Nebraska Volleyball: Huskers Fall to Penn State in Four Tight Sets

David McGee

The Huskers met the Penn State Nittany Lions for the first, and only, time this season in the Bob Devaney Sports Center, and fell in four hotly contested sets to the number two ranked team in the country.

Nights like this are reason enough for the new Devaney. Wow. Half an hour before the match the energy was off the charts. Penn State had to be in awe, as did the recruits that were visiting.

Penn State proved victorious, however, winning 3-1(22-25, 25-23, 26-24, 26-24).

The Huskers opened up a lead in the first set with kills and Penn State errors including serving in the net and hitting long. A triple block on a Deja McClendon back row attack put Nebraska up 6-2.

Penn State fought back, but a net serve by Dominique Gonzalez gave the Huskers a 7-5 lead, which they extended to 10-6.

Penn State closed it up to 11-10, but then the teams traded sideouts leading up to the media timeout, which came with the Huskers up 15-13. The Huskers opened the lead to 18-14 out of the timeout, and pushed it to 20-15 after a scrappy rally by the Huskers, forcing Penn State’s first timeout.

Out of the timeout, Penn State closed the gap to 20-18 and Coach Cook used his first timeout. Penn State again got to within a point but no closer, and Penn State called their second and final timeout down 23-21. After a flurry of substitutions by Russ Rose, the Huskers pulled the set out 25-22.

The Huskers’ cause was helped in the first set by five service errors by Penn State, and Kelsey Robinson hitting .625 with no errors, and Amber Rolfzen hitting .500 with no errors. Nebraska barely outhit Penn State .241-.235.

Penn State opened up a quick 3-0 lead before an Amber Rolfzen kill got the sideout and serve back for the Big Red. The Huskers quickly turned to tables and took the lead 4-3 before a Penn State sideout.

Penn State forced the Huskers’ first timeout up 7-4. The Huskers closed it up to 10-9, but Penn State eventually pushed the lead to four points at 15-11. The Huskers closed it up to a point again at 18-17. The Huskers tied it up at 19 on a Cecilia Hall-Amber Rolfzen block, forcing a Penn State timeout, and sending the decibel level off the charts again.

Penn State took the first two points out of the timeout, and Nebraska used their second and final timeout of the set. Penn State pushed the lead to three before the Huskers got a sideout, but a Kadie Rolfzen service error gave the serve back to Penn State with the score 23-20 Lions.

Penn State had set point at 24-21, but two Husker points led to the Lions using their final timeout of the set still up 24-23. A kill by Ariel Scott gave Penn State the win 25-23.

Both teams hit a lot better in the second set, with Penn State holding a .370-.333 advantage. Through two, the Huskers were outblocking 7.5-4.0, but the teams were even in digs and aces. Service errors were a problem for both teams, with the Huskers having seven and Penn State with eight.

The Huskers opened up an early 4-2 lead in the third and it stayed close until the Huskers opened up a 10-6 lead, and Penn State took their first timeout. Nebraska only extended the lead from there, opening it up to 14-8 before Penn State used their final timeout of the set.

After the timeout, Penn State closed the gap to 16-13 and Nebraska called their first timeout of the set. The scored stayed like that, a two to four point gap, until Penn State closed it up 23-22, and Coach Cook called the Huskers’ final timeout of the third set.

Penn State got set point at 24-23, but a Melanie Keil kill tied it at 24, giving life to the Huskers. Penn State capped the come back with a 26-24 set win to go up two sets to one.

After three sets, the teams were dead even for hitting, with .287 apiece. Nebraska still held the blocking advantage 9.5-7.0, but Penn State had one more ace than Nebraska.

Penn State opened up an early 4-1 lead in the fourth set, but the Huskers quickly tied it at five.

Another Penn State run resulted in the Huskers taking a timeout down 10-7. An Amber Rolfzen kill tied it again at 12. Another kill by Amber gave the Huskers their first lead of the seat at 15-14.

With the Huskers up 20-19 off a fantastic line kill by Kadie Rolfzen, the Lions used their first timeout of the set.

A Melanie Keil-Amber Rolfzen block put the Huskers up 22-20, and Amber followed it up with a block of her own to build a 23-20 lead and force Penn State’s second and final timeout.

Two quick Penn State points, including a shot long by Melanie Keil, led to the Huskers’ second timeout leading 23-22.

Penn State earned a matchpoint at 24-23, but an Amber Rolfzen kill tied the match at 24, with Amber going back to serve. She served it in the net and gave the Nittany Lions their second matchpoint. A Nia Grant kill gave the set to Penn State 26-24.

The fourth was marred by a couple of line calls that were, at best, controversial. However, the calls went both ways, so it didn’t have much bearing on the set.

The stats in this match were very close. The Huskers held a small edge in blocking (12.5-11.0) and digs (55-53). Penn State had a slight edge in hitting percentage (.255-.246), aces (3-2), and kills (59-56).

The Rolfzen twins both recorded a double-double for the night. Amber had 16 kills with 15 digs and hit .389 while Kadie had 12 kills and 18 digs and hit .258. Both ladies showed versatility in their attacks that hadn’t been seen much before.

There was a lot to feel good about. The #2 Lions only outscored the Huskers by a total of three points, 99-96. The Huskers certainly gave the Lions all they could handle, being up 23-20 in the third and fourth sets. Penn State focused on slowing down Kelsey Robinson, and they did to a degree, but the freshman trio of Kadie Rolfzen, Amber Rolfzen, and Justine Wong-Orantes (who seemed to have more than the nine digs she’s credited with, John Baylor called her gravity’s worst enemy on the post-game show last night) stepped into the spotlight and played very well.

While the Huskers are young, Penn State is a very experienced team. Like the Purdue losses this year, a team like the Huskers can, and should, learn from this and use that experience going forward. It’s unlikely they’ll see a team as good as Penn State or Purdue until deep into the tourney.

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