LINCOLN — If there was a concern the Nebraska volleyball team would start the Thanksgiving holiday break before Wednesday's match with Iowa, the Huskers' two senior outside hitters made sure there would be no letdown.
Gina Mancuso and Hannah Werth each had 13 kills and No. 10 Nebraska put together a record-setting performance in a 25-12, 25-16, 25-8 win over last-place Iowa in front of a crowd of 4,033 at the NU Coliseum.
The 36 rallies won by the Hawkeyes is the fewest allowed by Nebraska (22-6, 14-5 Big Ten) in the rally-scoring era and came on a night NU hit a season-high .471. The Huskers' previous school-record low was 37 points allowed against Alabama A&M in the first round of the 2005 NCAA tournament.
“I was really pleased with our focus tonight, and our effort and our energy for a Wednesday night match in the middle of the week against Iowa who had been struggling,” NU coach John Cook said. “I thought our team came out and really took care of business.”
Cook said he’s seen teams have “nightmares” during Thanksgiving week with vacation plans and a break from school throwing a wrench into the routine. But the coach said the Husker seniors set the tone this week in practice that the team couldn’t afford a misstep with the NCAA tournament on the horizon.
“We hit .471 as a team so it was really fun to see us aggressive out there and getting kills, making digs, serving tough, and passing the ball,” Mancuso said. “All-around, I think we played great as a team.”
Each Husker attacker hit at least .333 as Nebraska bettered its previous season-high attacking mark of .410 set Sept. 1 against UC Irvine. Setter Lauren Cook handed out 38 set assists and led NU with nine digs. Freshman Meghan Haggerty had a team-high four blocks and added six kills.
Like in Sunday’s win at Wisconsin, Nebraska was able to string together long runs of points to erase all suspense from Wednesday’s win.
Werth had seven kills in an opening set that featured an 11-0 run behind the serve of libero Lara Dykstra.
The Hawkeyes posed a brief challenge in Game 2, taking a 14-13 lead before Nebraska ran off six straight points that included a pair of kills and a solo block by Mancuso. The All-American from Papillion-La Vista had six kills in the second set with her final swing on set point giving the Huskers a 25-16 win.
Nebraska’s two non-starting seniors made their presence felt in the third set. Paige Hubl served an 8-0 run in her first extended action in a couple weeks. The captain had been a regular serving sub through much of the season before struggling with service errors recently — Hubl finished with two of Nebraska’s four aces Wednesday.
Senior middle blocker Allison McNeal came off the bench to record a kill and three blocks in Game 3, drawing some of the loudest applause of the night from both the crowd and the Husker bench.
“That is a true team,” Werth said. “A lot of people could check out and say ‘I don’t play every match,’ or ‘I’m not sure if I’m going to get in this game,’ but it’s a commitment and a sacrifice. For everyone to make that on our team, that is what is going to get us to the end.”
Rachael Bedell had 11 kills to lead Iowa (10-22, 2-17), which hit .098 in the match.
Asked what she thought the most important thing for the team to be focused on at this point of the season, Werth relayed the team’s season-long motto of “Unfinished Business.” The Huskers remember the disappointing end to the 2011 season which featured a four-set loss at Northwestern, NU’s opponent Saturday in the regular-season finale. That loss foreshadowed a season-ending defeat to Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Coliseum.
“We don’t want to feel that regret, the pain, and all the heartache we did last year losing on our own court, in our own house,” Werth said. “We don’t want that again. We have a lot of emotion going into this.”
The Huskers will have their next chance at taking care of some of that unfinished business Saturday in the regular-season finale against Northwestern, the last-ever regular-season match at the Coliseum. The program will move to a renovated Devaney Center starting next fall.
Nebraska likely will host first and second-round matches in the NCAA tournament, so Saturday shouldn’t be the Coliseum’s farewell, but will serve as the official send-off for the team’s five upperclassmen.
“It is going to be sad as seniors,” Mancuso said. “I think it’s just going to make us cherish every single moment, the crowd, every touch, being with our teammates. It’s just going to be a special night. We’re definitely looking forward to it, but we’re also sad to see it come because time flies so fast.”