The Nebraska volleyball team was on the verge of its worst loss in two seasons of Big Ten Conference play, but rallied for a five-set victory against last-place Indiana on Saturday.
Needing to win the final two sets, it was three freshmen that sparked Nebraska in the fourth set to keep the Huskers alive for a 25-23, 18-25, 20-25, 25-17, 15-10 victory in front of 730 fans at Bloomington, Ind.
Indiana has a 1-25 record in the Big Ten the past two seasons.
Fourth-ranked Nebraska (13-2, 5-1 Big Ten) was playing on back-to-back nights for the first time during conference play, and it showed at times. Indiana (8-10, 0-6) had made some positive lineup changes in recent weeks and nearly came away with one of the biggest wins in program history.
“Our players learned a great lesson tonight of what motivation does and how inspired these teams are to play us,” Nebraska coach John Cook said on his postmatch radio show.
“This is a team that lost to Iowa (Friday) night and probably didn’t play very well. They were all-world tonight. They played great. We stood around and watched it for a couple games. We were lucky to win game one. But we turned it on in games four and five and played really well. You can’t do the flip-the-switch-deal.”
In the fourth set, Nebraska was in deep trouble, but won 17 of the final 22 rallies for a 25-17 set win to extend the match. Freshmen Meghan Haggerty, Alexa Strange and Sheridan Zarda each made big plays in the set.
Haggerty finished with 10 kills on a .450 hitting percentage, and had a team-high five blocks. Zarda had a long serving run in the fourth set and finished with two ace serves.
Strange came off the bench and had the biggest match of her young career. The freshman right-side hitter from San Clemente, Calif., had seven kills on nine attempts with no errors for a .778 hitting percentage.
In the fifth set, Strange had kills that gave NU leads of 4-3 and 13-8. She completed the comeback with the kill on match point with a swing that went off the Hoosier block.
“(Strange) came in and found a way to get some big kills for us,” Cook said. “She’s a very good hitter.”
The Huskers never trailed in the deciding set. Gina Mancuso had five kills down the stretch, and led the Huskers in kills for the third time in four matches with 14.
Hannah Werth added 12 kills and junior middle blocker Hayley Thramer had 10 kills.
Indiana got another big match from junior right-side hitter Jordan Haverly, who had 24 kills. Haverly was briefly part of the Nebraska program four years ago, before leaving the team a week into fall practice her freshman season.
In winning the third set to take a 2-1 lead, Indiana had 21 kills on 37 attempts for a .514 hitting percentage.
“I just think (the Huskers) thought they were going to walk in here and waltz these guys,” Cook said. “This is Big Ten, baby. People bring it. I told them that all day. It’s the Big Ten; everybody thinks they can win. Indiana thought they could win.”
Cook was glad NU found a way to win, despite not playing its best.
“We went through this last year; this reminded me a little bit of Michigan State,” the coach said. “Nothing went our way and then we just found a way to squeak it out at the end. Three games, two points better, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Also Saturday, top-ranked Penn State held on to beat No. 21 Illinois 3-2 (18-16 in the fifth set), allowing the Nittany Lions to remain the Big Ten leader with a 6-0 record.
In another example of the competitive nature of the Big Ten, unranked Iowa knocked off No. 12 Purdue in three sets Saturday. The loss drops Purdue from a three-way tie for second place in the standings.
Now it's Nebraska and Minnesota that are tied for second in the conference at 5-1.
This week, Nebraska hosts Wisconsin on Friday, then takes on No. 10 Minnesota on Sunday at the NU Coliseum.
-- Brent C. Wagner
NEBRASKA 3, INDIANA 2
Nebraska (kills-ace blocks-ace serves)--Cook 3-0-1, Zarda 0-0-2, Hubl 0-0-0, Mancuso 14-1-2, Thramer 10-0-0, Werth 12-1-0, Dykstra 0-0-0, Broekhuis 8-0-1, McNeal 0-0-0, Haggerty 10-2-0, Strange 7-0-0. Totals 64-11.0-6.
Home team (kills-ace blocks-ace serves)--Haverly 24-0-0, Granado 2-0-1, Marschall 16-0-0, Henderson 9-0-0, Henderson 9-0-0, Leach 12-0-0, Thrower 13-0-1, Harnish 0-0-0, Hicks 0-0-0, Anderson 0-0-0, Hansen 0-0-0. Totals 76-6.0-4.
Assists--NU 61 (Cook 52, Hubl 1, Mancuso 1, Werth 2, Dykstra 3, Broekhuis 1, Strange 1); IU 70 (Granado 62, Marschall 3, Harnish 3, Hansen 2). Dig leaders---NU 55 (Werth 13), IU 67 (Harnish 20). Hitting percentage--- NU .335, IU .290. T--2:17. A--730.