Photo showcase: Nebraska's 3--1 win over Minnesota
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LINCOLN — It was almost inconceivable after the first set of Sunday's match between No. 3 Nebraska and No. 10 Minnesota to imagine the Huskers would be able to find a way to deal with the Gophers' lethal serve, which had won the visitors Game 1 and quieted a raucous NU Coliseum.
But Nebraska would prove capable over the next three games of handling both Minnesota's challenging serving and the Gophers' upset bid.
The Huskers successfully minimized the early damage caused by the Gophers' trio of jump-servers and rallied for an 18-25, 27-25, 25-23, 25-16 win before a home crowd of 4,163. With the win, Nebraska (15-2, 7-1 Big Ten) moved into sole possession of second place in the Big Ten Conference, one game behind No. 1 Penn State.
Minnesota had four service aces in the opening set but aced Nebraska just once over the final three games. The Huskers eventually put their passes on target while countering with an imposing block that totaled 11 stuffs.
Gina Mancuso led NU with 14 kills, while Hannah Werth added 11 kills. Hayley Thramer had 10 kills and a match-high seven blocks to help Nebraska extend its regular-season winning streak at the Coliseum to 39 matches.
The Sunday afternoon, nationally televised match had a postseason feel, which coach John Cook said could have contributed to some early nerves. Nebraska had home court, but appeared to be the more rattled team at the start. Much of the credit for that went to the dynamic jump-serving of Minnesota's Ashley Wittman, Katherine Harms and Daly Santana.
The Huskers were aced three times and whistled in the net twice within the match's first 20 rallies as the Gophers ran away with the opening game. Minnesota's offense, which led the Big Ten with a .315 hitting percentage coming into Sunday, was nearly unstoppable in Game 1, making just one hitting error on the way to hitting .552.
“When you're uptight, it's hard to move, and we finally relaxed a little bit,” Cook said. “We pass a million jump serves (in practice), and we've been doing really well with it preparing for this match. ... We had feet in cement because we were so amped up.”
The Huskers adjusted their on-court passers after Game 1, sometimes putting as many as four on the floor, and the Gophers' serving came back to Earth in Game 2. After not missing a serve in the first set, Minnesota misfired five times in the second, and the Huskers' passers, led by libero Lara Dykstra, started putting the ball on target to setter Lauren Cook.
“It was just a fun match for me personally because a lot of their hitters have tendencies where they hit cross-court and jump-servers that rip it,” said Dykstra, who led Nebraska with 13 digs. “I think those are really fun to pass so it was just a challenge. I tried to step up and do that for my team.”
The Nebraska block also took a set to get going. After a single stuff in Game 1, Nebraska turned in six blocks in the second set, led by four from Thramer. The Huskers needed every one of those points after Minnesota went on a late 6-1 run and then fought off two set points for Nebraska.
NU finally took Game 2 after Meghan Haggerty found a hole in the Gophers' block to give Nebraska a 26-25 lead, and the Gophers' Wittman sent her attack long on the ensuing rally.
Nebraska had to survive another late-game rally by Minnesota in the third. Trailing 21-14, the Gophers scored the next seven points. But a setter dump by Lauren Cook and a double block of Harms by Thramer and Werth put the Huskers up 23-21. NU cashed in on its second set point four rallies later on a kill by Morgan Broekhuis.
Lauren Cook's deceptive ball-handling was a recurring theme Sunday. The senior setter finished with a career-high eight kills, most of them on tips as it appeared she was going up to deliver a set.
“They just weren't really respecting me, so I said ‘Why not?' and kept dumping it,” Lauren Cook said. “It was working.”
The senior captain also finished with 11 digs and handed out 44 set assists, guiding an offense that hit .410 over the final two sets and finished with a .326 mark for the match.
“I just think we got off to a slow start and we were playing uptight,” Lauren Cook said. “We just kind of relaxed in the second set and had a fresh start. I think we did what we were supposed to do all game for the most part.”
Nebraska hit .480 in the fourth set, which held little drama after Mancuso's ace capped a 5-1 run that put the Huskers up 16-10. Each team finished the match with five aces and eight service errors.
After the Gophers' hot start, they hit just .214 over the final three games to finish at .284.
Middle blocker Tori Dixon, who was second in the conference with a .440 attack percentage coming into the match, had a big afternoon for the Gophers (15-4, 6-2). Dixon led all players with 16 kills against just one error and finished hitting .682.
“She's a big-time player,” John Cook said. “We did everything and we can't stop her. We'll have to figure out another way to see if we can slow her down when we play them again. She's gone to another level from last year.”
The teams will meet again in Minneapolis on Nov. 16.
Wittman had 14 kills for Minnesota, while Harms, the conference's leader in kills, added 13 but struggled to a .093 hitting mark. Santana also had 13 kills for the Gophers.
Minnesota (15-4, 6-2) ............... 25 25 23 16
At Nebraska (15-2, 7-1) .............. 18 27 25 25
M (kills-aces-blocks): Dixon 16-0-3, Wittman 14-2-2, Harms 13-2-2, Santana 13-1-3, Knudsen 4-0-4, Palmer 1-0-1.
N: Mancuso 14-2-1, Werth 11-1-5, Thramer 10-0-7, Cook 8-1-2, Broekhuis 7-0-3, Haggerty 6-0-4, Dykstra 1-1-0
Set assists: M, 58 (Palmer 49); N, 52 (Cook 44).
Digs: M, 57 (Palmer 14, Harms 12, Wittman 10); N, 49 (Dykstra 13, Cook 11, Werth 9)