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Volleyball: #3 Nebraska Starts B1G Play Hosting #18 Michigan

The conference season started for the Huskers with a tough test as the #18 Michigan Wolverines traveled to Lincoln to take on the Huskers.

Jon Johnston

B1G play started for the #3 University of Nebraska Cornhuskers Women’s Volleyball Team on Friday night at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. The night featured sisters competing against one another as Nebraska’s back-up setter Brooke Smith’s sister, Natalie, plays DS for Michigan. Brooke left with bragging rights as the Huskers beat the Wolverines 3-1 (25-19, 25-27, 25-17, 25-12).

Nebraska came out strong in the first set, opening an early 7-2 lead before Michigan tied the score at 8. The Huskers then opened the score up to a three point lead at 14-11.

The Big Red couldn’t hold that advantage long, but Michigan never closed the gap. They got to within one at 16-15 Huskers, but Nebraska then pushed the lead to as much as five at 20-15. While Michigan closed the gap again, they could never get closer than two, and the Huskers took set one 25-19.

The Huskers hit a very solid .333 for the first set led by a 1.000 from Mikaela Foecke who had three kills on three attempts. Lexi Sun had four kills on twelve attempts to hit .167. The Huskers had six total blocks in the first set.

Freshman Middle Blocker Callie Schwarzenbach recorded her first kill for the match to start the second set for the Huskers. From there the early part of the set very much mirrored the first set, with the Huskers again opening up a 7-2 early lead.

Like set one, Michigan overcame the early deficit to tie the score, this time at nine, and forced an early Husker timeout.

The run continued for the Wolverines who took the lead after the timeout at 10-9, but the Huskers scored the next point on a net violation, so the Huskers could tie the score.

Michigan continued to be in rhythm in the middle part of the set, following their 5-0 run with a 4-0 run, forcing the second Nebraska timeout with the Wolverines leading 14-10.

The Huskers’ struggles continued out of the timeout, with Michigan extending their run to 5-0. Coach John Cook put Jazz Sweet in on serve-receive to show the visitors something different, and though Michigan served her, she passed it perfectly and Foecke ended the Michigan run.

Nebraska finally put together a run of their own fueled by a great variety of sets from freshman Setter Nicklin Hames and another Schwarzenbach block (Schwarzenblock?) and closed the score to 16-15 Michigan, forcing a Wolverine timeout.

The Huskers tied the score at sixteen out of the timeout before Foecke’s serve sailed long, giving the ball back to Michigan.

Nebraska retook the lead finally at 19-18 and extended it to 20-18 on a deep attack by Michigan. However, Michigan challenged the call, claiming there was a touch on the block. A brief review confirmed a touch on Lexi Sun, and the score became 19-all.

Nebraska maintained the advantage for a bit, but Michigan took the lead again at 23-22 and aced the Huskers to make the score 24-22.

Two set point opportunities were wasted by the Wolverines, tying the score at 24 after a Wolverine service error followed by a Michigan attack off of the antenna. The failure to capitalize on two set points on the road led to the second Michigan timeout of the set.

The Wolverines made good on the timeout, scoring on a back row attack to earn their third set point. Lexi Sun converted her next attack into a point for the Huskers to tie the score again at 25. Michigan found a way on their fourth set point, however, and took the set 27-25.

The Huskers were hitting .282 after two sets led by the outsides with Lexi Sun hitting .368 with eight kills and Foecke hitting .353, also with eight kills.

The Huskers had nine blocks after two sets, with Lauren Stivrins having part in five blocks, and both Callie Schwarzenbach and Lexi Sun being part of four.

Nicklin Hames started the third set with an ace off the tape and forced an overpass on the second serve that led to a Foecke kill to give the Huskers a 2-0 lead. The Huskers actually increased the lead to 5-2, but Michigan again tied the score with a 4-1 run at six apiece.

Michigan missed the subsequent serve, giving the one point advantage back to the Huskers, 7-6. Michigan then took a 9-8 lead, but Nebraska came back to take the 11-9 lead. Nebraska held that advantage and then increased it to three points, 15-12, at the media timeout.

Nebraska extended the lead after the media timeout to 17-13 to force the first timeout of the set for Michigan.

While Michigan closed to within two immediately after their timeout, closing to 15-17, but Nebraska again extended their lead to 20-16, forcing a second Wolverine timeout. The timeout didn’t stop the run by the Huskers, however, and Nebraska closed out the set 25-17.

At the end of three sets, Nebraska was hitting .271 led by a dominant Mikaela Foecke who had 16 kills and was hitting .424. The Husker block continued to be suffocating, adding three in the third set to push their total to twelve for the match. The middles, Lauren Stivrins and Callie Schwarzenbach, had part in six apiece.

Set four started off much tighter than the previous three, with Michigan scoring first and keeping it tight out of the box before Nebraska ran their lead from 3-2 to 5-2. The Husker lead ballooned to 8-3 in short order though, and Michigan used their first timeout of the set early.

Nebraska extended the lead to 9-3 out of the timeout and then later to 13-5 to force the second Michigan timeout of the fourth set. Again, Nebraska scored out of the timeout to extend the lead.

Although Michigan did start finding their way through, they struggled to close in on the Huskers at all. Every time Michigan scored, Nebraska answered immediately to maintain their lead. In fact, Nebraska finished by extending the lead to as much as 14 at match point, 24-10. Though Michigan fended it off twice, Foecke’s 21st kill of the night ended it 25-12.

For the night, the Huskers hit .314 to .135 for the Wolverines. Foecke’s 21 kills paced the Big Red attack and she hit .391 for the night. Sun had 14 kills and hit .242. Jazz Sweet hit .280 on the night with 11 kills.

Husker serving was a major weakness on the night, especially in the second set. All told, Nebraska had 13 missed serves against only six aces. Michigan wasn’t much better, however, with 12 missed serves.

Both Kenzie Maloney and Lexi Sun had sixteen digs for the night, giving Sun a double-double. Setter Nicklin Hames also had double-digit digs with ten.

The Huskers’ blocking was once again a huge part of the story, and becoming a trend for the Huskers. The last two matches of the non-conference season saw spectacular blocking numbers for the Huskers, including a total of 22 from Callie Schwarzenbach which earned her conference Defensive Player of the Week honors. The team had fourteen blocks against the Wolverines. Schwarzenbach had eight block assists to lead the team.

While the block looked really good in the Husker Invite, there was question as to whether it would translate to B1G competition. There is little debate about how good the B1G volleyball slate is, and the speed and competition is just better. While it’s only one match, Michigan had only dropped one set prior to Friday night as a team that has a ton of offensive weapons. If this is indicative of the way the team will block through conference play, it’s a huge asset for the Huskers.

As mentioned previously, Nebraska’s serving mentality is high-risk/high-reward. While they do miss a lot of serves, it’s generally offset by a lot of not only aces, but also errant passes that keep the opponent out of system. Coach Cook attributed a lot of the serving errors to nerves, the team is young, so while the numbers looked bad tonight, it’s been improving on the season, so this is likely to be an anomaly.

Playing Michigan was a huge test for the young Husker team. They very much got thrown to the fire to start conference season. While the team showed its inexperience in the second set, the senior leadership clearly asserted themselves at the intermission, as the last two sets left little doubt about why the Huskers were the preseason favorite to win the conference.

Nebraska will take on the Michigan State Spartans on Sunday afternoon at 2:00 at Devaney. The match will be carried live by ESPNU as well as Husker Sports Network radio affiliates.

GBR