schmitt, and an instant response from Nebraska’s Kubik tied the game up again at 24, taking the game to extras.
The teams continued to match each other, leading to another tie at 25 points each. This time though, Creighton struck first with a Davis kill making the score 26-25. And finally, an error by freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick forced the Huskers to drop their first set of the season.
The atmosphere going into set four was electric. The CHI Health Center roared after a huge set win by the Bluejays. Lauenstein already had 19 kills (.412), senior defensive specialist/setter Nicklin Hames added 31 assists and 10 digs through three sets. For Creighton, Davis has 14 kills and hit .345 while Sis has nine kills of her own. The Bluejays were hitting .200 through two sets, but improved to .300 in set three.
The Huskers looked deflated at the start of set four. Some players hung their heads as the Bluejays seemed to have stolen all the momentum. Creighton started off on a 9-5 run after a few monster kills from some familiar faces, Davis, Schmitt and Sis. Allick and sophomore outside hitter Lindsay Krause tried to get something going for the Huskers, but the Bluejays had an answer for every Husker attack. As Creighton took a 12-7 lead, Cook was forced to call a timeout.
Lauenstein subbed back in, hoping to inject new life into a drained Husker team, but their eighth service error of the night and some phenomenal defense by the Bluejays kept the Huskers grounded. With the fourth set score now 19-12, it seemed like an almost insurmountable lead for the Huskers to come back from. Creighton continued its dominance hitting .233 compared to Nebraska’s .047, and took the set 25-17.
That left a best-of-15 to win it all.
Nebraska set Lauenstein successfully on the first rally, but Creighton responded with a quick 3-0 run. Every point was down to the wire. The first four sets provided everything from impressive defense, hustle, pancakes, kills and blocks. But one team separated itself in the final set.
Krause lit a fire for the Huskers in the fifth set. Back-to-back-to-back kills and a huge combined block with Allick gave Nebraska an 8-6 lead as the teams switched sides.
Out of the timeout, another kill from Schmitt and Creighton’s third ace of the game brought the Bluejays within one point, 9-8. The chaos continued with extreme rallies for every point, including some impressive defensive plays from the Bluejays. Kubik’s 14th kill of the night pushed the lead to 12-9 and forced Creighton to call a timeout.
Capping off a career night, Lauenstein provided the Huskers with two straight kills to extend their lead to 14-9. “Go Big Red” chant booms through the Omaha arena as the two sides readied for match point.
Freshman Hayden Kubik, who didn’t play last match, provided the game-winning kill, capping off an impressive performance (six kills, .250 HIT%).
Lauenstein set a new career-high with 25 kills, hitting at a .385 clip. Krause, who boosted the Huskers in the fifth set, ended with 16 kills. Hames spear-headed the Husker defense all night while adding 38 assists and 17 digs.
For the Bluejays, Davis led the way with 19 kills and 15 digs. Sis helped with 15 kills of her own. Sophomore setter Kendra Wait also had an impressive performance as she produced 45 assists and 18 digs.
The Huskers were pushed to their limits by their in-state foe, but proved able to overcome a rally effort from the Blue Jays.
Nebraska’s next match is scheduled for Saturday against Long Beach State, who is led by former Nebraska assistant coach Tyler Hildebrand and features former Husker middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach. First serve is set for 3 p.m at the Devaney Center.