In a span of about 30 minutes on Friday evening the Nebraska volleyball team experienced one of the lowest moments of its season, and also one of its finest moments, during its match against Minnesota.
But the last memory — and the one that kept Nebraska’s Big Ten title hopes in good position — was sophomore Megan Miller serving when Nebraska won the final 11 points of the match. Amazing.
So No. 6 Nebraska had a walk-off, five-set win against the No. 7 Gophers, 25-22, 25-18, 19-25, 11-25, 15-3 in Minneapolis.
Nebraska is on a seven-match winning streak and has two five-set wins in the past week, after beating Iowa last week. And the Huskers are 5-1 in five-set matches.
As for the race for the Big Ten title, Wisconsin beat Iowa 3-0 on Friday, so the Badgers maintain their one-match lead in the league standings at 16-1. Nebraska is one match back at 15-2, and plays the Badgers on Sunday.
For Nebraska the low point was in the fourth set, when Minnesota led 20-10. It was such a large deficit that Nebraska coach John Cook conceded the set and began subbing out the starters so they could rest for the fifth set. Nebraska never led in the third or fourth sets after playing so well while winning the first two sets.
But in volleyball each set begins with the score at zero, and Nebraska didn’t let the previous two sets end their chance to win. In the fifth set, Nebraska dominated again.
After Minnesota led the fifth set 2-1, Nebraska won 14 of the next 15 points. Miller, the sophomore defensive specialist from Indiana, served the final 10 points, including one ace.
In the fifth set, Nebraska had 10 kills on 14 attempts with just one hitting error for a .643 hitting percentage.
Minnesota only had one kill on 15 attempts in the fifth set, with a negative hitting percentage for the set.
“We made some nice plays (in the fifth set), and we put the pressure on them,” said Cook in a radio interview. “Megan serving. I’m not sure they had a good pass in the fifth set. Our serving really put pressure on them, and our block and defense."
Minnesota has some of the hardest hitting attackers in college volleyball — Regan Pittman, Taylor Morgan, Alexis Hart and Stephanie Samedy. But early in the match Nebraska’s good serving — and the Gophers’ below-average passing — meant the Gophers weren’t hitting at full force.
But Minnesota is too good, had too much to play for, and had a sellout crowd of 5,200 behind them, so they weren’t done yet.
It was like two different matches, how Nebraska played in the first, second and fifth sets, and the other two.
“I just think to play at the level you need to play at to beat Minnesota is a really high level, and to do that for three hours is hard to do for any team,” Cook said. “And we got two freshmen out there that are trying to learn how to do that. And Minnesota was playing great. They were digging balls, and everything was going their way.
“It’s a momentum game, and then we got all the momentum in the fifth (set) and ran with it.”
In a match with All-Americans and senior starters, it was Nebraska freshman Madi Kubik who had a match-high 20 kills. Kubik was awesome in the fifth set. She had seven of the Huskers’ 10 kills in the set, coming on nine attempts.
Kubik also had a block that gave the Huskers a 7-3 lead, and a match-high 17 digs.
“That girl is an all-star,” said Husker captain Lauren Stivrins of Kubik in an interview on the Big Ten Network. ”She gives me goose bumps just thinking about her.
“She really took over. When she blocked (Samedy) in that last set I turned to her and I said, ‘Madi, you just won us the game.’ That was a game-changer, and we needed that. She stepped up big time for us.”
Miller’s serving was also critical, never allowing the Gophers to think they could come back.
“Ten (serves) in a row. That’s hard to do,” Cook said. “I mean how many times do we get two points and then serve in the net? The way she finished there, that was awesome.”
Lexi Sun added 18 kills and hit .262, and didn’t let a rough first set carry over to the whole match. Jazz Sweet added 12 kills, and Stivrins had eight. Callie Schwarzenbach had seven kills on .600 hitting and four blocks.
Nebraska had a season-best eight ace serves, with three apiece from Sun and Miller.
Hart led the Gophers (20-5, 14-3 Big Ten) with 18 kills. Minnesota out blocked the Huskers 13-8.
Nebraska had lost its previous two road matches against the Gophers, and beat the Gophers on its home court for the first time since 2014.
— Brent C. Wagner
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