The Nebraska volleyball team had its undefeated start to the Big Ten Conference season come to an end with a four-set loss against No. 11 Wisconsin on Wednesday in Madison, Wisconsin.
NU could never recover from a disastrous first two sets as its seven-match winning streak come to an end.
Fourth-ranked Nebraska (13-4, 6-1 Big Ten) now drops back to the pack in the Big Ten standings and joins Penn State and Michigan State as teams with just one loss in league play.
Sophomore outside hitter Madison Duello had 13 kills, and 6-foot-8 freshman middle blocker Dana Rettke added 12 kills with a .500 hitting percentage to lead the Badgers to a 25-16, 25-15, 17-25, 25-23 victory to end a three-match losing streak.
Nebraska also fell behind in a match against Wisconsin two weeks ago, but rallied that time for a five-set win at the Devaney Sports Center.
Nebraska had just a .163 hitting percentage Wednesday, and let the Badgers hit .296, the highest mark for a Husker opponent this season.
Nebraska came out flat, coach John Cook said, while Wisconsin played like it was on a mission.
“We didn’t do anything very well tonight,” Cook said in a radio interview.
Each team struggled with serving. The Badgers had 15 serving errors, and the Huskers 13.
Nebraska needed to serve tough to try and slow down the Badgers’ talented group of middle blockers, but Rettke and Tionna Williams combined for 22 kills.
“I don’t think we served very well tonight,” Cook said. “We were just lobbing it down the middle. We didn’t play with a go-get it mentality. We played with a 'I hope I don’t mess up' mentality.”
Freshman right-side hitter Jazz Sweet was the only Husker in double-digit kills with 11. Mikaela Foecke and Briana Holman added nine kills apiece.
None of the Husker had great hitting matches. Outside hitter Annika Albrecht was blocked several times early in the match, and was subbed out. She got better in the second half of the match and finished with eight kills and a .074 hitting percentage.
After a rough start to the match, Nebraska was on the verge of sending the game to a fifth set.
The fourth set went back-and-forth much of the way before Wisconsin won three straight points for a 23-21 lead. The Huskers won the next two rallies on kills by Sweet to tie the set at 23. But Wisconsin won the final two points of the match with kills by Rettke and Duello.
“We didn’t pass the ball like we needed to,” said Cook of the finish. “They made the plays to win it. If we got to the fifth game, we got a good chance to win it.”
In the first set, Wisconsin took control with a 4-0 run for a 20-12 lead. Wisconsin had seven serving errors in the set, but it didn’t cost the Badgers because Nebraska hit just .029 in the set.
The second set was even worse for the Huskers. Wisconsin won eight consecutive points for a 9-1 lead. Nebraska did not record a kill in its first 13 attempts of the set.
Nebraska’s first lead of the match came at 5-4 in the third set. Nebraska got some big kills from Holman, and began to win some of the long rallies to take a 19-13 lead.
Nebraska hit .368 in the third set in a major change from the first two sets. Wisconsin didn’t get a block in the third set after having 11 in the first two sets combined.
NU freshman serving sub Hayley Densberger is sick and did not travel to the match, with Olivia Boender and Hunter Atherton playing in her place.
Nebraska’s next match is Saturday at No. 16 Purdue.
— Brent C. Wagner