Nebraska went all-in on the youth movement Tuesday night, but it was an outside hitter from Stanford playing her first collegiate match who helped the Cardinal win the night.
Stanford freshman Sami Francis recorded the kill on the final play of the match — her 13th of the night — as the No. 16 Cardinal earned a 25-19, 12-25, 25-21, 25-23 win against the sixth-ranked Huskers at Maples Pavilion.
NU (6-2) started three freshmen pin hitters — Lindsay Krause, Ally Batenhorst and Whitney Lauenstein — for the first time this season as senior Lexi Sun and junior Madi Kubik were relegated to serving specialists.
The Huskers got mixed results from the young hitters as Krause and Batenhorst both finished with 10 kills, but hit .088 and .098, respectively. Lauenstein tallied five kills and two errors on 17 swings.
Fellow freshman Lexi Rodriguez added 16 digs at libero.
“I'm really happy with how we competed,” NU coach John Cook said on his postgame radio show. “At times we had four freshmen out there. They competed hard, they were taking swings. We'll get better as time goes on.”
Cook said he went with the freshmen because none of the outside hitters have been effective this season. Kubik is hitting .202 this year, while Sun is terminating at a .188 clip. He said he thought Lauenstein had a good performance on the right side, but they need more kills from her.
“We just made the decision we're going to go with those guys and see what they could do,” Cook said. “We haven't had any of our left sides hit any better than that this year. We're trying to find options ... we got to start getting people out there where they're not looking over their shoulder and they are going to get pulled if they are not doing well.”
While the outsides struggled, the Husker middles carried the offense. Kayla Caffey hit .429 with a team-high 12 kills and seven blocks. Callie Schwarzenbach finished with nine kills and a .500 hitting percentage.
Cook said senior setter Nicklin Hames, who finished with 43 assists and 11 digs, had her best performance this season.
“She did a really nice job of getting the middles the ball, and it wasn’t always on perfect passes,” Cook said.
Caitie Baird led the Cardinal (5-2) with 21 kills and just two errors to go with 13 digs. Cook said he was impressed with the speed of Stanford’s offense, which finished hitting at a .235 clip.
Cook said he thought NU just allowed too many Cardinal runs.
In the first set, NU trailed 16-13 before giving up four straight points. After dominating the second set, the Huskers allowed another 4-0 run in the third as Stanford jumped out front 8-4 and never trailed. NU closed to 10-8, but the Cardinal answered with a 5-1 run. Then, Stanford turned a 15-14 deficit into a 17-15 lead in the fourth set that it never gave up.