Evanston, Ill. — Before Friday night, Kelsey Robinson had been 0 for 3 in her career against Big Ten teams at Tennessee. But a change in uniform and another big night for the senior finally got that monkey off her back.
Facing a Big Ten foe for her first time at Nebraska, Robinson's big night led the No. 12 Huskers past unranked Northwestern 25-16, 20-25, 25-21, 25-20 in the teams' conference opener.
Robinson said earlier that she “had a chip on her shoulder” from having her three seasons with the Volunteers ended by Big Ten opponents in the NCAA tournament. But, playing about 40 miles from her hometown of Bartlett, Ill., Robinson avenged those losses and carried the Huskers' offense with a match-high 25 kills on .438 hitting. She added a team-high 12 digs for her sixth double-double of the season.
In Nebraska's last two matches, Robinson has 51 kills while hitting .342 with 35 digs.
“It's an impressive night,” coach John Cook said in a postmatch radio interview. “The good thing about Kelsey is she mixes it up. She's got every shot in the book. That's a really solid performance for her.”
Kadie Rolfzen rebounded from a poor match against Texas in which she hit .022 to cap a banner match for NU's left-side hitters. The freshman out of Papillion-La Vista South had 19 kills on 37 swings while adding 10 digs for Nebraska (8-2, 1-0 Big Ten).
“You take away her four ugly swings in Game 2 and she had a heck of a night,” Cook said of Rolfzen. “She had that one run where she hit some balls out, otherwise she had a heck of a night too. She also had 10 digs, which is great.”
The Game 2 struggles for Rolfzen came in the one set where the Huskers' offense went cold. After cruising to a win in the opener, Nebraska hit .135 in Game 2 while being blocked four times by Northwestern (8-5, 0-1).
“Just glad we found a way to win the match,” Cook said.
But the Huskers came back after the intermission to hit .349 in the final two sets to pick up the win, despite an off night from some other key attackers. Opposite hitters Amber Rolfzen and Morgan Broekhuis combined for nine errors against five kills — all from Rolfzen — in 25 swings, a negative-.160 attack percentage.
Megan Haggerty picked up some of the slack from her middle blocker spot with seven kills on 11 error-free swings while adding four blocks. Cecilia Hall also had four stuffs as Nebraska racked up 10 blocks and held the Wildcats to .200 hitting.
Junior setter Mary Pollmiller handed out 54 assists and helped the Huskers to a .307 attacking mark.
Stephanie Holthus, the reigning AVCA national player of the week, led Northwestern with 20 kills, but also committed 10 errors.
Cook said he was pleased with the win, especially coming on the road against a team that returned several of the players who helped Northwestern upset the Huskers at Welsh-Ryan Arena in 2011. He had to feel even better after both of the Big Ten's Final Four participants from last season dropped their conference openers Friday.
No. 10 Michigan fell in four sets at No. 13 Ohio State, while No. 1 Penn State was shocked in a five-set loss at home to No. 15 Michigan State.
Cook said he wanted the Huskers to enjoy the win, but a 4 p.m. match at No. 24 Illinois on Saturday means a quick round of back slaps may have to suffice before a late-night film session and a bus ride to Champaign, Ill.
“We have high expectations for these guys, but it is hard to win on the road in the Big Ten,” Cook said. “Just ask Michigan last year. They go 10-10 in the Big Ten, then go to the Final Four. It's just tough. Any win you can get is a great win, especially on the road. We get to enjoy it for a little bit.”
Nebraska (8-2, 1-0 Big Ten) ................................... 25 20 25 25
Northwestern (8-5, 0-1) ......................... 16 25 21 20
NU (Kills-Aces-Blocks), Robinson 25-0-0, K. Rolfzen 19-0-2, Haggerty 7-0-4, A. Rolfzen 5-0-3, Hall 4-0-4, Pollmiller 3-1-3, Ostrander 0-0-1, Broekhuis 0-0-1
NW, Holthus 20-0-2, Dutchman 8-0-3, Akanbi 7-0-2, Paffen 4-0-8, Morin 4-0-0, Burnham 3-0-1, Ryan 1-0-2, McGreal 1-0-0, Niedospial 0-1-0, Kraus 0-1-0
NU - 48 (Robinson 12, K. Rolfzen 10, Wong-Orantes 10)
NW - 43 (Niedospial 14, Ryan 12)
NU - 62 (Pollmiller 54)
NW - 48 (Ryan 43)
Attendance - 1,306