STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Nebraska’s success against Penn State started and ended at the service line.
The Huskers served tough and recorded eight aces as they earned a 25-15, 22-25, 25-23, 25-17 Friday night at Rec Hall. With the win, NU (11-3, 5-0) claimed sole possession of first place in the Big Ten and has won its last 10 matches against PSU.
Entering the match, the Nittany Lions had allowed only 37 aces in 48 sets this season. NU’s performance tied a season-high allowed by a PSU opponent, as Stanford also tallied eight aces.
Sophomore Keonilei Akana led the charge with four aces, while Nicklin Hames, Kenzie Knuckles, Madi Kubik also notched aces. Sophomore Anni Evans ended the match when her serve found the floor.
“I kept telling them to attack with your serve. Attack with your serve,” NU coach John Cook said on his postgame radio show. “Eight aces and nine errors against this team is a great effort on our part.”
Penn State coach Russ Rose tried to find a combination that worked as he used 14 players while benching starting outside hitters Adanna Rollins and Anastasiya Kudryashove after the first two sets.
Senior middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord finished with 11 kills at a .409 hitting percentage, but the rest of the Penn State attack struggled as they hit .176 as a team. Overall, nine Nittany Lions recorded a kill as Jonni Parker also finished with 11.
“If you want to stop Kaitlyn Hord, you better serve tough,” Cook said. “It's the only way you can slow her down.”
The Huskers scored the first three points of the match and never trailed in the set and recorded three aces in the set.
The second set was tighter as there were 10 ties and four lead changes. Penn State led 15-14 at the media timeout, then the Nittany Lions extended their lead to 18-14 before NU went on a 6-1 run, which included a successful challenge that turned a Hames service error into an ace. However, the Nittany Lions rebounded and scored six of the final eight points.
Penn State (11-4, 4-1) jumped to a 7-3 lead in the third set, but the Huskers rallied to tie it at 8-8. After seven straight sideouts, the Huskers grabbed an 18-15 lead on three straight points, which included Penn State’s first two hitting errors of the set. Penn State tied the set at 23-all, but Lauren Stivrins and Kubik provided kills on the last two rallies.
The Nittany Lions scored the first two points of the fourth set, then Kubik and senior middle blocker Kayla Caffey took over.
Caffey hit three kills and Kubik added two before they teamed up for a block as part of a 6-0 run. After Penn State tied the set at 7-7, the Huskers scored five straight, including an Akana ace. The Nittany Lions wouldn’t get closer than four the rest of the way.
Kubik paced the Huskers with 19 kills and 12 digs. Freshman outside Ally Batenhorst finished with a career-best 15 kills on a .375 hitting percentage. Lindsay Krause tallied 11 kills.
Caffey totaled nine kills and was in on seven of NU’s eight blocks, while Stivrins had eight kills at a .467 clip.
Hames tallied 49 assists and 12 digs as she connected with her hitters at a faster tempo. She also found open windows against the Penn State block by setting hitters inside the pin.
“Nicklin was setting a great go-set tonight,” Cook said. “Those guys we're taking big swings. I love that because they had an attack mode all night.”
Libero Lexi Rodriguez led five NU players with double-digit digs with 19. NU finished with 76 digs, 20 more than Penn State.
Cook said he was impressed by the defense on both sides of the net. Several times he thought NU players hit what should have been points, but Penn State sent it back over.
“Every point just felt like you're gonna win or lose the match,” he said. “It’s a great feeling between two great teams and the Huskers found a way to pull it out.”