ANN ARBOR, Mich. — There was no switch that was flipped, no tell-tale rally that sent the fourth-ranked Nebraska volleyball team over the edge and into an endless free-fall Friday night.
Which might make the Huskers' collapse all the more frustrating.
In another match where Nebraska showed glimpses of Dr. Jekyll before succumbing to its inner Hyde, the Huskers fumbled away a two-set lead — or more accurately, saw Michigan rip the lead away in a 21-25, 19-25, 25-21, 25-13, 15-9 loss to the unranked Wolverines.
The Huskers saw their chance to repeat as Big Ten champions take a punch, with the biggest blows landed by two Wolverines whom Nebraska had shut down in the teams' first match Sept. 30.
Molly Toon, Michigan's junior outside hitter whose career high coming into Friday's match was 15 kills, led all players with 25 kills and hit .435. Lexi Erwin added 18 kills after being held to two in Nebraska's 3-1 win in Lincoln.
How did Toon and Erwin turn it around after combining for seven kills against 13 errors a month ago? Husker coach John Cook said the answer was simple.
“Because our block was pathetic tonight. We had six blocks in a five-game match. That's absolutely pathetic,” Cook said in his postmatch radio interview.
The collapse for Nebraska (18-4, 10-3 Big Ten) was so perplexing because it began in a set that the Huskers opened in dominating fashion. After taking the first set 25-21, they ran off the first 10 points in Game 2, part of a 13-0 run going back to the end of the first.
NU eventually led 17-4 before Michigan (18-9, 6-7) chipped away, scoring seven straight points to cut Nebraska's lead to 23-17. The Huskers finally polished off the set 25-19, but the momentum had clearly swung.
Nebraska would never hold a lead after the teams reached six points in a set the rest of the night.
“I thought the match turned in Game 2 when we were way up and we let them come back,” Cook said. “We decided then the match was over, 'we're better than them and we're just gonna roll through this.' You can't do that on the road.
“We were blowing them out and we let them start coming back. We're like, 'We'll win this.' Complacency collected. We got complacent, and it collected.”
The Huskers' wound was salted in Game 5 when senior outside hitter Hannah Werth left the match with an apparent ankle injury. The score was 4-4 when Werth left, and soon after, Michigan would score four straight points to seize control of the fifth. Cook said he didn't know the extent of Werth's injury immediately after the match, leaving her status unclear for Saturday's match at Michigan State.
Gina Mancuso had 20 kills and 13 digs, and Morgan Broekhuis added 15 kills for the Huskers, but they could never get in rhythm after Game 2, hitting .177 in the final three sets.
Mistakes plagued Nebraska all night. The Huskers were blocked 10 times and fired seven service errors, including two in the decisive fifth set.
The defeat was the first in four five-setters for Nebraska this year, and the first time it dropped a match after winning the first two sets since losing at Colorado State early last season.
It was an uneven display for a senior-laden team that has struggled at times with consistency. Nebraska showed unquestioned heart in beating then-No. 1 Penn State in Lincoln on Sunday, but dropped two games behind the Nittany Lions in the league standings after Penn State beat No. 10 Minnesota Friday.
After ending the first half of Big Ten play with six straight matches in which the team hit better than .300, the Huskers' .256 mark Friday was their highest attack percentage in the last three contests. Two of those three have ended in defeats, and a quick turnaround looms against a Michigan State club that had 12 service aces in a sweep of Iowa Friday.
“We were a very undisciplined team tonight,” Cook said. “It starts with your block and goes to your floor defense. We were just very undisciplined. And when you're on the road and you're off a little bit, you're not totally dialed in, those are the worst.”