The defense for the Nebraska volleyball team was more like fans have gotten accustom to seeing during a four-set win against Michigan State on Friday at the Devaney Sports Center.
Nebraska’s defense had a season-best 14 blocks and held Michigan State to a season-worst hitting percentage in a 21-25, 25-15, 25-14, 25-22 victory.
It was fifth-ranked Nebraska’s first match since suffering its first conference loss, and a rare home sweep, against Wisconsin last week. In that match Wisconsin hit .376 for the best hitting match against Nebraska in seven years.
This time Nebraska’s defense was closer to its old self, holding Michigan to a .038 hitting percentage. Michigan State didn’t have a positive hitting percentage in two of the final three sets.
“Defense won it for us tonight,” said Nebraska coach John Cook.
Sophomore middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach was great on defense with seven blocks. Lauren Stivrins added six blocks, and Jazz Sweet and Capri Davis had five apiece.
Kenzie Knuckles had 21 digs, Madi Kubik had 15 and Nicklin Hames 14.
For the Nebraska players it was good to get back to playing some of the defense they’re known for.
“I thought our team did a great job of being aggressive on defense, and I think that showed when we were winning all the long rallies,” Stivrins said. “It was nice to see that fight in our team defensively because we’ve kind of been struggling with that recently.”
Nebraska’s blockers got a lot of good touches that kept the Spartans from getting kills, and the back-row defenders knew where to be to save the ball from touching the floor.
“I just think that the effort was there tonight, and we just didn’t give up,” Stivrins said.
Stivrins played another All-American level match. Stivrins had 13 kills, and couldn’t really be stopped on her trademark slide attack. She had just one hitting error on 18 attempts for a .667 hitting percentage. Stivrins was also good serving, and had one ace.
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For Nebraska (12-2, 4-1 Big Ten) to be successful, Stivrins has to play at a high level, Cook said.
“When you have a middle that can do all of those things and get kills for you it really helps, and it really helps open other things up,” Cook said. “We knew we had good matchups for her tonight and we were trying to get her as many balls as we could. I think Nickin could have set her more in a few opportunities.
“I think (Stivrins is) tired of hearing about (Dana) Rettke, too,” added Cook, in reference to the Wisconsin middle blocker.
Nebraska’s other most experienced players were also good. Sweet had a negative hitting percentage in the first set, but didn’t let that discourage her. She led the Husker with 16 kills, including two big ones when the final set got close at the finish. Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun also had 13 kills.
Nebraska had a .196 hitting percentage for the match.
In the first set Nebraska’s lead reached 20-17. Then Michigan State not only rallied, but dominated, finishing the set on an 8-1 run to win the set 25-21.
The start the second set was much better, with Hames serving a 6-0 run to start the set.
“After set one I told them that they’re going to have to take the momentum back, and they came out and made a big run there with Nicklin serving,” Cook said.
In the clinching set Michigan State got its deficit to 20-17, and the end of sets is where Nebraska has struggled. But then Michigan State had a serving error, Stivrins got another kill down the line and Nebraska finished off the win.
Outside hitter Meredith Norris led Michigan State (11-4, 2-3 Big Ten) with 11 kills, but needed 53 attempts to do so and hit .000.
Nebraska has another match on Sunday against Michigan. The Wolverines are tied for the Big Ten lead at 5-0.
The Nebraska volleyball team, fresh off of being swept by Wisconsin last week, will look to bounce back against Michigan State Friday at the D…