Just a few points away from another win against Penn State, the Nebraska volleyball team instead saw its remarkable winning streak in the series come to an end.
Ninth-ranked Penn State defeated No. 5 Nebraska 25-22, 11-25, 24-26, 25-23, 15-9 in another great match in the series on Saturday in State College, Pennsylvania.
Nebraska had won seven in a row against Penn State over three seasons, including two matches in the NCAA Tournament. Penn State got its first win against Nebraska since the end of the 2014 season.
Nebraska was closing in on winning the match in the fourth set with a 19-16 lead, but Penn State rallied to tie it at 21. Nebraska took a 23-22 lead, but then Penn State won the final three points of the set to win 25-23 and force a fifth set. On the final three points of the set, outside hitter Nia Reed got a kill, the Nittany Lions blocked Mikaela Foecke, and Jazz Sweet hit a ball out.
“We had a chance to win it in game four,” said Nebraska coach John Cook on his postmatch radio show.
Penn State led the entire fifth set, taking charge with a 7-4 lead. In one stretch Nebraska had three hitting errors over four rallies as Penn State took a 12-7 lead.
In the fifth set Penn State had just one more kill than the Huskers, but Nebraska had five hitting errors, and Penn State just two.
Nebraska’s serve reception held the Huskers back in key moments of the match.
“I told them before game five that you win game five by killing out-of-system balls, and you got to serve and pass, and (Penn State) ended it on an ace,” Cook said. “(Penn State was) in-system pretty much all game five.
“We still did a great job defensively on them, but they were getting great swings and we were hitting against two-person blocks out-of-system, pretty much Nicklin (Hames) bump setting. That was the difference. They ball-handled and they passed well enough to win game five, and we didn’t execute."
Nebraska has now lost matches on consecutive Saturday nights, after also losing last week against Minnesota. The Huskers dropped to 15-2 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten.
“We’re a team that’s a work in progress,” Cook said. “We got to figure out how to win these matches. That’s the first time (Nicklin, Callie Schwarzenbach), Hayley Densberger, playing in her role, have been in a situation like this playing on the road."
Since losing its first two Big Ten matches, against Minnesota and Ohio State, Penn State (15-3, 6-2 Big Ten) has won six straight. Penn State won its 21st straight match at home dating back to a loss against Nebraska last season.
Reed led Penn State with 20 kills, but needed 70 attempts to do so and was held to .171 hitting. North Carolina transfer Taylor Leath added 10 kills.
Lexi Sun had a season-high 20 kills for Nebraska, including two clutch ones at the end of the back-and-forth third set won by the Huskers.
Foecke added 17 kills. The Huskers’ middle blockers were effective, but not set as much as Cook would have liked. Lauren Stivrins had 10 kills on 17 attempts, and Schwarzenbach six kills on 11 attempts.
“We could have set the middles all night if we could have got the ball to Nicklin better,” Cook said. “We were trying to set middle, but we weren’t passing. Lexi, Mikaela and Hayley have got to pass balls because nobody is serving Kenzie (Maloney), so they’ve got to do a better job of that, and execute.”
Maloney led Nebraska with 23 digs.
— Brent C. Wagner