LINCOLN — Nebraska and Creighton will not be renewing their volleyball series this fall in the regular season, and maybe for the first time, it will be the Husker fans breathing a sigh of relief.
The Bluejays dominated at the net with 16 blocks and looked the part of the more experienced, poised club in a 25-17, 22-25, 27-25, 20-25, 15-13 exhibition win Friday night at the NU Coliseum.
Neither team played exceptional volleyball during a disjointed match riddled with errors, but Creighton made the plays down the stretch, looking like the team that returns its top three attackers from last year's 29-4 season. While not an official win, it was the first time the Bluejays have come out ahead against the Huskers. Nebraska has won all 12 official meetings between the teams.
“Anytime you come into the Coliseum and come out with a win at Nebraska, you're excited,” said Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth, who apologized in a post-match interview for her phone, which was already ringing with congratulatory messages.
The Bluejays earned the win without six-rotation outside hitter Melanie Jereb, who was diagnosed with mononucleosis earlier in the week. In Jereb's place stepped 5-foot-11 sophomore Katie Neisler, who spent the past two seasons as a defensive specialist and will be a libero this fall. The sophomore had 13 kills, including the clincher on match point.
“This is a great win for us,” said CU middle blocker Kelli Browning. “I think both programs came out, and like Kirsten said, we didn't even play our best match. But the fact we came out and were still able to stay strong and pull out a win says a lot about this team and where we can go.”
Browning did her part at the net to neutralize Husker hitters. The 6-4 junior from Waukesha, Wis., had a match-high nine blocks to go with 12 kills as part of Creighton's defensive effort that held NU to a .144 attack percentage.
Even when Nebraska wasn't hitting into the Creighton block, it was finding ways to put balls out of bounds. The Huskers were tentative from the opening serve, missing connections on sets, failing to put away shots on overpasses, or sending free balls out of bounds.
Nebraska committed 37 attack errors and missed on 15 serves in the match, finally looking like a team that must replace four starters from last year.
“I can understand making aggressive errors, but making 15 service errors and 37 attack errors is just bonehead,” Husker coach John Cook said. “What happens is, it spreads. We're roll-shotting when we're down to the libero, which we should never do. Once everybody starts missing serves, it spreads, and everybody gets tentative.”
Leah McNary led Creighton with 15 kills, and the Bluejays got 49 assists from Millard North graduate Michelle Sicner, who will be tasked with replacing 2012 Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Megan Bober at setter this fall.
Kelsey Robinson had a match-high 21 kills for Nebraska while Kelsey Fien added 12 kills and Morgan Broekhuis had 10 in the final three games. But the Huskers never got on track offensively as the connection between the attackers and sophomore setter Alexa Strange continued to be a work in progress.
“It's just going to take time to get the timing down. We get that,” NU middle blocker Hayley Thramer said. “We just keep trying to give Alexa feedback and encouragement and not let her get too disappointed if the set isn't there — because it's like, 'Look, you're new to this. We get that, and we need to make better shots, too.'”
With the match tied 1-1 in sets, Nebraska gave away a pair of set points in Game 3 when Robinson and Meghan Haggerty committed service errors. Strange then fired a ball in the net to give the Bluejays a set point leading 26-25, which they converted when Browning combined with Savannah Smith to block Fien.
Nebraska also saw a golden chance slip away in Game 5. After rallying from a 10-5 deficit to tie it 13-13, the Huskers took possession of a free ball, but couldn't end the point. Lincoln native Lauren Smith got a kill to give the Bluejays match point, and Neisler's final shot caromed off a dig into the crowd to close the match on the next rally.
“They didn't skip a beat, and they trust each other,” Booth said. “The nice thing is they trust every player that if they come in, they can get the job done. That's really exciting to see.”
Creighton ........................... 25 22 27 20 15
At Nebraska ........................... 17 25 25 25 13
CU (kills-aces-blocks): McNary 15-0-2, Neisler 13-0-3, Browning 12-0-9, L. Smith 9-0-6, Sicner 4-0-6, S. Smith 2-0-4, Jansen 1-1-0.
NU (kills-aces-blocks): Robinson 21-0-2, Fien 12-0-1, Broekhuis 10-0-2, Haggerty 5-2-3, Thramer 5-0-5, A. Rolfzen 5-0-2, Ostrander 3-0-1, Strange 1-1-2.
Set assists: CU 54 (Sicner 49), NU 59 (Strange 55).
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• Video: Creighton-Nebraska match point: