LINCOLN — This was not the night Nebraska was supposed to lose.
Not in front of a sellout crowd that featured more than 70 former letterwinners gathered for the largest reunion of players who had come to say goodbye to the historic NU Coliseum.
But on a night where the Nebraska program got together to celebrate its history, Ohio State made some of its own.
The No. 20-rated Buckeyes outhit, outblocked and outworked No. 4 Nebraska Friday night for a 25-22, 26-24, 19-25, 25-23 victory to snap the Huskers' 39-match regular-season win streak in the Coliseum.
The loss was Nebraska's first regular-season defeat in the building since Iowa State earned a five-set win in 2009 and was the Huskers' first loss overall in 10 matches. The last team to defeat Nebraska (17-3, 9-2 Big Ten) this season, No. 1 Penn State, returns to the Coliseum Sunday afternoon looking for a sweep of the season series.
“Ohio State did a nice job tonight,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “I just thought we were tentative and didn't really do anything to pressure them on our home court. We just tipped the ball, missed serves, we just didn't play very good volleyball.”
Ohio State (16-7, 7-4) had a number of stars Friday, but senior outside hitter Mari Hole shined brightest with a match-high 20 kills. The UCLA transfer took 55 swings and was on the deciding end of many of the match's biggest points.
But Buckeyes coach Geoff Carlston said it was fellow senior Kaitlyn Leary who set the tone. Leary had 14 kills, including five on six swings in the decisive fourth set.
“I think Kaitlyn Leary led the way with her shot selection on the outside,” Carlston said. “She hit line, then she hit 6-5 because they were doing some different rotations on us. I think Mari kind of followed (saying) 'Oh, that works. I'll try that, too.'”
The Huskers were uncharacteristically tentative on offense, hitting .225, their second-lowest mark of the season. Ohio State, which was eighth in the Big Ten in blocks coming into the match, racked up 13, led by six from Andrea Kacsits.
“We made bad decisions,” Cook said. “We weren't passing very well, so that takes us out of it a little bit, but you've got to make good decisions. Our hitters were just pulling it down into the block. Lauren trap-set a couple. That was a problem. We didn't put any pressure on them. We just let them play.”
Morgan Broekhuis was one of the few bright spots offensively for Nebraska, with a season-high 19 kills. Gina Mancuso and Hannah Werth each added 13 kills but hit .189 and .200, respectively.
Husker players remained in a team meeting following the match and were unavailable to speak to reporters.
After dropping the first set, Nebraska looked set to tie the match with a 22-18 lead in Game 2. But the Buckeyes ran off four straight to even the set 22-22. Kills by Emily Danks and Kacsits put Ohio State up 24-23, before Broekhuis evened the set with a kill to stave off a set point. But the Huskers were whistled in the net on the next rally, and Broekhuis sent her next swing long to put Nebraska in a 2-0 hole.
The Huskers finally got their offense going in the third, hitting .300 to cut the Buckeyes' lead to 2-1, but Ohio State remained poised, holding NU to a .152 hitting mark in the final frame.
Danks and middle blocker Mariah Booth, both seniors, each added 10 kills for Ohio State, which avenged a 3-1 loss to the Huskers in Columbus on Sept. 22.
“Our seniors played phenomenally, and we just had great leadership on the court and played steady,” Carlston said. “Last time we played well the first set, then got it handed to us. So we just talked about being steady and being consistent and not being too high or too low.”
Cook said the match was “a 180” from last Sunday's win at Illinois, where the Huskers impressively swept the Illini on their home floor. What caused the change, the coach couldn't say, emphasizing the team did not look ahead to Sunday's showdown with Penn State.
“We spent the whole week preparing for (Ohio State),” he said. “We haven't even talked or looked at Penn State. I knew how big a match this was, but maybe I was the only one.”
Following the match, more than 70 players took part in a ceremony honoring former letterwinners who played in the Coliseum since the start of the program in 1975. Each player was given a plaque by Athletic Director Tom Osborne, with framed copies of tickets from matches during their respective eras as well as commemorative medallions.
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