LINCOLN — It’s probably not by spoken agreement, but the Nebraska volleyball team is giving crowds who have shown up for the team’s final season at the NU Coliseum an ever-growing list of memories.
The No. 9-ranked Huskers rallied to win another thriller at the Coliseum on Saturday night, surviving No. 21 Purdue 21-25, 25-16, 23-25, 25-19, 15-10. It was the third time Nebraska has won a five-setter on its home floor this season and the fourth time NU has gone the distance in its last five matches.
The match featured some of the Big Ten’s brightest stars shining at the biggest moments. The outside hitter duo of Gina Mancuso and Hannah Werth carried the load for the Huskers, combining for 38 kills, 25 digs and a .384 attack percentage. Their standout performance came one night after hitting .105 combined against Indiana.
“I woke up, it was a new day,” said Mancuso, who led the Huskers with 20 kills. “A different sun was shining today. What’s in the past is in the past and you’ve just got to move forward.”
Nebraska (20-5, 12-4 Big Ten) out-blocked Purdue 12-5, led by 10 blocks from middle blocker Hayley Thramer. Seven Huskers tallied a block in holding the Boilermakers to a .220 attacking mark.
That helped the Huskers survive another heroic stat line from Purdue’s Ariel Turner. The 2011 Big Ten player of the year led all players with 25 kills, but also had 13 errors in 78 swings to hit .154.
“You can see what a great player she is,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “She had 78 swings. I would’ve liked to have done a better job on her, but she’s good. Every time we would make an adjustment she would do something else.”
After some tentative swings from Werth and Mancuso in Game 1, Cook called time out and pleaded with them to be aggressive.
“Hannah tips that first ball to start the match, I couldn’t take it anymore,” Cook said. “I told them ‘You guys have to swing away if you want to win this match.’ ”
By Game 4 there was no longer a question to the fearlessness of the Nebraska attack. Trailing 2-1 in sets, the Huskers hit .340 in the fourth with six kills each from Mancuso and Werth. Mancuso pounded two of hers in a 4-0 run to give NU a 20-15 lead.
In the fifth, it was Werth’s turn to spark a 3-0 run which she started with a kill and finished with back-to-back blocks. The second stuff, a solo block of Turner, put Nebraska up 8-4 in the fifth. Werth finished with 18 kills against just one error, hitting .447 in what should be considered the finest hitting night of her career.
Following the match, Werth went to the trainer’s room to receive treatment on the right ankle she injured against Michigan last week.
“She was just willing our team,” Cook said. “She’s doing a heck of a job leading and creating a mindset on our side that we’re going to find a way.”
Freshman middle blocker Meghan Haggerty added 10 kills for Nebraska. Val Nichol was the only other player to reach double figures in kills for Purdue (19-8, 10-6) with 16.
Nebraska hit .312 Saturday, the first time the team has reached the .300 mark in five matches. Setter Lauren Cook handed out 53 assists and handled much of the defense with a career-high 25 digs. She even added a key kill in the fifth when she tooled Turner’s block on an out-of-system swing to put the Huskers in front 11-7.
“I think it’s just all about the moments that define us and these long games in the fifth set are the moments that are beginning to define us,” Mancuso said. “There in the huddle we were like ‘this is our time, this is our moment.’”
The win moves Nebraska back into sole possession of second place in the Big Ten after Minnesota lost a pair of matches this weekend. The Huskers will play at Minnesota next Friday looking for a season sweep of the Gophers.
The Huskers hope to take the lessons of this week on the road next weekend, Mancuso said. The team is at its best when attackers are swinging and defenders are flying around with no fear. That aggression wasn’t there in recent weeks when Nebraska dropped three of four matches.
A successful weekend sweep at home has shown the team going full throttle just might be the only way to move forward.
“We were playing not to lose instead of playing to win,” Mancuso said. “With that mindset, it’s totally different. When you’re playing not to lose, you’re going to be totally tense and tentative and hesitate. If you’re playing to win, like we did this weekend, you’re just going for it. You’re being aggressive no matter what.”
Contact the writer:
402-444-1201, email@example.com; twitter.com/OWHJeffSheldon