Freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik had 16 kills with an above-average .306 hitting percentage to help lead the Nebraska volleyball team to a 25-20, 25-18, 25-23 victory against Michigan State on Wednesday in East Lansing, Michigan.
Nebraska got the sweep by going on significant scoring runs at the end of both the first and third sets, after trailing earlier in the set.
Sixth-ranked Nebraska (21-3, 13-2 Big Ten) has now won five straight matches.
This was the first step for a Nebraska team that has a goal to go 6-0 to finish the Big Ten season, which would give the Huskers at least a share of the league title. There’s a huge match in the conference Thursday, when No. 7 Wisconsin plays at No. 5 Minnesota in a showdown between the teams tied for the Big Ten lead at 13-1.
Lexi Sun added nine kills and hit .240 for the Huskers. All-America middle blocker Lauren Stivrins had kills on seven of her nine attempts.
NU's Callie Schwarzenbach had a great match both blocking and hitting. She had a match-high six blocks and added five kills on .444 hitting.
Setter Nicklin Hames had a great all-around match, with 34 assists, four kills, 13 digs and an ace serve. She helped the Huskers hit .296, while Michigan State was held to a .196 hitting percentage.
Hames gave the Huskers some unexpected offense at the start of the match when she had kills on four of her first five attempts, including one on a full swing and another on a tip.
Freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles had 11 digs. Defensive specialist Megan Miller had nine digs and two assists, and made some nice plays, Nebraska coach John Cook said.
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In the first set, Michigan State led 18-15. But then Nebraska flipped the set, going on a 7-0 run served by Sun to take control 22-18. During that run, Jazz Sweet, Sun and Kubik each had kills, and Schwarzenbach had a block.
The highlight of the second set came when Schwarzenbach helped the Huskers win three straight points, all with blocks, for a 12-7 lead. Sun assisted on two of the blocks.
In the third set, Nebraska struggled in serve receive, so Michigan State was able to take a 16-13 lead. But NU won three straight points for a 20-18 lead it never relinquished. Michigan State hurt its chances of extending the match by having two serving errors in the final five rallies.
“It’s always a struggle in here to play and we were just a little out-of-sync and a little out-of-whack and we started trying too hard, but I thought when we got to the end of (sets) we played some good volleyball,” Cook said on his postmatch radio show. “We did a really nice job of (hitting shots off) their block.”
Michigan State (14-11, 5-10) recently suffered through a six-match losing streak, but has some big hitters. And the Spartans have a nice home-court advantage at Jenison Field House, because it’s an old, cold arena so large that it also serves as the school’s indoor track venue.
It’s not an easy place to play, Cook said.
“They told me this is the first time we’ve won 3-0 here, so there you go,” Cook said.
Nebraska has won 50 straight matches against unranked opponents dating to a loss to Northern Iowa early in the 2017 national championship season.
— Brent C. Wagner