The #1 Nebraska Cornhuskers Women’s Volleyball Team took a midweek trip to Champaign to take on the #24 Illinois Fighting Illini. The Huskers took the match 3-0 (25-18, 25-22, 25-21) to sweep the three-match road trip.
The Huskers started off fast in the first set, taking an 8-3 lead and forcing Illinois Coach Kevin Hambly to use his first timeout early in the set. The Huskers kept rolling out of the timeout. Nebraska made the lead 11-3 before Justine Wong-Orantes’s serve just missed, giving a breather to Illinois.
Illinois managed to close the gap to five at 13-8, but Nebraska put together another run and extended the lead to 16-8, forcing the second Illini timeout of the set.
Nebraska pushed the lead to 18-8, but then Illinois seized control of the set, using a 3-0 to close to within seven. That led to the Huskers first timeout of the set.
Illinois kept the pressure on the Huskers, closing to within four at 21-17 Nebraska. However, Nebraska’s block and attack found its feet again, and the Huskers ultimately closed the set out 25-18.
The Big Red started strong in the second set as well, using kills by Briana Holman and Kadie Rolfzen and an Andie Malloy/Briana Holman block to take a 3-0 advantage. However, Illinois did not go quietly, and tied the score at five with an ace.
Illinois took their first lead of the match a 7-6 score, but Nebraska re-took the lead shortly thereafter at 9-8.
Illinois put together a 3-0 run to take an 11-8 advantage before a Foecke swing found the court in front of the Illini defense.
Illinois took serve back right away and extended the lead to 14-10 before Coach Cook used his first timeout of the set.
Nebraska closed the lead to 15-14 Illini when Coach Kevin Hambly took Illinois’s first timeout of the set. Nebraska, however, kept the momentum and took the lead back at 17-16.
Thanks to an offensive blitz by Foecke, the Huskers opened at 20-17 lead, forcing the final Illini timeout of the set.
Illinois used a tool off of the Husker block and a kill on an overpass to close to 21-20 Huskers, but then a serve into the net stopped the Illinois run before it could really start. The teams traded points, with the Huskers holding the advantage, but the Huskers closed out the set with a two-point run, 25-22.
Illinois got off to the strong start in set three, opening up a 3-0 lead, but Nebraska came back and tied the score at five. After a brief back-and-forth, the Huskers took their first lead on a Kadie Rolfzen kill at 8-7. The Huskers opened the lead to 10-7 at which point Illinois Coach Kevin Hambly challenged whether or not the Illinois attack touched the Husker block. The replay showed no touch.
Illinois closed to within one at 11-10, but a Kadie Rolfzen tip found the floor right behind the Illini block, a call that was again challenged by Illinois, but again the call was confirmed in the Huskers’ favor. The Huskers again opened the advantage to three, and maintained the lead to the media timeout, 15-12.
The Huskers took a 16-12 lead after the media timeout, and the Huskers held on to that gap until a two-point Illini run made the score 20-18 Nebraska. However, Nebraska took the following two points, re-taking the four-point lead and forcing Illinois to use a timeout.
The teams traded serves, but Illinois then started to take the momentum late in the set and closed the Husker lead to 23-21, resulting in a Nebraska timeout. Foecke notched a solo block out of the timeout for the match point, and a Holman kill ended the match for the Huskers.
The Huskers led the Illini hitting .302 to .202. Briana Holman hit .429 for the Huskers with eight kills on 14 swings. Kadie Rolfzen had 12 kills to lead all Huskers.
Defensively, the Huskers were far ahead of the Illini with 47 digs to 33, and nine blocks to seven for Illinois. Wong-Orantes had eleven digs while Annika Albrecht joined her in double figures with ten. Amber Rolfzen was crucial on the block, with six block assists for the match.
Overall, the Huskers looked every bit defending National Champions and #1 team in the country. It looked early like this trip to Champaign was going to be quick and uneventful for the Big Red, but Illinois showed they deserve the #24 ranking, making Nebraska earn the victory.
While Coach Cook seems to continue to look to Andie Malloy at outside hitter, she seemed once again inconsistent tonight. When she’s on, she’s really on, but when she isn’t confident, either in the set or what she’s been doing, she makes decisions that leave me shaking my head. A couple of tips tonight set up Illinois to earn a quick point. However, we’re not there in practice, and far be it my place to criticize the defending National Championship coach who hasn’t lost a match in nearly a year.
This run of road matches was a good test for this team. All three matches were on the road against top 25 teams and Nebraska was on the ropes nearly the entire night against Michigan State. Not only did the team weather the storm, they earned two sweeps on the trip.
The team returns to Devaney Saturday night against Ohio State, a match that will be televised on NET and BTNGo.com, at 7:30 pm Central.