John Cook loves defense, so the players on the Nebraska volleyball team gave their coach a fun night during the final match of the regular season.
Nebraska had nine blocks and 52 digs in a 25-15, 25-16, 25-19 win against Ohio State on Saturday at the Devaney Sports Center.
Ohio State had just a .086 hitting percentage, including a negative hitting percentage in the opening set.
“I get the most joy when we really shut teams down and suffocate them, and I thought we did that tonight,” Cook said.
Nebraska’s defense had taken a bit of a hit in recent weeks. Minnesota rocked the Huskers pretty good for a few sets last week. Wisconsin hit .331 in a sweep against the Huskers.
“I think Wisconsin hurt our confidence a little bit because we couldn’t stop them when we needed to,” Cook said.
Nebraska’s once-dominant defense has dropped to No. 9 in the nation. But now the Huskers go into the postseason feeling like their defense can again be the reason they win. It was the first time in six matches Nebraska held its opponent under .100 hitting.
“It always gives you confidence when you’re out there getting blocks and awesome digs,” said Nebraska's Nicklin Hames. “We really work hard in the gym at blocking and defense, and it’s one of our main goals every day is to be the top defensive team.”
Nebraska's great defense mean the Huskers still won even though Ohio State had two more kills.
Ohio State can be a tough team to defend because they try to create chaos by serving quick and running in lots of different players into the match. Ohio State had 15 players play in the match, and 11 got kills.
But Nebraska handled the chaos.
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“I challenged them to put on a clinic tonight, and I thought they did,” Cook said. “Jazz (Sweet) shut down (Jenaisya Moore) they pulled her out. Lauren (Stivrins) had a really good night blocking tonight. They’re usually good at killing out of the middle, and Lauren just completely shut it down.”
Stivrins had six blocks. Callie Schwarzenbach and Sweet had three apiece. Madi Kubik and Hames had 12 digs each.
For Schwarzenbach, it’s rewarding when Nebraska executes, and gets a block.
“Just knowing that practice, it pays off and knowing that the person next to you that you have so much confidence and trust in them. Blocking is my favorite,” Schwarzenbach said.
Schwarzenbach also had one of her best matches hitting, with seven kills on 11 attempts without an error for a .636 hitting percentage.
Lexi Sun led Nebraska with 12 kills on .310 hitting.
Nebraska finished the Big Ten season with a 17-3 record and in a three-way tie for second place with Penn State and Minnesota. Wisconsin won the league at 18-2.
On Sunday, Nebraska will learn its path to what the program hopes is a fifth consecutive NCAA Final Four. The NCAA Tournament selection show is Sunday at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised by ESPNU.
Nebraska should be chosen as one of the top 16 seeds and get to host the first round.
Nebraska was No. 8 in the unofficial RPI going into Saturday’s match, and No. 6 in the coaches’ poll.
This may be a rare year in which none of the Big Ten Conference teams earns a top-four overall seed and chance to host a regional. Baylor, Texas, Pittsburgh, Stanford and Wisconsin are some of the top teams in the RPI.
“I just hope the NCAA committee doesn’t penalize the Big Ten for being so tough, with (seeding),” Cook said. “That’s the thing that worries everybody. We’re playing top-10 teams back-to-back. Penn State is doing that this weekend. You look at the Big 12, and some of these other conferences, they only have one or two teams ranked in the whole conference.”