LINCOLN — While Nebraska’s Big Ten opponents already are familiar with the Huskers’ outside hitters, Kelsey Robinson and Kadie Rolfzen, NU showed Friday how dangerous its offense can be when the middle blockers join the attack.
Nebraska middles Cecilia Hall and Meghan Haggerty combined for one of the position’s finest nights of the season as the Huskers rolled past Indiana 25-15, 25-16, 25-16 in front of a Devaney Center crowd of 8,283.
Hall tied a career high with eight kills while hitting .467 and added five blocks. Haggerty added seven kills against just two errors to help No. 8 Nebraska (13-3, 6-1 Big Ten) enter a three-way tie for first place in the conference standings.
NU joins No. 5 Michigan State, which dropped its first Big Ten match of the year Thursday at Minnesota, and No. 4 Penn State, which rallied for a five-set win at Illinois Friday night.
Nebraska head coach John Cook said Friday’s win was NU setter Mary Pollmiller’s best match of the season setting the Husker middles and right-side hitters, which has become more of a focus for the team over the last few weeks.
“We keep stressing that our middles need to contribute to this offense,” Cook said. “We can’t keep setting Robinson 60 swings a night. They’re hearing the message, Mary’s doing a pretty good job, and we had pretty even distribution tonight.”
The middles’ efficiency helped lead the Huskers to a .360 attack percentage, the team’s second-highest mark during the conference schedule. Hall’s and Haggerty’s early production eventually opened hitting lanes for Robinson and Kadie Rolfzen, who each had a match-high 11 kills.
“It messes with the other team entirely,” Pollmiller said. “It messes with their middle because they just start guessing going ways, and coaches have to say ‘OK, well do we release out, or do we have to stay here?’ And it messes with the pin blockers because they might have to stay in. It does a lot of damage.”
Cook said that following a sluggish week of practice, he was concerned the Huskers might be fighting a hangover from last Saturday’s loss at Michigan State. Though the offense wasn’t exactly sharp early — Nebraska hit .208 in Game 1 — the team’s blocking made up for it.
Nebraska tallied six of its nine total blocks in the opener, with five coming from Hall. That set the tone on a night when Indiana (8-10, 0-7) hit .072.
“Our goal was to be the first team to hold Indiana in conference under .100 attacking,” Cook said, “and so we’re really pleased about that to hold them to .072.”
Junior middle blocker Morgan Leach was the lone bright spot for Indiana with a team-high 10 kills and a .500 attack percentage.
Cook said he challenged Kadie Rolfzen and Robinson to be effective blockers when the Hoosiers got their middle blockers out wide on the slide play. They responded, holding Indiana middles Awele Nwaeze and Chante George each to a negative attack percentage.
“On video, last weekend against Northwestern and Ohio State, they were absolutely annihilating the slide,” Cook said of the Hoosier middles.
The win, Cook’s 400th victory at Nebraska, was one of the easier victories the Huskers are likely to get in the Big Ten. It was Indiana’s ninth straight defeat.
But the first chance at No. 401 figures to be a much stiffer test when Nebraska hosts No. 25 Purdue (12-6, 3-4) Saturday at 7 p.m. The Boilermakers swept Iowa in Iowa City Friday night, and they have a versatile attack with five players averaging at least two kills per set.
“They had some big wins at home,” Cook said, “and they’re really well-coached. So they’ll be coming in here prepared for us.”
Indiana (8-10, 0-7) ............................ 15 16 16
At Nebraska (13-3, 6-1) ............................ 25 25 25
IU (kills-aces-blocks): Leach 10-0-0, Haverly 7-1-1, Nwaeze 3-0-3, Anderson 3-0-0, Lebo 3-1-0, Henderson 1-0-0, Tallman 0-0-1, George 0-0-1.
NU: Robinson 11-1-1, K. Rolfzen 11-0-3, Hall 8-0-5, Haggerty 7-0-3, A. Rolfzen 6-0-2, Pollmiller 4-0-3, Ostrander 0-0-1.
Set assists: IU 26 (Gallagher 14, Tallman 10), NU 42 (Pollmiller 34).