The Nebraska volleyball team found itself in a Big Ten Conference brawl Saturday.
The good part was how NU responded in its second Top-25 showdown of the weekend. The No. 10 Huskers won the first two sets against No. 23 Wisconsin, then held on for a 25-23, 26-24, 22-25, 30-32, 15-6 victory at the Devaney Sports Center.
Nebraska improved to 4-0 in Big Ten play and joins Michigan State as the only unbeaten teams in conference play. The Huskers now are 4-1 against ranked opponents.
With seven ranked Big Ten teams, long battles may be typical in conference play. Five of the six Big Ten matches Saturday went the distance.
“Welcome to the Big Ten. This is the way it’s going to be,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “We won two deuce games, we lost a deuce game. I gambled in set four that we would win it before we ran out of subs. But the Huskers stepped up in set five and played really well.”
Nebraska lost the wild fourth set, but had six kills on 13 attempts in the fifth set and hit .462 in that set to win the match. NU had four blocks in the fifth set and Wisconsin hit minus .120.
Senior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson had three kills on five attempts in the fifth set. Freshmen Kadie and Amber Rolfzen both struggled at times during the match, but made plays in the fifth set. Kadie had two kills on three attempts, and Amber two blocks. Amber led the Huskers with eight blocks.
“In the fifth set we really stepped it up,” Robinson said. “Coach expected us to step up and play another level this weekend, and I think in the fifth set we really did that. I was proud of the way we played. We worked really hard for every single point, and you can’t ask much more from a team.”
Robinson had another All-America-level match with 29 kills on 56 attempts with a .393 hitting percentage, a team-best 22 digs and four blocks. In two weekend victories, Robinson had 50 of the Huskers’ 122 kills.
“When you’re watching a match, you don’t realize (Robinson) is getting that many kills and doing that many things, but, man, those are some impressive numbers she’s throwing up the last two nights,” Cook said. “Those are major double-double numbers right there. She’s a heck of a competitor. She’s a very good volleyball player.”
The Huskers trailed by seven points in the first set, but won 12 of the final 17 rallies for the 25-23 win. The set turned when Nebraska got its block going. The Huskers outblocked Wisconsin 6-1 in the first set, led by four from Cecilia Hall.
The Huskers' Chicago-area duo of Robinson and Meghan Haggerty teamed up to finish off the second set. Robinson had a kill to break a tie at 24. On set point, Robinson had a tough serve that Wisconsin could only get back across the net with a free ball, and Haggerty finished the rally with a kill.
Wisconsin won the third set, then the marathon fourth set, which was back-and-forth most of the way. Serving errors by Wisconsin kept Nebraska in it. A hitting error by Robinson and a block by Wisconsin at the finish gave the Badgers the 32-30 win.
Junior outside hitter Courtney Thomas had 18 kills for the Badgers, who had an eight-match winning streak ended.
The Badgers had 16 serving errors in the match, which Husker setter Mary Pollmiller said the crowd of 8,277 had a part in. There were a couple of moments where the Devaney Center seemed as loud as the NU Coliseum once was.
“I was talking to somebody right after the match, and said the crowd got us a couple points there,” Pollmiller said.
Nebraska got anther productive match from its middle blockers. Haggerty had 13 kills and hit .391. Hall had eight kills and seven blocks.
Next for Nebraska is what could be its toughest conference road trip of the season, against No. 9 Michigan State and No. 14 Michigan next weekend. The Huskers lost both matches on the Michigan road trip last year against unranked opponents.