LINCOLN — It will go down as Nebraska’s first sweep win in five Big Ten home matches this year.
But the breezy start and dominant finish couldn’t obscure the seams No. 5 Nebraska displayed in the middle of its 25-13, 30-28, 25-11 win over Indiana on Wednesday.
The Huskers had to battle to earn their 10th straight sweep of the Hoosiers after watching a 17-9 lead slip away in Game 2 before Jazz Sweet and Lexi Sun, who had 11 kills apiece, scored on key swings to help NU take a 2-0 lead in sets.
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Sweet, who hit .435 with one error on 23 swings, said having to grind out the second set came with a silver lining. Nebraska (15-2, 6-1) still had something to show for its effort after a stretch of poor play, unlike last weekend’s loss to Minnesota when the conference leaders humbled NU after the Huskers stumbled into a similar run of miscues.
“It definitely bolstered what we’re about to go into in this little stretch right here in this next week and a half,” said Sweet, referring to the team’s four-match road trip. “It was definitely good to see us push through and really fight for something right there. So I really enjoyed that. We definitely carried that into Set 3.”
The sophomore opposite hitter had three kills and teamed with freshman middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach for two blocks on the first five rallies of the third set. Nebraska eventually ran away to leads of 10-1 and 20-7, hitting .593 in Game 3 to pull its attack percentage from .182 to .301 at night’s end.
Sweet had seven kills on 11 error-free attacks in the third set while Mikaela Foecke added five of her 10 kills in the finale.
“I thought we got better tonight,” coach John Cook said. “We dominated them two games, which was great. We worked through some things.
“Winning that second game was big for us in a lot of ways because we had chances to lose it. We were feeling a lot of pressure because we let a big lead get away. That was really good experience, and we made some great plays to win that game.”
Cook said each of the Huskers who had some struggles in the second set managed to work her way through them, providing an opportunity for growth for a young team he said is “still a work in progress.”
Freshman setter Nicklin Hames, whose connections with her pin hitters began to drift in the latter part of Game 2, bounced back for her 11th double-double in 17 matches with 31 assists and 10 digs.
“We were ahead there for a minute and we kind of made some dumb errors at the end to let them back in it,” Hames said. “When we came out into Game 3, new game, new mindset, and just go out there and play Nebraska volleyball.”
After trailing 17-9, Indiana won 11 of the next 14 points to tie it 20-20 when Sun sent a shot long. Nebraska went up 24-23 on a Foecke kill, but Nebraska needed four set points while saving two of the Hoosiers’ chances to win the set.
Sun tied it 26-26 on her best swing of the night, a sharp cross hit out of system, and after getting blocked three rallies later, the sophomore saved another Indiana set point with a kill to tie it 28-28.
That rotated Sweet back into the match, and following an Indiana hitting error, Sweet put down a kill in transition to give Nebraska the win in its longest set of the year.
“With Jazz, it’s being in a rhythm with Nicklin,” Cook said.
“Her and Nicklin are continuing to build that trust and that relationship that Jazz knows where the ball is going to be. I thought Nicklin set her better as the night went on.”
While Nebraska’s offense continues to find its way, the Huskers’ defense continued to show why it’s among the nation’s best. NU put up 11 blocks, the 10th straight match with at least nine, and held the Hoosiers to .094 hitting. Schwarzenbach, the Big Ten’s blocks leader, took part in nine stuffs. Sweet added five and Sun had four.
Nebraska shackled the Hoosiers’ leading hitters. Freshman outside hitter Breana Edwards, who had 22 kills last weekend in IU’s five-set loss to No. 13 Michigan, had three kills and seven errors. Middle blocker Deyshia Lofton, who came into the match hitting .375, was held to a season-low .136.
Libero Kenzie Maloney served four of the Huskers’ seven aces with a match-best 11 digs.
“I think our goal for today was attack,” Hames said. “We were attacking from the service line, attacking by hitting, attacking at everything we were doing. Our mindset was to attack our serve and get them out of system.”
Nebraska is about to find out how portable that attacking mindset can be with four straight matches on the road — including three against top-10 teams.
Saturday, the Huskers play at No. 9 Penn State, which, while in what counts as a rebuilding year for the Nittany Lions, is third at 5-2 in the league after a four-set win at No. 17 Purdue on Wednesday night.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” Cook said. “We had to do this last year, same thing, playing all these top-10 teams. But this is what this conference is about. We have to raise our level to compete with these teams. Really, that’s our only choice.”
Indiana (11-7, 2-5)..............13 28 11
At Nebraska (15-2, 6-1)........25 30 25
IU (kills-aces-blocks): Huybers 7-1-3, Lofton 7-0-2, Malloy 6-0-1, Asdell 5-0-1, Johnson 4-0-3, Edwards 3-0-0, Westenhofer 0-1-0. Totals 32-2-10.
NU: Sweet 11-0-5, Sun 11-2-4, Foecke 10-0-0, Schwarzenbach 3-0-9, Stivrins 2-0-1, Hames 1-1-1, Maloney 0-4-0. Totals 38-7-21.
Set assists: I 30 (Brisack 16, Westenhofer 14), NU 38 (Hames 31, Maloney 4, Schwarzenbach 2, Foecke 1).
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1. Nicklin Hames
Setter • 5-10 • Freshman Knoxville, Tennessee
The heir apparent to Kelly Hunter could become NU’s first freshman setter to start full time in a one-setter offense. Hames’ energy and chatter in practice are already notable, and she’s the unquestioned leader of the freshmen. Hames won five Tennessee state titles in high school and was the country’s top-ranked setter in the Class of 2018, according to PrepVolleyball.com
2. Mikaela Foecke
Outside hitter • 6-3 • Senior West Point, Iowa
With a healthy senior season, Foecke could end her career in the top five on Nebraska’s career kills list. She hasn’t been named a first-team All-American yet, but for team accolades, she’s already surpassed many NU greats as one of a handful of Huskers to have two NCAA championship rings. In both of Nebraska’s title runs, Foecke has been named the final four’s Most Outstanding Player.
3. Megan Miller
Def. specialist • 5-6 • Freshman Alexandria, Indiana
Miller has the quickness to make a difference right away in the back row. This summer she was one of the rare freshmen to break 2,000 points in NU’s performance index testing. She played for one of the country’s top clubs, Munciana, which won the 2017 AAU U18 national title.
4. Sami Slaughter
Outside hitter • 6-1 • Sophomore Harrisburg, South Dakota
Noticeably stronger than a year ago, Slaughter may have the chance to grab some more playing time if Texas transfer Lexi Sun is limited while recovering from an injury. Slaughter played in six matches as a freshman with a season-high four kills against Rutgers.
5. Anezka Szabo
Opposite hitter • 6-3 • Sophomore Sioux Falls, South Dakota
One of the Huskers’ two lefties, Szabo played on the right side last season backing up Jazz Sweet and is training at middle blocker in preseason workouts. She is considered one of NU’s best blockers, earning the nickname the “Block-Nesh Monster” from teammates, and Cook said her improvement has been a highlight of fall practices.
6. Chen Abramovich
Def. specialist • 5-6 • Freshman Kfar Saba, Israel
Abramovich is one of NU’s two international players and led her high school to the Israeli high school championship. She played with Israel’s Junior National Team at the 2016 European Championships.
7. Mari Kurkova
Setter • 5-10 • Junior Opava, Czech Republic
Kurkova (first named pronounced MAR-ee) was Nebraska’s top option to add depth at setter after Hunter Atherton transferred, and NU stuck with her through a long process to confirm her NCAA eligibility. She arrived in Lincoln the week before preseason practices started, but the Huskers hope the former captain of the Czech Republic junior national team will be a quick study.
8. Brooke Smith
Setter/DS • 5-10 • Senior Weatherford, Texas
Smith was a serving specialist and reserve back-row player during her first stint on NU’s 2015 NCAA title team before leaving for Kansas State. During her year in Manhattan, she helped set a 6-2 offense. Her return gives the Huskers another tough server, a third setting option, and, Cook hopes, a positive veteran influence.
9. Capri Davis
Outside hitter • 6-1 • Freshman Mansfield, Texas
Davis is another player who could see the court early if Sun isn’t full strength at the start of the season. She’s already earned praise from teammates for her work in the weight room. Davis had more than 1,300 kills in high school, and PrepVolleyball ranked her the nation’s No. 21 recruit.
10. Lexi Sun
Outside hitter • 6-2 • Sophomore Encinitas, California
Sun’s departure from Texas, where she was All-Big 12 as a freshman last year, and choice to transfer to Nebraska was one of the biggest stories in college volleyball’s offseason. She picked NU banking on the program’s history of developing all-around outside hitters. The Huskers are banking on her eventually joining Foecke to form one of the country’s top 1-2 punches on the left side.
11. Kenzie Maloney
Libero • 5-8 • Senior Louisville, Kentucky
High-jumping, big-swinging attackers draw the eyeballs in volleyball, but Nebraska’s made three straight final fours by being one of the country’s best defensive and ball-handling teams. Maloney’s skill in those areas landed her on the preseason All-Big Ten team. Perhaps the Huskers’ best pure athlete, she served a school-record 13 aces in last year’s NCAA tournament.
12. Jazz Sweet
Opposite hitter • 6-3 • Sophomore Tecumseh, Kansas
It’s a sign of the faith Cook has in Sweet that he challenged her to become a six-rotation player this season. She had double-digit kills in 11 matches during her freshman season and finished on a high note in the NCAA tournament with 11 kills in the regional final versus Kentucky and 12 against Penn State in the final four.
25. Callie Schwarzenbach
Middle blocker • 6-5 • Freshman Kearney, Missouri
At 6-foot-5, the freshman is already the tallest Husker. She could use a year in NU’s conditioning program to add some strength, but the summer transfer of Chesney McClellan pretty much ruled out that she would would redshirt this fall. The country’s No. 10 recruit will get a chance to show what she can do — either as a starter or top reserve — right away.
26. Lauren Stivrins
Middle blocker • 6-4 • Sophomore Scottsdale, Arizona
By the end of her first year as a starter last season, Stivrins was taking some of Nebraska’s most-pivotal swings. She put down the ball that sent NU to a fifth set against Penn State in the final four and had nine blocks in the match. Stivrins exudes an on-court presence that tells opponents they’re lucky there’s a net separating her from them. That’s an edge that can earn NU an extra point or so per set.
43. Hayley Densberger
Def. specialist • 5-9 • Sophomore Malcolm, Nebraska
The lone native Nebraskan on this year’s roster, Densberger will try to solidify a role as a serving and defensive specialist. She’ll need to cut down on service errors to grab that role this season — she had at least one in five of NU’s six NCAA tournament matches last year. Densberger was mentioned by teammates as being one of the team’s hardest-working players in summer conditioning.