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Volleyball: Huskers Fall in Top 5 Showdown in Lincoln

While the football team was on the road in Madison, the #3 volleyball team played host to the #5 Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Jon Johnston

Despite attempts earlier in the week to change the start time of the battle between top-five B1G volleyball programs failing, the #3 Nebraska Husker Women’s Volleyball Team hosted the #5 Minnesota Golden Gophers in front of a packed Devaney Center half an hour after the start of the football game. The match lived up to the hype, but the Huskers were on the losing end on this night, 1-3 (20-25, 25-23, 14-25, 21-25).

The first set started slow for the Huskers, with Minnesota opening a 5-1 lead in the first part of the first set and extending it to 7-2 before Nebraska used their first timeout.

Lauren Stivrins found the floor with a quick attack out of the timeout, but Minnesota answered with a kill of their own to hold the lead. However, Nebraska responded and then a service run by Mikaela Foecke brought the Huskers to within two with the score 8-6 Gophers.

The teams traded points for quite awhile, with neither team being able to make any significant progress. Though Minnesota had a 13-9 lead briefly, the Huskers then used a service run by Kenzie Maloney and great net play by Jazz Sweet to force the first Minnesota timeout of the set with the Huskers trailing 13-12.

Minnesota used the timeout to turn the tide in their favor, putting together a three-point run of their own to extend their lead to 16-12 and force the second and final Husker timeout of the set.

The Huskers committed another hitting error, the team’s third consecutive, to allow Minnesota to extend the lead to 17-12 before Foecke tooled the Gopher block to give the Huskers the ball back.

Nebraska closed to within two again at 20-18 Gophers, but never managed to take the lead in the set, losing 20-25.

Nebraska hit .167 in the opening set with Sweet, Foecke, and Lexi Sun each recording four kills. Sun hit .333 and Stivrins hit .400 with two kills. The team committed seven errors to 14 total kills in the set.

Set two started better for the Huskers. Although the Gophers won a long opening point, Nebraska answered immediately and kept the score tied. In, fact the teams traded the first four points, and then the Huskers took their first lead of the night at 3-2.

The visitors tied the score again at three, but then Nebraska went on a run that fired up the Devaney Center as well as setter Nicklin Hames. Nebraska managed to convert long and hotly contested points and set the tone to push their lead to 7-3 and force an early timeout from the Gophers.

Though Hayley Densberger’s serve out of the timeout was errant, and a two-contact violation brought Minnesota to within two, the Husker offense stayed on its feet and pushed the lead back to four at 9-5, then a Lexi Sun solo block made the count 10-5 Big Red.

Minnesota’s setter, Samantha Seliger-Swenson used a bit of deception to halt the Husker momentum, and then two Husker attacking errors brought the Gophers back to within two at 10-8 Huskers, leading to the first Husker timeout of the set.

Like the Huskers before them, Minnesota missed the serve out of the timeout, ending their 3-0 run.

The Huskers again opened the lead up to four at 14-10, but that advantage was short-lived as the Gophers stormed back to within a point at 15-14 Huskers and then tie the score at 16, forcing the second and final Husker timeout of the set.

Minnesota kept the momentum out of the timeout, forcing a ball through the Husker block to retake the lead 17-16. They extended the lead to two points at 20-18.

Two straight blocks by Jazz Sweet and Callie Schwarzenbach helped Nebraska overcome the two point deficit and tie the score at 21, leading to the Gophers’ final timeout of the set.

A LONG rally out of the timeout resulted in the Huskers retaking the lead from the Gophers at 22-21, but the Gophers converted the next point to tie the score at 22.

After trailing 19-21, the Huskers rode a 5-1 run to their first set point of the night, leading 24-22. While the serve missed on that set point, Jazz Sweet converted the attack on the next point to finish the set 25-23 in the Huskers’ favor.

While the Gophers were still outhitting the Huskers through two sets .213 to .179, the Huskers had a marginally better second set, hitting .189 while holding Minnesota to .111. Foecke was leading all Husker hitters with 11 kills and hitting .290. The Husker block was critical in the second set, rejecting five Minnesota attacks after only recording one in the opening set.

Set three started off fast for the Gophers again with a block and a kill on a Husker overpass before Lexi Sun could get a ball to the floor for the Huskers. Sweet followed up with one of her own to tie the score at two in the early going of the third set.

Again the Gophers took a two-point lead, and again the Huskers tied it, this time at four. At that point, the teams went on a long run of trading sideouts, keeping the score effectively tied with Minnesota holding the serve advantage until Minnesota put two in a row together to extend their advantage to 11-9.

Minnesota held a 15-11 lead at the media timeout and kept the run going out of the timeout, extending their lead to 18-11, leading to a Husker timeout. Nebraska still couldn’t find an answer to what Minnesota was sending at them and used their second timeout trailing by nine, 11-20.

Another attacking error for the Huskers resulted in a ten-point Minnesota lead and Capri Davis entering the game for the Huskers in Foecke’s place. Jazz Sweet was aced on the next serve, and Minnesota went up 22-11.

Minnesota held a 23-11 lead before Lauren Stivrins got an attack to the floor to stop what had been a 12-1 Gopher run.

Nebraska sparked a run of their own at that point, scoring three in a row before the setter dump gave the Gophers set point at 24-14. A Husker overpass resulted in a Gopher kill and the Gophers took the set 25-14.

Nebraska looked young in set three, making a lot of mistakes the showed the Huskers’ lack of experience. Balls that were in were left to hit the floor, players were late to digs and passes, and overall execution was lacking. The team hit .030 while allowing Minnesota to hit .256.

The first Husker serve of the fourth set found the net, giving the first point and serve to Minnesota and although the Gophers led at 4-2, the Huskers tied it at four.

Minnesota kept finding ways to score points against the Huskers, running off three in a row to take a 7-4 lead over the Huskers and though Nebraska stemmed the tide, the respite was brief, and Minnesota extended the lead to 9-5.

The score was 13-8 Minnesota after Schwarzenbach was called for an illegal over the net touch on the Minnesota set. Coach Cook challenged the call, but there wasn’t compelling evidence one way or the other, so the call stood. The Gophers still had the five-point lead at the media timeout, 15-10.

Minnesota scored two more after the media timeout to make their lead seven, 17-10, and force the first Husker timeout of the fourth set.

The Huskers closed the gap to 18-13 on a point where the Gophers were called for four touches. Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon challenged the call, but it was upheld on review. Stivrins then aced the Gophers on the next serve to close the gap to 18-14 before serving the next ball into the net.

The momentum continued to hang on the home team’s side of the net as the Huskers closed to within three, trailing 16-19. The 6-2 Husker run forced the first Minnesota timeout of the fourth set.

Nebraska never got closer than that three, though they made it interesting late and the Huskers dropped their first match in conference play and their first since the season-opener to Florida, losing the fourth set 21-25.

Four Husker attackers had double-digit kills on the night, led by 16 from Foecke who hit .239. Lauren Stivrins hit .450 with ten kills and only one error. Nebraska hit .194 while Minnesota hit .280.

The Huskers had 63 digs for the night with both Nicklin Hames and Kenzie Maloney notching 18. However, Minnesota’s defense had 77 digs, making it very hard for the Huskers to establish any kind of offensive rhythm.

Nebraska’s block was, once again, a strength for the team. Though they lost, the Huskers had eleven blocks to seven for Minnesota and turned back quite a few of the Gophers’ swings. Lauren Stivrins led the way with five block assists. Both Sun and Sweet had one solo block and three block assists.

There were a lot of times where the Huskers looked like the young team that they are. According to Maloney, the team was outworked on the night. The Gophers just wanted it more. Though Stivrins is only a sophomore herself, she put the onus squarely on her own shoulders to ensure that her newer teammates understand what it means to play Nebraska Volleyball.

In pressure situations tonight, the young Huskers struggled to come through. Passes were missed, and attacks that are usually effortless ended up out of bounds or right on the arms of the Minnesota defense. At times the young Huskers appeared to be overplaying. At times they seemed to be waiting for the game to come to them.

Coach Cook’s frustration was palpable postgame. He talked about taking a punch tonight, but not responding when a team plays the physical quality of ball that the Huskers expect themselves to play.

The Indiana Hoosiers come to Lincoln on Wednesday night for a midweek match that will be on BTN at 7:00 PM Central. Then the Huskers travel to play the Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday night. That match will also be televised on BTN at 7:00 PM Central.