The Nebraska volleyball team completed the first half of the 20-match Big Ten Conference schedule with an impressive sweep of No. 25 Illinois on Sunday in Champaign, Ill.
The Huskers’ 25-16, 25-23, 25-16 victory in front of 3,222 fans at Huff Hall and a national TV audience was Nebraska’s ninth straight victory.
At the midpoint of conference schedule, Nebraska is in second place in the Big Ten standings with a 9-1 record.
Penn State held on to beat unranked Michigan in five sets on Saturday, and leads the league standings with a 10-0 record.
This week could be big if Nebraska hopes to repeat as Big Ten champions. Friday, the fourth-ranked Huskers host No. 20 Ohio Sate. On Sunday, top-ranked Penn State comes to Lincoln.
“We got to get Ohio State, but we know we’re chasing Penn State,” Nebraska coach John Cook said Sunday on his postmatch radio show.
Nebraska will recognize past players and coaches from the 37 seasons of Husker volleyball in a ceremony following Friday’s match. The event was scheduled to honor the final season at the NU Coliseum before the volleyball team moves to a renovated Devaney Sports Center next year.
Sunday, Morgan Broekhuis led a balanced attack as Nebraska (17-2) rolled past Illinois (10-10, 4-6 Big Ten) to improve its record to 7-2 against ranked opponents this season.
Broekhuis had 10 kills, Gina Mancuso added nine kills and Hannah Werth eight. Playing in her home state, freshman middle blocker Meghan Haggerty had seven kills on only nine attempts.
Nebraska stressed Illinois with its serving — Broekhuis and Paige Hubl each had long serving runs in the first set — which helped Nebraska outhit the Illini .310-.147.
“(The players) came focused and probably executed our game plan about as well as we have all year,” Cook said. “I thought they played with a lot of confidence and a lot of trust. Especially in big points, they just did a really nice job tonight.”
Broekhuis had a fine all-around game. The junior from Colorado Springs, Colo., had 10 kills of 27 attempts for a .296 hitting percentage. Broekhuis also had six assists, each of the Huskers’ three ace serves and three blocks.
“I thought Morgan was really solid tonight, and she got some really tough sets out of system and really managed it well,” Cook said. “She could have had a lot more errors with some of the plays that she had to deal with. She got a huge stuff block at the end, we ran some points with her setting, which is nice.
“The other thing (Broekhuis) did really well was serve. She broke open game one with her serve. When you haven’t seen that serve, it’s a different serve (with a) 6-foot-5 lefty.”
Freshman outside hitter Jocelyn Birks had 13 kills to lead Illinois, but needed 45 attempts to do so against an inspired Nebraska floor defense. Werth had 18 of the Huskers’ 40 digs for the match.
“We dug some shots, Cook said. "What was impressive was a couple balls Hannah dug were right to (setter Lauren Cook) and we just transitioned to an easy kill. Those were some shots they hit, and we where controlling them. That’s what we train for. We like teams that bang it. They’re fun to play. Our kids would rather do that (dig) than get a kill.”
Nebraska junior middle blocker Hayley Thramer only had five kills, but came up big with a match-high eight blocks. Nebraska outblocked Illinois 12-6.
John Cook expects a few of Thramer's blocks may be included in the next motivational video shown to the players prior to matches.
“Those were what we call bounce blocks,” the coach said.
— Brent C. Wagner
NEBRASKA 3, ILLINOIS 0
Nebraska (kills-ace serves-blocks)—Cook 1-0-3, Hubl 0-0-0, Mancuso 9-0-3, Broekhuis 10-3-3, Thramer 5-0-8, Werth 8-0-2, Dykstra 0-0-0, McNeal 1-0-3, Haggerty 7-0-3, Strange 0-0-0.
Illinois—Conard 0-0-0, Dorn 3-0-1, Birks 13-1-0, Viliunas 3-0-2, Johnson 4-0-4, Stark 8-0-2, Criswell 2-0-0, Beltran 0-0-0, Wolfe 0-0-0, McMahon 8-0-1.
Assists leaders —Nebraska 38 (Cook 27), Illinois 38 (Viliunas 33). Digs leaders—Nebraska 40 (Werth 18, Dykstra 10), Illinois 42 (Stark 13, Conard 8). Hitting percentages—Nebraska .310, Illinois .147. Time—1:35. Attendance—3,222.