LINCOLN — Kelsey Robinson hasn't been in Nebraska for very long, but long enough to know the Huskers usually bring out the best in Iowa State.
“I've only been here for one season, or not even one season, like two weeks into the season, and I already know that's a huge rivalry,” Robinson said.
Saturday, Robinson and the rest of the young Huskers made a statement by matching the Cyclones' emotions early and showing poise late to sweep No. 17 Iowa State 25-13, 25-22, 27-25 in the Ameritas Players Challenge at the Devaney Center.
Robinson and freshman outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen each had 16 kills in front of 8,293 fans to lead No. 12 Nebraska (7-1) to a win over its first ranked opponent of the season.
The Huskers put together perhaps their most complete match of the year. NU's block and defense silenced ISU's Victoria Hurtt, a unanimous preseason All-Big 12 Conference pick, holding the outside hitter without a kill in 14 swings while forcing her into six errors. The rest of the Cyclones fared little better as NU held Iowa State to a .139 attacking mark.
“They're just a really good blocking team. They had two big blockers waiting for (Hurtt) a lot of the night,” Iowa State coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. “She has been able to handle that pretty well. Tonight, for some reason, she didn't.”
Nebraska's block set the tone early. The Huskers racked up six blocks in the opener, including two when Mary Pollmiller and Meghan Haggerty teamed up to stuff Hurtt, who had 21 kills and hit .462 Friday in the Cyclones' loss to St. Mary's.
The emotion continued into Game 2, when Nebraska coach John Cook found out just how loud the Devaney Center could get after he received a yellow card warning after protesting the chair official overruling an ace by Pollmiller. The ball was ruled in by the line official before the chair official signaled the ball was out, drawing a loud chorus of boos.
“The yellow card proved me that this place can ramp it up,” Cook said. “That was awesome.”
Nebraska's Amber Rolfzen added another double-double, her third straight of the weekend, with 10 kills and 11 digs, and was named the tournament's most outstanding player. She was joined by Robinson and Pollmiller as NU representatives on the all-tournament team.
It was an efficient night for the NU offense. The Huskers hit .293, noteworthy since the Cyclones had been holding opponents to a .214 attack percentage with a scrambling floor defense that is notorious for frustrating opponents.
Robinson epitomized the disciplined attack with just two errors in her 33 swings to hit .424, her highest mark since Nebraska's season-opening win over Louisiana-Monroe.
The Huskers' mettle was most on display closing out the sweep in a back-and-forth Game 3. Kadie Rolfzen had three straight kills to put NU on top 21-18, but Iowa State knotted the game 23-23 on back-to-back kills by Mackenzie Bigbee.
But Nebraska won its last three points in extended, out-of-system rallies on kills by Robinson, Pollmiller and Kadie Rolfzen to close the match, a sign to Cook the Huskers took a step forward Saturday.
“We're starting to get in a rhythm a little bit. It just takes time,” Cook said. “Transition is when it's all happening. There has to be great communication. There's nothing planned — it's all spontaneous. That's the trust that happens with teams as they build.”
The next challenge of the season, and the biggest so far, comes next weekend when Nebraska faces defending national champion Texas in Austin on Sept. 22. But a 7-1 start had the Huskers feeling comfortable after carving out an identity with three wins over teams that made the NCAA tournament last year.
“You can tell from the first weekend until now, we've just gone uphill,” Kadie Rolfzen said. “That's what we're expecting to do the whole season. We're a young team, and we just expect to keep on climbing.”
Iowa State (5-4) ............................ 13 22 25
Nebraska (7-1) .............................. 25 25 27
ISU (kills-aces-blocks): Bigbee 12-0-2, Capezio 9-1-0, Vondrak 4-0-1, Matlock 4-0-2, Hudson 2-0-1, Nolan 1-0-0, Kuhrt 1-0-0, Hahn 0-1-0, Hurtt 0-0-1. Totals 33-2-4.5.
NU: Robinson 16-1-1, K. Rolfzen 16-0-1, A. Rolfzen 10-1-3, Ostrander 3-0-2, Pollmiller 2-0-4, Haggerty 2-0-4. Totals 49-2-9.
Set assists: ISU 31 (Hudson 26, Goetz 2, Nolan 1, Capezio 1, Hahn 1), NU 46 (Pollmiller 36, Wong-Orantes 6, Robinson 2, A. Rolfzen 1, Ostrander 1).