The #3 Nebraska Cornhuskers Women’s Volleyball team left the state of Nebraska for the first time this season, traveling to Illinois to take on the Northwestern Wildcats and the #7 Illinois Fighting Illini. The Huskers knocked off both teams on consecutive nights.
Friday night the Huskers swept the Wildcats in a game played in Beardsley Gym at the Evanston Township High School. It was one of the smallest crowds the Huskers have played for in a long time, with 917 in attendance. Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Wildcats’ home court, is undergoing a $110 million renovation.
The first two sets had the Huskers in control basically from the get-go, but it took just about every touch of the third set for the Huskers to secure the win.
Nebraska hit .265 on Friday night while holding Northwestern to .143. Sophomore outside hitter Jazz Sweet hit .346 with 12 kills to lead the Huskers. Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins was the only other Husker with double digit kills with ten. More impressive, however, was the fact that Stivrins accomplished that with just ten swings to hit a perfect 1.000 for the night.
Defensively, the Huskers had a great night as well with nine blocks and 46 digs to seven blocks and 40 digs for the Cats. Freshman middle Callie Schwarzenbach again led the team with six block assists. Jazz Sweet had five assisted blocks. Freshman setter Nicklin Hames had 15 digs while Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke had 10.
Saturday night, the Huskers found themselves in Champaign facing the #7 Illinois Fighting Illini. It was a tougher challenge for the team, but they still prevailed 3-1.
The Huskers hit .271 against Illinois while holding the Illini to .157. A huge part of that disparity was at the net with the Huskers notching 14 blocks while Illinois had seven. While it’s becoming repetitive, Schwarzenbach was the leading blocker for the Big Red, with eight block assists on the night.
Schwarzenbach nearly matched Stivrins’ Friday night, recording nine kills on eleven swings to hit .818. Foecke had 13 kills and hit .321.
The Huskers tried switching Lexi Sun and Mikaela Foecke at outside hitter on the weekend. This is the first time the Sophomore’s been mentioned because she had a rough weekend, hitting .062 against Illinois and .115 against Northwestern.
The Huskers had more aces than errors on both nights, a rarity with the quality of passing in NCAA volleyball. When a team serves tough, often there are errors because there’s so little margin. Aggressive serving teams like the Huskers will take those errors if there are aces and out-of-system plays to make up for them. That’s been the case for the Huskers all year.
The Huskers stayed at #3 this week in the AVCA Coaches’ poll with BYU at #1 and Stanford at #2. The team has made vast improvements since the opening loss to Florida in the VERT Challenge. The connection between Freshman setter Nicklin Hames and the hitters has proven fruitful, especially with Stivrins.
What might be the biggest surprise to Husker fans has been Callie Schwarzenbach’s blocking. She was doing a nice job holding down the middle through the early part of non-conference play, but during the Husker Invite became just a force in the middle. Since then she’s been dependable for at least five blocks in nearly every set.
The B1G season doesn’t allow for a week off. The Huskers return home on Wednesday night to host the Iowa Hawkeyes at 6:00 PM Central at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Saturday night #5 Minnesota comes to Lincoln at 7:00 PM Central. The Iowa match will be broadcast on BTN with the Minnesota match on NET Television.