Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook did not temper his emotions after his team of mostly Big Ten Conference rookies finished off a weekend sweep in the Huskers' first two conference matches.
On Saturday, the 12th-ranked Huskers had an easy time taking down No. 24 Illinois 25-20, 25-14, 25-22 in front of 3,476 fans in Champaign, Ill.
The win came less than 24 hours after the Huskers beat Northwestern in the Big Ten opener.
Nebraska (9-2, 2-0 Big Ten) played nine players Saturday. Five of them were freshmen and two other were transfers embarking on their first trek through the rugged Big Ten.
“We took a big step this weekend,” Cook said on his postmatch radio show. “Winning two on the road in the Big Ten is huge.”
The big matches will resume next weekend, when Nebraska hosts No. 9 Minnesota on Friday and Wisconsin, which probably will move into the rankings this week, on Saturday.
Freshman outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen led the Huskers with 14 kills, and senior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson added 10. Robinson also had a match-high 15 digs for her seventh double-double of the season.
The Illini rarely passed well enough to put setter Alexis Viliunas in good position to most effectively utilize her attackers, and Illinois hit .144 for the match. Nebraska hit .255.
“I thought our girls did a great job of serving and passing,” Cook said. “We definitely won that battle. The other key to the night was (Jocelynn) Birks was on fire, and then Amber (Rolfzen) started shutting her down.
“I think the other big turning point was Alexa Ethridge in set two broke it open with a five-point run. Her serve, they (the Illini) were happy to touch it. She really came through and won that set for us.”
The Huskers’ six ace serves were the most since a match against Auburn in the first week of the season, and Nebraska stressed Illinois with its serving most of the match. Illinois had a brief lead in the first set, but never led again after a 1-0 edge in the second set.
“We had (the Illinois setter) running all over the place. Our kids did a great job,” Cook said. “The great thing about it was we had six aces and only seven errors, so now we've got that ratio we’re looking for.”
Nebraska had 11 blocks, tying its season high. Sophomore middle blocker Cecilia Hall had a career-best eight, and Amber Rolfzen added five.
Illinois focused on trying to shut down Robinson with two blockers, so the Huskers spread out their attack. The middle blockers had one of their most efficent matches of the season, with Meghan Haggerty finishing with five kills on nine attempts and Hall four kills on seven attempts.
Nebraska beat Illinois for the seventh straight time, including during the 2011 season, when Illinois reached the NCAA Tournament final.
Birks led Illinois (5-7, 1-1) with 13 kills, but needed 48 attempts and had seven errors for a .125 hitting percentage. The Illini had nine serving errors and only one ace.
Players from the Nebraska women’s soccer team attended Saturday’s volleyball match. The soccer team also played at Northwestern on Friday, and will play Illinois on Sunday.
-- Brent C. Wagner