AUSTIN, Texas — Until Sunday, only one current Husker had gotten a firsthand taste of Nebraska’s volleyball rivalry with Texas. But that didn’t stop the new crop of Huskers from adding an instant classic chapter to the storied series.
No. 6 Texas needed every bit of its size and firepower to hold off No. 12 Nebraska 20-25, 25-19, 27-25, 21-25, 15-12 in front of 4,213 at Gregory Gym.
The Huskers (7-2), who also played five-set matches at Austin in 2004, 2005 and 2006, nearly pulled off the upset and finished with 11 more kills and 13 more digs than the defending national champions. But Texas (6-2) survived thanks to 16 blocks and a sterling performance from All-America outside hitter Bailey Webster, who led the Longhorns with 21 kills.
The Huskers “learned some valuable lessons today about how slim a margin there is between points and games and winning and getting into the fifth game,” Nebraska coach John Cook said in a postmatch radio interview. “It’s a game of errors, and we made more errors than they did down the stretch. But man, we did some really nice things today.”
Cook purposefully scheduled the high-profile road match to give his team, which has 10 new players from a year ago, a tall mountain to climb before going into Big Ten play. Outside hitter Kelsey Robinson nearly willed the Huskers to the top.
The Tennessee transfer had a match-high 26 kills and added 23 digs in the finest performance of her brief Husker career.
Nebraska got contributions both expected and unexpected with a balanced performance that saw four players reach double figures in kills. Freshman Kadie Rolfzen had 13 kills after a slow start and twin sister Amber added 12 kills, 13 digs and four blocks.
NU’s middle blockers — a weakness to this point of the season — finally made their presence felt. Meghan Haggerty had 11 kills and Cecilia Hall, who didn’t play in the Huskers’ last match against Iowa State, had eight kills on 12 swings and added five blocks.
“We’ve got to continue to have them be involved,” Cook said. “(Setter) Mary (Pollmiller) did a really good job of getting them the ball. It’s good to see those guys have some confidence and know they can play well in a big match. Especially Cecilia. Meghan has done it. Cecilia never has.”
If Cook wondered about the resiliency of his young club, he found out in the fourth set after Texas survived 27-25 in the third despite NU outhitting the Longhorns .317-.261. Nebraska went on a 3-0 run after trailing 16-15 and closed the game on kills by Haggerty, Robinson and Amber Rolfzen to force a deciding set.
But errors in the finale kept the Huskers from earning their first win in Austin since 2006. NU had five attacking errors and three service miscues to hand the Longhorns eight points. Two straight Robinson kills cut the Huskers’ deficit to 14-12, but Webster’s final kill sealed the win for Texas.
Nebraska had 10 service errors in the match.
“We had two great swings in Game 5,” Cook said. “We had a couple great swings in Game 3 to win it and we just missed. But I like how we went after it and just swung.
“I told them we’re learning how to win those big points. We’re doing the right things.”
All-America opposite hitter Haley Eckerman added 13 kills for Texas, but had 10 errors and hit .060. Middle blockers Khat Bell and Chiaka Ogbogu combined for 17 kills and one error while each recording seven blocks.
The Huskers countered with a floor defense that’s quickly entering the conversation as one of the best in the Big Ten. Freshman libero Justine Wong-Orantes had 22 digs and classmate Brenna Lyles, playing in her home state, added 11.
Cook said last week this team was still looking for an identity before Big Ten play, which starts next weekend with a pair of road matches at Northwestern and Illinois. A near-miss on the home floor of the defending NCAA champs will go far to define one, he said.
“I wanted to see how we would respond and what we’d do,” Cook said. “We got our money’s worth.”
Nebraska (7-2) ..................... 25 19 25 25 12
Texas (6-2) ........................... 20 25 27 21 15
NU (Kills-Aces-Blocks): Robinson 26-0-1, K. Rolfzen 13-0-2, A. Rolfzen 12-1-4, Haggerty 11-0-3, Hall 8-0-5, Pollmiller 3-1-1, Ethridge 0-1-0
UT: Webster 21-0-5, Eckerman 13-1-1, Bell 10-1-7, McCage 8-0-7, Ogbogu 7-0-7, Neal 3-1-2, Palmer 0-1-0, Hattis 0-0-1
Set Assists: NU, 73 (Pollmiller 62); UT, 60 (Allison 29, Collins 22)
Total Digs: NU, 89 (Robinson 23, Wong-Orantes 22, A. Rolfzen 13, Pollmiller 11, Lyles 11); UT, 76 (Palmer 24, Allison 15)