LINCOLN — Purdue volleyball coach Dave Shondell says his senior outside hitter Catherine Rebarchak is “an every-other-night player,” a weapon he would like to see play more consistently.
If that's true, Nebraska fell victim to an unfortunate spot on the calendar, facing the Boilermakers' star in a match Shondell would like to bottle and sell to the rest of the Big Ten Conference.
Rebarchak had 17 kills and hit .343 to lead No. 25 Purdue to a 25-20, 25-22, 19-25, 25-20 upset win over No. 8 Nebraska Saturday, handing the Huskers their first home loss since moving to the renovated Devaney Center.
“We tried everything to stop her tonight and couldn't do it,” Nebraska coach John Cook said.
However, Rebarchak was hardly the only beneficiary of playing against a Husker team that seemed out of sorts and out of system from the start. Cook said NU “seemed a step slow,” and the Boilermakers took advantage, hitting .309 for the match, the highest mark by a Nebraska opponent this season.
Val Nichol, Purdue's outside hitter who also sets in the Boilermakers' 6-2 offense, lit up the Huskers for a .545 attack percentage with 13 kills. Annie Drews added 12 kills and hit .500.
Nebraska's Kelsey Robinson, who had 15 kills and hit .414, said the Huskers' inability to slow Purdue's offense early kept NU from ever building momentum in front of 7,936 fans. The Boilermakers never trailed in Game 1 and hit .379 in the opener behind six kills on seven swings from Drews.
“They just attacked and did a good job scheming against us,” Robinson said. “When you can't get things going defensively, it's hard to get momentum. When you constantly sideout but can't get anything going in transition or shut a team down, it's hard to get things going on your side of the court.”
Game 2 was a similar scene, except it was Rebarchak doing the damage. She had seven kills in the set, including one to cap a 4-0 run that put Purdue (13-6, 4-4 Big Ten) on top 22-17.
Nebraska (13-4, 6-2) finally found some momentum in Game 3 to avoid being swept at home for the first time since 1989. Freshman Alexa Ethridge served a 6-0 run to give NU a 14-7 lead, and the Huskers hit .394 in the set with Robinson pounding six kills on seven attempts.
But Purdue's strong block and floor defense were the difference late in Game 4 to finish off the upset. Nebraska led 19-18 on a kill by Meghan Haggerty before the Boilermakers seized the match with a 7-1 run that included three blocks, with Rebarchak having a hand in all three. She teamed with Purdue middle KiKi Jones for back-to-back stuffs of Amber Rolfzen to end the match.
“We knew we had some arms, and we had some players, and we had some toughness,” Shondell said. “So it's nice to finally see that happen.”
Purdue outblocked NU 10-8, getting four blocks from Rebarchak and five from Jones.
Amber Rolfzen had 13 kills and hit .300 for Nebraska, while sister Kadie had 10 kills.
Nebraska finished with a .269 hitting mark, but many of Purdue's 10 blocks came with the Huskers scrambling in transition. NU setter Mary Pollmiller did not have her best match, struggling to find a rhythm, particularly when setting behind her.
“She made some mistakes as a setter and then started pressing, I think,” Cook said.
Nebraska won't have long to dwell on the loss. The Huskers host Iowa Wednesday, NU's first midweek match of the Big Ten schedule.
By then, Robinson hopes the team will remember the intensity that it showed throughout most of the first six weeks of the season. The ache of her ice-wrapped shoulder seemed to compare little to the disappointment of Saturday's uninspired effort.
“The biggest thing for me is just the fact we didn't really play as a team throughout the whole night,” she said. “I think we struggled in all areas of the game coming together. I think we had a lot of individuals on the court throughout the game, except for Game 3. That's the most disappointing part.”
Purdue (13-6, 4-4) ............................ 25 25 19 25
At Nebraska (13-4, 6-2) ............................ 20 22 25 20
PU (kills-aces-blocks): Rebarchak 17-1-4, Nichol 13-0-3, Drews 12-0-0, Epenesa 6-0-2, Jones 4-1-5, Adelaja 4-0-3, Griffin 1-0-0, Cramer 0-2-0, Neill 0-1-0. Totals 57-5-10.
NU: Robinson 15-1-2, A. Rolfzen 13-0-2, K. Rolfzen 10-0-2, Haggerty 8-0-2, Pollmiller 5-2-1, Hall 4-0-4, Ethridge 0-1-0. Totals 55-4-8.
Set assists: PU 57 (Nichol 32, Davis 18, Cramer 5, Rebarchak 1, Neill 1), NU 50 (Pollmiller 41, Wong-Orantes 4, Ethridge 2, A. Rolfzen 1, Haggerty 1, Lyles 1).