LINCOLN — Following a third straight loss and a home sweep, Nebraska coach John Cook is headed back to the drawing board.
No. 5 Louisville dominated the Huskers in every facet of a 25-17, 25-20, 25-18 win Saturday night at the Devaney Center.
The Huskers showed no offensive consistency and hit .046 for the match with 26 hitting errors. They had six service errors compared to just two aces and were outblocked by the Cardinals 12-7.
“Louisville completely outplayed us,” Cook said. “They did everything. We did nothing to put any pressure on them and they played free, loose, aggressive and we just really did nothing. We didn't really even compete like we needed to. Why? I don't know.”
The sixth-ranked Huskers lost three in a row after starting the season by winning their first six matches. The last time NU lost three straight was in 2018, and the last time that happened in the regular season against nonconference opponents was in 1991.
Junior captain Kenzie Knuckles said she was most disappointed that the Huskers haven't played like they’ve practiced.
“I think that the past three games that we've played, we haven't really played to the capability that I know this team can play,” she said. “As a team, as a unit, I think that we have a lot of growing to do.”
Freshman opposite Whitney Lauenstein led NU’s offense with nine kills. Eight other Huskers recorded a kill, but none more than five. Kalynn Meyer, who appeared in the second set, was the only player to finish with a hitting percentage above .200 as she had two kills on four swings. She also tied for the team lead with three blocks.
Senior setter Nicklin Hames had 21 assists and tied for a team high with six digs with Lexi Rodriguez and Keonilei Akana.
Louisville (10-0) put the Huskers back on their heels with big swings off the NU block and a creative offensive approach. The Cardinals were most dominant at the end of each set. The Cardinals used runs of 8-2, 9-3 and 9-1 to close out each set. Nebraska led 17-16 in the second and third sets, but couldn’t make plays down the stretch.
During the third set, Louisville went on a 7-0 run that included five NU hitting errors. Cook said the Huskers’ mindset was too passive late and they’ve given away sets during their losing streak to Utah, Stanford and Louisville.
“They're trying hard, but it's mindless volleyball,” Cook said about the late-set miscues. “We weren't doing anything to pressure Louisville. They get in trouble and they got out of it. We get in trouble and they made us pay.”
The match also marked the return of former NU player and assistant coach Dani Busboom Kelly. The Cardinals coach said she appreciated the standing ovation she received during the lineup introductions and all the support she’s received while at Louisville.
Busboom Kelly said defeating Nebraska as well as No. 8 Kentucky in the same week was significant and shows how hard UL has worked to build the program.
“I didn't go to Louisville thinking, ‘Man, I want to beat Nebraska someday,’ but it is a milestone,” Busboom Kelly said. “When you look at recruits and where they're ranked, we have to work really hard to train, grade and be creative. We don't get the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, but when we can go head to head and play that way and player for player compete. That's what I was working towards — not necessarily being Nebraska — but finding a group that can compete with these teams that are consistently getting top recruits."
The Huskers will have a quick turnaround as they start Big Ten play on Wednesday at Northwestern.
Knuckles said they need to have some hard conversations in the next few days to figure out what they need to match their level of play in practice to what they’re doing in matches.
When asked if he was worried about the way his team closed the nonconference season, Cook responded: “Hell, yeah, I'm concerned. But I also know this team can be really good. So, at some point, it's going to click."
“They're gonna have to figure out how to compete and play consistently good volleyball,” Cook added. “We got to figure that out in the next three days.”