Nebraska was playing its third volleyball match in three days. The clock was ticking down before the kickoff for the Nebraska-UCLA football game.
Forget the players. Saturday afternoon's match against Kentucky could have been one for the fans to “go through the motions.”
That didn’t happen, largely because senior outside hitter Gina Mancuso kept sending a charge through the NU Coliseum with her big, and timely, kills. That, and Nebraska played tough during those down-to-the-wire moments during the third and fourth sets of its win against No. 19 Kentucky.
Mancuso had 17 kills and Morgan Broekhuis 15 to lead top-ranked Nebraska to a 25-19, 23-25, 25-22, 25-22 victory in front of 4,163 fans.
Freshman Meghan Haggerty added eight kills and six blocks. Lauren Cook led Nebraska with 13 digs, and set a balanced attack that helped the Huskers hit .483 in the first set and .405 in the third.
Mancuso, Cook and Hannah Werth were each named to the Ameritas Players Challenge all-tournament team. Werth was chosen the MVP.
Nebraska was really stressed by a team for the first time since playing UCLA, coach John Cook said.
There were some obvious issues for the Huskers, including nine serving errors and being aced five times. The biggest reason NU dropped the second set was its eight hitting errors.
Nebraska not blocking all that well allowed Kentucky outside hitter Ashley Frazier a lot of open space on the floor, and she had 20 kills on 37 attempts.
Nebraska did not play its best, Mancuso said, but found a way to get it done when it mattered most.
“It was fun to fight through that and come out on top,” she said.
Mancuso’s 17 kills were a season high and came on a .400 hitting percentage. She had 10 kills and no hitting errors in the final two sets.
Mancuso had the kill on match point, with an attack from the back row. Before that she got the crowd buzzing with three kills in a four-rally stretch that gave Nebraska its first lead of the first set at 13-12.
“We weren’t passing very well, and Gina still found ways to get kills, especially in games three and four,” John Cook said.
Nebraska trailed the entire third set until taking a 22-21 lead on a Kentucky hitting error. The Huskers closed the set on a 3-0 run with kills by Broekhuis and Hayley Thramer.
It was the end of the third set that Mancuso said she'll remember most.
“We had two points left, and I started shaking,” she said. “The crowd was intense and it was back and forth. We got a big point, and I looked down and had to take a deep breath. The moment was just awesome.”
In the fourth set, Kentucky came back to pull to 23-22. Broekhuis and Mancuso then had back-to-back kills to end the match.
“(Nebraska) made big-time plays at the end of sets three and four to get them the wins in those sets," said Kentucky coach Craig Skinner, whose team dropped to 6-4. “It was neck-and-neck and they had a knack for making that big play at the end of the set to win.”
Nebraska (8-0) concludes its nonconference schedule with a match at No. 18 Iowa State on Saturday, then begins Big Ten Conference play the following week on the road against No. 2 Penn State.
NO. 1 NEBRASKA 3, NO. 19 KENTUCKY 1
KENTUCKY (kills-aces-blocks)--Billings 12-2-4, Morgan 4-0-5, Frazier 20-0-2, Bergren 4-1-5, Schwarzwalder 8-0-5, Napper 0-1-0, Workman 0-0-0, Klefot 0-1-0, O'Conner 7-0-2, Greenberg 0-0-0. Totals 55-5-20.
NEBRASKA--Cook 3-0-1, Mancuso 17-0-3, Broekhuis 15-2-3, Thramer 6-0-5, Haggerty 8-0-6, Werth 8-2-3, Dykstra 0-0-0, Zarda 0-0-0, Hubl 0-0-0, Hall 0-0-1, McNeal 0-0-1. Totals 58-4-23.
Assists leaders--Kentucky (Bergren 47), Nebraska (Cook 43).
Digs leaders---Kentucky (Klefot 13, Bergren 10, Napper 10), Nebraska (Cook 13, Broekhuis 8, Werth 8).
Hitting percentages---Kentucky .266, Nebraska .315.