LINCOLN — During the last four years, Wisconsin has dominated Nebraska like almost no other team has.
Starting with a win in October 2017, the Badgers have won six straight matches against NU, including the last 12 sets. Only Missouri State posted a longer winning streak against NU as the Bears won nine in a row from 1975-78.
The Huskers (20-6) will try to end the losing streak at Wisconsin on Friday at 4:30 p.m. If they manage to do so, NU will secure at least a share of the Big Ten title as the two teams are tied atop the league standings at 15-3 with just two matches remaining.
Despite the lack of recent success, the Huskers don’t think they are far away from getting back in the win column against Wisconsin. When the rivals met a month ago at the Devaney Center, the Badgers (23-3) emerged with a sweep, but two sets were won by just two points.
Lauren Stivrins said they are buoyed by the fact they kept the scores close despite not playing their best match of the season.
“That's just not how we've been playing and training and practicing,” the senior middle blocker said. “The fact that we lost two of those sets by two points, and we're playing in our eyes very poorly, we're definitely excited for this matchup and excited to see what team shows up.”
The Huskers have improved finishing the end of sets and winning clutch points.
Last time out against the Badgers, NU led 19-17 in the first set and also were tied at 24 before Wisconsin won the final two rallies. The Huskers also led 18-17 in the third set before falling 25-23.
The issue isn’t new as the Huskers gave away sets early, but in their losses, they had multiple opportunities to win sets or the match.
In the first loss of the season, Nebraska failed to convert two match points to earn a sweep against Utah. The Huskers also lost in the fifth set after leading 13-12.
During league play, NU wilted against Minnesota allowing the Gophers to score the final six points of the match as it dropped the fifth set 15-9.
Against Ohio State, the Huskers led 24-22 in the first set but dropped both set points. It had one more chance at 25-24 but lost the next three points and the set. In the third set, NU was up 21-19 before the Buckeyes won six of the next eight rallies.
Recently the Huskers have reversed the trend by winning sets against Maryland and Penn State despite trailing late.
The Terrapins led 24-21 before the Huskers scored five straight to win the second set. Last Friday NU was down 22-15 in the second set against Penn State before pulling it out behind a 10-1 run. Later the Nittany Lions tied the third set at 23 before NU closed out the sweep on the next two points.
Following the Maryland win, Stivrins said no one was nervous about the deficit and they focused on the next point and remained disciplined.
Senior setter Nicklin Hames said they followed a similar recipe against Penn State.
“I remember us talking like, ‘Hey, we're not losing this set.’” she said after the match. “We just found a way to come back and win those long rallies. We've been talking about that a lot, just really focusing our attention towards the end of games and willing points to our side and I thought we really did that.”
NU coach John Cook said winning those points late in sets is all about the Huskers' mental approach.
“It's confidence and a mindset,” he said. “We’ve got to find ways to win big points. Execute and trust our training. Typically it comes down to long rallies and what outside (hitter) can get a kill.”
In Friday's match at Wisconsin, Madi Kubik said they don’t need to do anything special but just play Nebraska volleyball.
The junior outside hitter said they’ve been playing at a higher level recently, but need to remain consistent for an entire match. The Huskers aren’t looking for a sweep or to make a statement, they just want to win three sets by two points.
Kubik said the lost sets have helped NU learn how to deal with adversity and work on building a deep belief in their teammates.
“We're just continuing to build that resilience muscle and trusting our training,” she said. “In those big moments when we need to make a play, just leaning on each other and having trust that we're going to try and better the ball for each other.”