LINCOLN — Still suffering from an emotional hangover after a four-set loss to No. 2 Stanford on Wednesday, Nebraska looked like it was sleepwalking early against Wichita State.
The Huskers (8-1) were sloppy before eventually waking up and cruising to a 25-17, 25-10, 25-15 sweep over the Shockers on Saturday afternoon at the Devaney Center.
Coach John Cook said his top-ranked Huskers followed the Stanford loss with two days of flat, uninspired and low-energy practices — then went through what he called one of the worst game-day practices he’s seen, which carried over to the match.
“We took care of business today, but it didn’t feel as good to me as the scores indicated,” Cook said. “Both (Nebraska and Stanford) spent a lot of energy Wednesday night. It was a hard match and very intense. We still might be recovering from that.”
Stanford might also have been suffering from the residual effects of Wednesday night: The Cardinal lost at home to No. 12 BYU in four sets Saturday.
The Huskers’ lackluster play translated into an 11-8 deficit in the first set. NU committed seven hitting errors with seven kills, while Wichita State (3-9) had four kills with no errors. Cook said his team will have to work on being ready from the first serve and cleaning up mental errors before Big Ten play starts next weekend.
“We were out of sync,” he said. “The first half of that first game was pretty ugly.”
While the offense struggled to find a rhythm, NU’s defense stepped up and helped turn things around. The Huskers recorded four blocks during an 11-2 run that gave NU the momentum and a spark to get the offense on track.
“When everything fails, you have your defense,” junior outside hitter Jazz Sweet said. “It’s more important to slow a team down than match their offensive game.”
After the initial spate of hitting errors, NU played error-free the rest of the first set and had only five the rest of the match. The Huskers ran away with the final two sets as they hit .384 over that stretch.
Sweet led the Huskers with 11 kills as she hit .435. Cook said sophomore Nicklin Hames had one of her better matches setting Sweet and putting her in position to make good swings.
Junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins added nine kills at a .467 clip. Junior Lexi Sun added six. Sophomore Callie Schwarzenbach recovered after three errors on her first four swings to finish with five kills.
Nebraska was without its usual starting libero, freshman Kenzie Knuckles. Cook said she took a shot on the nose and was experiencing headaches, so the staff decided to sit her Saturday, but he expects Knuckles to be back next week.
In her place, sophomore Megan Miller started at libero for the first time in her career and finished with a match-high 14 digs. The Huskers held Wichita State to a .000 hitting percentage as the Shockers finished with 22 kills and errors.
Miller said she knew Friday that she would start and it wasn’t too big of an adjustment from her usual role as a defensive specialist.
“It brings a little bit of confidence to everybody knowing that someone else can step in and do that,” she said. “I hope they have confidence in me and I think they do.”
Cook said while the Huskers pulled out a win on Saturday, they might not be so fortunate in conference play when they play two high-quality teams on back-to-back nights. They open next weekend at Illinois and Northwestern.
“In Big Ten, you don’t have a choice. You better be up for every match,” Cook said. “That’s what we are trying to teach from this week. Every match has to be like Stanford. Same mindset and preparation and so on.”