Friday’s match between Wisconsin and Nebraska was the unofficial Big Ten championship match this year, as the winner would clinch at least a share of the conference title.
So when Dana Rettke’s final kill touched the floor to finish Wisconsin’s four-set win, the Badgers celebrated a championship. There were championship T-shirts slipped on quickly by the players, who then celebrated with a trophy.
So, in the end, Nebraska’s troubles in Madison, Wisconsin, continue, and Nebraska’s Big Ten title hopes were reduced to a long shot.
Nebraska (20-7, 15-4 Big Ten) would need a win against No. 6 Purdue on Saturday and a Wisconsin loss against 12th-place Indiana to be Big Ten co-champions.
The Badgers won both of the close sets in the match Friday to win 14-25, 25-23, 26-24, 25-18. Wisconsin also won two deuce sets when it swept Nebraska earlier in the season.
Wisconsin has won three straight Big Ten titles, and has eight overall. It is just the third Big Ten program to win three in a row, joining Illinois (1986-88) and Penn State (1996-99 and 2003-10).
Rettke had 18 kills with a .484 hitting percentage to lead the Badgers. She also had seven blocks and keyed a Wisconsin comeback with 16 kills as the Badgers won three straight sets.
Grace Loberg added 14 kills, and Devyn Robinson had 10.
Wisconsin had a .225 hitting percentage and held the Huskers to .168 hitting.
Nebraska led in ace serves 10-4. The Badgers topped the Huskers in kills (55-50), digs (63-55) and blocks (14-10).
“I thought it was a great match,” said Nebraska coach John Cook on the Huskers Radio Network. “We had our chances to win it. We could have won that 3-0. I’m really proud of our team, how hard we competed and how hard we played. You got to give Wisconsin a lot of credit. They made some great plays. Rettke made huge plays when they needed it. They had some great serves when they needed it and great digs and covers when they needed it.”
Nebraska’s strong start to the match had a lot to do with its serving. Nebraska served four aces in the set, including three from Keonilei Akana. Nebraska ended the first set on a 6-0 run that included three ace serves from Akana.
In the second set, Nebraska led 17-14, but the Huskers couldn’t hold on. That allowed the Badgers to tie the match and take back the momentum Nebraska had gotten on the road.
Nebraska had a couple of serving errors late in the set.
“You can’t give them life when you got them down on the road at Wisconsin,” Cook said.
The third set was close, too. But at the end of the set, Wisconsin got two big kills from 6-foot-9 Anna Smrek and 6-8 Rettke.
Needing to win the fourth set to extend the match, Nebraska got off to a bad start because of poor passing. The Badgers took leads of 5-1 and 9-4 and finished off the win.
Wisconsin has won seven straight in the series, dating back to Nebraska’s 2017 national championship season. The Badgers’ 2017 recruiting class has been successful against the Huskers. Sydney Hilley, Loberg and Rettke — each top-20 national recruits — have a 7-1 record against Nebraska.
Madi Kubik had 15 kills, but she was the only Husker with double-digit kills.
“We got to find other ways for people to get kills,” Cook said.
Lauren Stivrins added nine kills, and Kayla Caffey had seven. Lexi Sun had seven kills, but also seven hitting errors, to hit .000. Whitney Lauenstein started at right-side hitter. She had a strong start to the match, but didn’t get as many kills over the final two sets and finished with six kills.
Akana had a season-high five ace serves.
The NCAA Tournament selection show is Sunday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU. In the NCAA RPI, which is one source used to determine the seeding for the NCAA Tournament, Nebraska is ranked 13th.
— Brent C. Wagner