Michigan State is alone atop the Big Ten Conference volleyball standings following a four-set win against Nebraska on Saturday in a top-10 matchup in East Lansing, Mich.
The seventh-ranked Spartans used a balanced attack to beat No. 9 Nebraska 25-20, 26-24, 20-25, 25-19 in front of 4,228 fans.
Nebraska and Michigan State each entered the match undefeated in conference play and as Big Ten co-leaders. Michigan State (17-1, 6-0 Big Ten) has won 15 straight matches and is off to its best start since 1995.
“It’s a long conference year with a lot of great teams, so it just puts us one step closer to reaching our goals,” Michigan State coach Cathy George said after the match. “It was a well-played match. Nebraska is a great team, very well-coached and very well-trained. It was great for our team to come back, especially after set three.”
Nebraska (12-3, 5-1) had its five-match win streak halted and is now tied with Penn State for second place in the conference.
The Huskers didn't challenge Michigan State with their serving, allowing the Spartans to stay in system and utilize their multiple weapons.
Senior outside hitter Lauren Wicinski led Michigan State with 20 kills. Chloe Reinig added 13, Allyssah Fitterer 11 and Alexis Mathews seven.
Michigan State hit .288 for the match, while Nebraska hit .258 and was hurt by 10 serving errors.
Nebraska also needed to defend against Michigan State's slide play with better blocking, NU coach John Cook said.
“Michigan State just played better than we did,” Cook said on his postmatch radio show. “They served tougher than we did, they passed better and they ball-handled better. That’s a tough system to defend when they’re in system. We couldn’t get them out of system enough and play consistent enough to beat them.”
Senior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson had 20 kills on 45 attempts with five errors for a .333 hitting percentage to lead the Huskers.
Freshman Kadie Rolfzen added 13 kills with a .219 hitting percentage. Senior right-side hitter Morgan Broekhuis played the entire match in place of freshman Amber Rolfzen. Broekhuis had five kills on 22 attempts with four errors for a .045 hitting percentage in her most extensive action since the first week of the season.
Asked about Amber Rolfzen’s health, Cook said she’d be fine.
Michigan State jumped to a 13-6 lead while winning the first set. In the second set, Nebraska kept it close late, but Michigan State won by two points to take a 2-0 lead.
Nebraska lost a chance at winning a rally in that set because of a red-card penalty on Cook. He said getting the penalty was uncalled-for, and said the referee and Cook have a history from when Nebraska played in the Big 12. Cook said he plans to discuss the incident with the league's head of officials.
Robinson sparked the Huskers in winning the third set with seven kills in the set. Nebraska outblocked the Spartans 8-3 in that set and 11-8 for the match.
Michigan State won the fourth set behind a .483 hitting percentage.
Nebraska beat No. 17 Michigan on Friday and finished the Michigan trip with a 1-1 record. The Huskers went 0-2 last season on this road trip.
The Huskers return home to play Indiana and No. 20 Purdue next weekend.
Michigan State and Nebraska will play again on Nov. 15 in Lincoln.
— Brent C. Wagner