The #4 Huskers’ volleyball team had a mid-week trip to Madison to take on the #11 Wisconsin Badgers on Wednesday night. The Huskers came in to the match on a seven-match win streak, including being 6-0 in B1G play. Wisconsin was riding a three-match slide. Nebraska dropped their first match of the B1G season 1-3 (16-25, 15-25, 25-17, 23-25).
Wisconsin went up 4-1 early, riding blocks by their 6’8” freshman middle blocker Dana Rettke. Nebraska closed back to within one at 4-3. It was a long time before either team separated, as Wisconsin held the two-point serve advantage until the Badgers took the three-point lead at 10-7.
The Badgers opened that lead to 11-7 before Lauren Stivrins put an overpass down to sideout for the Huskers, but Wisconsin answered and then opened the lead up to five at 13-8.
Nebraska narrowed the gap a bit, but still trailed at the media timeout 11-15. Four of the five points after the timeout went Wisconsin’s way, and Nebraska coach John Cook used the first Husker timeout trailing 12-19.
Little changed after the first timeout, and the team used their second, and final, timeout of the set trailing 15-23. Ultimately the Huskers dropped the set 16-25.
Nebraska hit .029 in the first set. Freshman outside hitter Jazz Sweet had three kills to hit .100, the only attacker with more than one kill in the first set. The team had seven kills and six errors in the first set. Seven of the Huskers points were the result of Wisconsin serving errors.
Set two started off much better for the Huskers, with the teams tied at 1-1, but then the Badgers went on a 6-0 run to force the Huskers to use their first timeout early in the second set trailing 1-7.
The momentum stayed with Wisconsin big time as the Badgers extended the run to 8-0 before Jazz Sweet put a ball deep cross court for the second point for the Huskers in the set.
Nebraska struggled to make any dent in the Wisconsin lead. Though Wisconsin’s serving wasn’t good, their blocking was otherworldly, and though Nebraska got to within six at 11-17, Wisconsin opened the lead back up to 19-11 and forced the second Husker timeout of the set.
Nebraska closed to within seven a couple of times, but ultimately dropped the set 15-25.
After two set, the Huskers were hitting -.045. The only Husker attacker in hitting positive was Briana Holman at .100.
Wisconsin had a ridiculously high number of erroneous serves for a whole match, let alone two sets, with twelve, but it didn’t seem to matter as they dominated the first two sets of play.
Set two saw Olivia Boender replace Annika Albrecht and Sami Slaughter replace Mikaela Foecke, an illustration of how atypical this night was for the Huskers.
Wisconsin scored the first point of the third set with a Stivrins attack that sailed long, but Foecke used the high hands of the Wisconsin block to tie the score at one.
Wisconsin opened the lead to two at 3-1, but Nebraska sided out to prevent a big Badger run. Nebraska actually tied the score up at four, and then took a 5-4 lead on a Mikaela Foecke ace. Foecke’s next serve was in the net and tied the score again at five.
The Badgers didn’t stay down for long, taking the lead again at 7-6, and then opening the lead to 9-7. However, an Albrecht kill that she followed up with an ace tied the score again at nine.
Nebraska re-took the lead at 12-11 when Holman stuffed Wisconsin’s big middle. Holman scored the next point, her third straight, and then Nebraska took a 14-11 lead which led to the first Wisconsin timeout of the set, not to mention the match.
The Nebraska attack looked much better and continued to be effective with the Huskers holding and extending the lead to 18-13 which led to the second and final Badger timeout of the third set.
The Huskers continued to look like a completely different team in the third set, opening the lead up and taking the set 25-17.
The Huskers had a much better third set and were hitting .098 after three sets. Briana Holman was hitting .357 with eight kills and Jazz Sweet also had eight kills after three sets.
The service errors continued to be an odd and counter-intuitive stat through three sets. Wisconsin didn’t have a single error in the third set, and Nebraska had five, but the Huskers won the set.
As these things are wont to do, the fourth set got off to a tight start, with the teams trading points. The Husker points early were buoyed by two Badger serving errors on the first three points. The offense for Nebraska continued to find the success they missed in the first two sets as the Big Red opened a two-point lead early.
Wisconsin retook the lead 9-8, but the Nebraska came back with two of their own to re-take the advantage 10-9. The Badgers then answered with two of their own to take an 11-10 lead.
The Badgers held that advantage and then opened it to 15-13 at the media timeout. However, the service bug bit the Badgers again, and the Huskers closed it to 15-14 Wisconsin.
After a Wisconsin sideout made the score 16-14 Badgers, the Huskers put together a 3-0 run to take a 17-16 lead.
Though the Badgers ended that run, Albrecht answered and put herself on the service line with the Huskers up 18-17. Mikaela Foecke and Lauren Stivrins turned back the next Wisconsin attack to take a 19-17 lead and force a Wisconsin timeout.
The Badgers scored the first point out of the timeout, but Nebraska scored the next two to take a 21-18 lead, but Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield challenged the last call. He won the challenge and the score changed to 20-19 Huskers.
The challenge did more for the Badgers than just that point. Wisconsin put up a huge block on Holman’s swing on the next play and tied the score at 20. That led to a Husker timeout.
Nebraska made good on the timeout, scoring the next point, but then Wisconsin got a timeout of their own, tying the score at 21, but then taking a 22-21 lead and then extending the late lead to 23-21. The two-point late advantage led to the final Husker timeout of the set.
Jazz Sweet converted out of the timeout, putting her outside attack on the floor between two Badger defenders. She did it again the next point to tie the score at 23 and pushing Wisconsin into their final timeout of the set.
Wisconsin took their first matchpoint out of the timeout at 24-23 and they converted it, knocking off the Huskers in the final set 25-23.
After abysmal hitting numbers in the first two sets, the Huskers recovered to hit a respectable .163. Jazz Sweet had 11 kills and hit .240 to pace the offense. Briana Holman and Mikaela Foecke each added nine kills.
Wisconsin had 58 digs to 52 for the Huskers. Maloney and Foecke each had 11 digs while Kelly Hunter added 10. The Badgers also far outpaced the Huskers in blocking with 13 for Wisconsin and eight for Nebraska. Lauren Stivrins had one solo block and three block assists.
The strangest stat of the night continued to be service errors. The team with the most service errors won each set. While it wasn’t a glaring stat in the fourth set, three for the Badgers to two for the Huskers, in the other sets it was out of whack. The Huskers won the third set giving five free points to the Badgers while the Badgers didn’t have a single error. After the first two sets, dominated by Wisconsin, Nebraska had seven errors while Wisconsin had twelve.
Naturally, as soon as we started to feel like this team was totally together, this type of a setback happens. It’s to be expected in B1G play. This is, far and away, the best volleyball conference in the country with eight teams whose RPI is in the top 30 in the nation.
It also didn’t help the Huskers’ cause that Wisconsin REALLY wanted revenge for the loss in Lincoln on September 30. Going up 2-0 and then ultimately losing will leave a foul taste in a team’s mouth, and home cooking is often the best remedy.
It won’t get any easier on this stretch for the Huskers. After returning to Lincoln tonight, they’ll head to West Lafayette, Indiana to take on the #16 Purdue Boilermakers Saturday at 6:00 PM Central. That match will be available on BTNPlus ($$). Then they come back home for two at the Devaney Center.