Photo by Pat Radigan
25-19, 25-15, 22-25,
Albrecht – 18
Hunter – 5
Maloney – 17
Story by Pat Radigan
Nebraska emerges as the only unbeaten team in Big Ten play
There were a lot of similarities between Nebraska and Michigan State heading into Wednesday night’s matchup.
Both teams came into the match 4-0 in Big Ten play, had survived a five-set match with Wisconsin and the two sides swept Minnesota in back-to-back matches.
But head-to-head, it didn’t take the Huskers long to show they were on a different level than the 14th-ranked Spartans.
Husker Annika Albrecht helped power Nebraska to an early lead, before going off with 8 kills in the fourth set to play a critical role in NU slamming the door on any chance of a comeback. The win moves Nebraska to 5-0 in Big Ten action, now in first place outright, and gives the Huskers four wins over ranked opponents in a span of 12 days.
“We were well prepared, our players executed the game plan really well and we didn’t let their serving take over the match,” said NU coach John Cook. “I think we got a little too comfortable in game three… but another great response in game four.”
The response Cook referenced was a pair of 5-0 runs to help Nebraska pull away in the fourth set. Freshman Hayley Densberger served four straight points after a side out for the first run, before Albrecht accomplished the same feat to stretch the lead to 18-9. Albrecht’s hitting was also key as part of that response, with the senior leading a .395 effort as a team in the 25-19 win in set four. Nebraska had 18 kills and just 3 errors, including Albrecht’s 8 kills on 10 swings without an error.
Albrecht finished the match with 18 kills, 15 digs and 2 of the Huskers’ 5 service aces. Freshmen Lauren Stivrins and Jazz Sweet added 10 kills each, from the middle and right side respectively, to provide production from each of the three hitter spots. Mikaela Foecke fell one kill short of a double-double from NU’s other outside hitter spot (9 kills, 10 digs), while the second middle in the lineup, Briana Holman, led the team with a .353 hitting percentage on her 8 kills.
In addition to masterminding Nebraska’s offensive balance, senior setter Kelly Hunter added 3 block assists and a pair of solo stuffs to her 45-assist, 14-dig effort running the show.
Nebraska used that balance, along with a 5-kill effort by Albrecht to take control early. The Huskers hit just .175 in the first set, but it was good enough to survive 25-19 and put the Spartans on their heels. Things improved slightly to .220 in the second set, but it was the fact Nebraska forced 9 errors and allowed just 11 kills in the set that allowed NU to make it look easy as the Huskers took a 2-0 lead.
Then the Spartans found a groove. Michigan State came out in the third set to hit .294, and forced 9 errors from Nebraska to limit NU to a .095 mark. The Huskers still somehow controlled most of the set, though, until Michigan State drew even at 19-19 thanks to a 4-0 spurt. After the Spartans took the lead, Nebraska was able to cut it to 23-22, but MSU would take the final two points of the set to extend the match.
The win ends a 3-game home stretch that saw Nebraska beat the No. 3, No. 7 and No. 14 teams in the country. Nebraska travels to face unranked Iowa this Saturday, with the Hawkeyes coming off of an upset of No. 22 Michigan on Wednesday in Iowa City.