LINCOLN — Facing one of the Big Ten’s most physical teams, Nebraska saw its November momentum flicker early, but the Huskers’ outside hitters and floor defense wouldn’t let it get extinguished entirely.
Kelsey Fien and Kadie Rolfzen combined for 32 kills as No. 11 Nebraska ran its winning streak to five matches by beating Michigan State 20-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-23 at the Devaney Center Wednesday night.
MSU hit .400 in the opener and led 12-3 seemingly before the 8,077 fans settled into their seats. The Huskers were out of sorts to such an extent, NU coach John Cook benched Kadie Rolfzen as well as starting middles Meghan Haggerty and Cecilia Hall in the first set. Hall gave way to sophomore Melanie Keil for the rest of the match, and Keil finished with four kills without an error.
“We weren’t doing anything we prepped for,” Cook said. “We prepped really hard for two days to prepare for this team because they changed their lineup. They’ve got some physical hitters, so you’ve got to do a good job defensively, or they’re going to light you up.”
People are also reading…
But after Nebraska (17-7, 11-4 Big Ten) sleepwalked through the first set, the block and floor defense woke up in time to slow the Spartans’ big hitters, most notably Chloe Reinig. The 6-foot-4 sophomore led MSU (13-13, 6-9) with 13 kills, but hit .138 over the final three sets as the Huskers’ floor defense started to gobble up shots.
Cook said Nebraska’s back row saved the match. The trio of sophomore libero Justine Wong-Orantes and freshman back-row specialists Sydney Townsend and Annika Albrecht combined for 41 digs.
The Huskers eked out wins in the last three sets that got progressively closer. The Huskers took the second set by scoring the final three points, finishing on a double block by Keil and Amber Rolfzen. NU then held off a Spartan comeback in the third.
It seemed all but decided when the Huskers led 21-15 in the fourth set, but Michigan State ran off four straight points to pull within 21-19 and tied it 23-23 when Fien was blocked by Megan Tompkins and Alyssa Garvelink.
But the Huskers’ defense again scrambled to extend a long rally that ended when Garvelink fired a shot wide after receiving an errant set. NU closed the match on the ensuing rally when Keil and Amber Rolfzen combined to block Reinig.
Afterward, Cook breathed a sigh of relief and hoped a dose of perspective would help the Huskers avoid early-match struggles Sunday when they close a four-match homestand against Maryland.
“It’s a good learning match for us,” he said, “on the mind-set we have to have and the mentality we have to play with.”
Contact the writer:
402-444-1201, email@example.com, twitter.com/OWHJeffSheldon