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NU volleyball vs. Michigan, 9/21/18

Nebraska's Kenzie Maloney serves during the third set against Michigan last month at the Devaney Sports Center.

The Nebraska volleyball players, and fans, have had it pretty good the past two years, especially when it comes to those matches played in Lincoln.

In 2017, when Nebraska won the national championship, the Huskers never lost a match in Lincoln, going 17-0. This season, the fifth-ranked Huskers have a 12-2 record in home matches.

That’s part of why after Nebraska lost its first Big Ten Conference match of the season, last week at home against Minnesota, the players' response was out of the ordinary.

Senior libero Kenzie Maloney was one of the players who answered questions in a news conference after the match. As she spoke there was a mix of disgust for what had happened, and passion, and a resolve to get better.

“Our lack of care was what hurt us tonight,” said Maloney that night, after Minnesota beat the Huskers in four sets.

It was a moment not seen very often after a home match. Nebraska has a 63-5 record in home matches since Maloney joined the team.

What prompted Maloney’s passionate response to the loss, and what Nebraska had to do going forward? She explained this week.

“Honestly, I think I was just envious of the way Minnesota was playing, because I know that we’ve played like that before, and we just weren’t doing it for some reason,” Maloney said. “Just the way they were diving all over the court and getting every ball up. They were just relentless on defense, and I feel like so many times that’s been us, and I wanted it to be us, and it just wasn’t.”

Nebraska came back from the loss to Minnesota and played well in a three-set win against Indiana on Wednesday. Now the Huskers face another challenging match on Saturday on the road against No. 9 Penn State.

After the Minnesota loss, Maloney said the Huskers needed to play harder, and she led by example during the match against Indiana. On one memorable play she sprinted to track down a ball 15 feet past the end line, and saved the ball from touching the floor with a one-handed dig.

This season is really important to her, Maloney said.

“Me and (Mikaela Foecke) are trying to get back to the Final Four, and go to the Final Four every year since we’ve been here, which would be amazing,” she said. “I think just because it’s my last year it’s really special to me and I want to give it all I have, and teach the younger players what Nebraska volleyball means.”

To Maloney, playing Nebraska volleyball means relentless defense, being disciplined and trusting your teammates.

“We haven’t gotten to that point yet, and we want it bad,” Maloney said. “We’re working for it. We’re getting better at it every day, and hopefully we can get there soon.”

Maloney is averaging 3.84 digs per set to lead the Huskers’ nation-best defense, and her 21 ace serves rank third on the team.

Maloney tries to be a calming presence for her teammates.

“When things are getting a little hectic or chaotic I try to be the person to calm people down, because I know sometimes people might want to do too much, and that’s when we don’t play well,” Maloney said.

Nebraska has won a remarkable seven consecutive matches against Penn State over three seasons, including in the national semifinals last season. This year’s match against Penn State may seem a little different, after Penn State graduated some program mainstays in Simone Lee, Haleigh Washington and Ali Frantti. Now outside hitter Nia Reed leads Penn State (14-3, 5-2 Big Ten) by averaging 3.08 kills per set.

While the names have changed for Penn State, Nebraska coach John Cook says the formula is the same.

“They’re talented, big and physical,” he said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.

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Sports reporter

Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

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