COLUMBUS, Ohio — It has become almost a foregone conclusion during Nebraska’s brief time in the Big Ten that the Husker volleyball team will have a slow start at Ohio State.
But if the results continue to play out in the same fashion, NU will take it.
In what has become Nebraska’s “Groundhog Day” match, The Huskers rebounded from a Game 1 setback to beat No. 24 Ohio State 22-25, 25-12, 25-17, 25-19 Friday. No. 13 Nebraska’s win marked the third year in a row it dropped the first set at St. John Arena only to sweep the next three.
The Huskers (15-4, 8-2 Big Ten) will likely sit alone in second place once the first half of the conference slate concludes this weekend. League-leading Penn State hosts 10th-place Iowa on Saturday.
“We’re fighting for our lives,” Nebraska coach John Cook said in his postmatch radio interview. “I told the girls at the beginning of the year and the beginning of the Big Ten, I want them to understand as you go into each week it gets bigger, the ante goes up, it gets bigger and bigger and there are bigger and bigger matches.”
Kelsey Robinson turned in another All-America performance for the Huskers, totaling 19 kills on .405 hitting while adding 10 digs.
The Tennessee transfer came out on top in the matchup between two of the Big Ten’s leading attackers. Ohio State’s Kaitlyn Leary, who led the league with 4.8 kills per set coming into the match, had 12 kills but also had eight attack errors to finish with a .108 hitting percentage.
Freshman Kadie Rolfzen, Nebraska’s other left-side hitter, finished an exceptional week with 16 kills and a .419 hitting percentage. In two matches this week, the Papillion-La Vista South product put up 27 kills while hitting .449.
Middle blocker Meghan Haggerty, who sat out Wednesday’s match against Iowa with a leg injury, returned with 10 kills and a team-high five blocks.
The Huskers won Friday by sustaining their hot offensive start while Ohio State (14-8, 2-8) cooled off after taking the opener. NU outhit OSU .308-.303 in the first set, but the Buckeyes took the set thanks to three aces while NU committed four serving errors.
However, that’s where Ohio State’s upset bid ended. Nebraska held OSU to a .062 attack percentage in the final three sets to hand the Buckeyes their sixth straight loss. Leary, who had six kills on 10 swings in Game 1, managed six kills in the final three sets.
“I am really impressed with our defensive effort tonight, especially after Game 1, because Ohio State, we took their best shot in Game 1,” Cook said. “We’re getting to the point these are must-win matches for all these teams, especially Ohio State. They had a big crowd tonight. We weathered that big punch, that big haymaker.”
Nebraska hit .319 for the match and dominated the final three sets. The Huskers trailed only briefly early in the second and third sets and closed the match in Game 4 with a 5-0 run after the Buckeyes had cut their lead to 20-19.
Freshman defensive specialist Brenna Lyles helped turn around NU’s Game 1 serving woes with three aces, while the Huskers committed three service miscues in the final three sets.
“She had a huge impact tonight with defense, passing, and she got Ohio State on their heels passing (with her serve),” Cook said. “They were passing nails to start, and her serve in Game 2 got them off balance.”
Both of the Omaha Marian graduates on Ohio State’s roster played Friday. Libero Julianne Mandolfo, a Creighton transfer, led the Buckeyes with 10 digs. Freshman setter Maggie Heim had three kills and 14 assists in playing the first three sets.
Nebraska (15-4, 8-2) .......... 22 25 25 25
At Ohio State (14-8, 2-8) .... 25 12 17 19
OSU (Kills-aces-blocks): Leary 12-0-1, Randall 9-0-1, Kacsits 8-1-4, Sandbothe 7-0-2, Heim 3-0-0, Sekinger 2-0-2, Mitchell 2-0-1, DiSalvatore 0-2-0, Sherwin 0-0-1
NU: Robinson 19-0-2, K. Rolfzen 16-0-0, Haggerty 10-0-5, A. Rolfzen 8-0-3, Hall 7-0-2, Pollmiller 3-1-1, Lyles 0-3-0.
Set assists: OSU 41 (Sherwin 24, Heim 14), NU 58 (Pollmiller 53).