The Nebraska volleyball team won the first two sets in Friday’s match against Michigan, but in the second set, the match began to slip away from the Huskers.
Four days after NU knocked off then-No.1 Penn State, the No. 4 Huskers’ bid to win the Big Ten title suffered another blow with a five-set loss to unranked Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Michigan won the final three sets for a 21-25, 19-25, 25-21, 25-13, 15-9 victory.
Also Friday, Penn State beat Minnesota in four sets. Penn State now has a two-match lead over Nebraska and Minnesota in the league standings with seven matches remaining.
Nebraska (18-4, 10-3) dominated early in Friday's match -- at one point winning 13 straight points -- before the big letdown.
The Huskers won the final three points of the first set, then took a 10-0 lead in the second set.
NU led 17-4 in the second set before Michigan closed with a 17-8 run. Nebraska won the set 25-19, but the Wolverines picked up momentum for the rest of the match.
“I thought the match turned in game two when we were way up and we let them come back,” NU coach John Cook said on his postmatch radio show. “We just decided then the match was over. ‘We’re better than them, and we’re just going to roll through this.’ You can’t do that on the road.”
Michigan (18-9, 6-7) had momentum to begin the fifth set, despite Nebraska having won each of its previous five-set matches -- against UCLA, Indiana and Penn State.
NU took a 4-2 lead to open the fifth set, before Michigan got consecutive points on a serving error by Gina Mancuso and a kill by Krystalyn Goode.
Nebraska then suffered a setback when senior outside hitter Hannah Werth went down with an ankle injury and did not return. Cook did not have an update following the match on the severity of Werth's injury.
Freshman Kelsey Fien came off the bench for Werth and got a kill for a 5-4 lead. Morgan Broekhuis had a kill to make it 6-5, but Nebraska never led again.
Michigan junior outside hitter Molly Toon had a career night, with 25 kills on 46 attempts for a .435 hitting percentage. Junior outside Lexi Erwin had 18 kills.
When Nebraska beat Michigan in four sets a month ago, Erwin had only two kills on 22 attempts.
Toon and Erwin were able to go off because Nebraska did not block well, Cook said. Michigan had a .326 hitting percentage, while Nebraska hit .256.
Michigan outblocked the Huskers 10-6. It was only the fifth time in 22 matches this season NU lost the blocking battle.
“Our block was pathetic tonight,” Cook said. “We had six blocks in a five-game match. That’s absolutely pathetic. We were a very undisciplined team tonight."
Mancuso led Nebraska with 20 kills and Broekhuis added 15. Werth had eight kills on 31 attempts before being injured.
Coming off the bench for the second straight match, Fien had four kills on just five attempts.
The match marks the third time in two seasons Nebraska has lost to an unranked opponent. Last year, the Huskers loss to Northwestern to end the regular season and to Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
This time, Nebraska got complacent, Cook said.
“We were blowing them out and we let them start coming back,” he said. “We were just like, ‘Yeah, we’ll win this.’”
-- Brent. C. Wagner