LINCOLN — For a few hours, John Cook and the Nebraska volleyball team were glad all they had to worry about was just playing volleyball.
After an emotionally draining week following the death of graduate manager Dane Leclair on Sunday, the Huskers returned to action for the first time on Friday night. The result was business as usual on the court as the eighth-ranked Huskers swept Rutgers 25-10, 25-10, 25-20 in front of 8,141 fans at the Devaney Center.
Before the match, Cook said, he challenged the team to think about the difficulty Leclair’s parents had faced having to give a eulogy for their son earlier that day. Compared with that, he said, playing volleyball is easy.
“It’s been an emotional week, but once the match started they were able to get into volleyball mode,” Cook said. “They were enjoying themselves, which I haven’t really seen all week.”
Two NU players and two graduate managers attended the funeral services Friday morning in New York, while the rest of the team watched from Lincoln.
During warmups, Husker players and staff wore black shirts adorned with Leclair’s name and No. 4, which he wore as a player at Loyola Chicago. NU wore its black jerseys during the match and also held a moment of silence before the national anthem. Cook said he saw a few tears during warmups and during the moment of silence.
After play started, Nebraska (17-3, 9-2) dominated, hitting .500 in the first set.
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“We are still working on a lot of things this week and we were really focused in,” junior outside hitter Jazz Sweet said.
Middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach recorded four kills during the Huskers’ first six points. The 6-foot-5 sophomore tied a career-best with nine kills and was one off a career-high with 19 attacks.
“Since our passing was amazing tonight, it was a lot easier obviously for Nicklin (Hames) to set our middles,” Schwarzenbach said.
Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun continued her streak of double-digit kills in every Big Ten match as she had a match-high 12 on .455 hitting. Sweet added 10 kills at a .400 clip. Freshman Madi Kubik hit a career-best .462 with seven kills.
Nebraska recorded only two blocks but had five aces. Kenzie Knuckles led the Huskers with 16 digs, while Hames recorded her 10th double-double of the season with 36 assists and 10 digs.
Nebraska ran away with the second set, scoring the first 11 points and leading 19-3 at one point.
The Scarlet Knights (7-15, 1-10) put up more of a fight in the final set as they recorded 13 of their 24 kills.
Now, the Huskers’ attention turns to No. 7 Penn State, which swept Iowa Friday night. Sweet said she looks forward to renewing the rivalry between the programs with a combined 12 national titles.
“There is just another level of intensity in those games and little bit more drive and a little bit more of a reason to go hard,” Sweet said.
Last year, the two teams split a pair of matches with the home team winning each in five sets.
After Friday’s win, Cook said the Huskers should be more confident facing the Nittany Lions after a tough week coming off a loss to No. 16 Purdue last Saturday.
“Our confidence was shaken last Saturday and of course all this week,” Cook said. “We just survived in practice this week. It was more of trying to keep them moving and getting them reps. Each day is a step forward. It’s all we can ask from them.”
Rutgers (7-15, 1-10).............10 10 20
at Nebraska (17-3, 9-2)........25 25 25
RU (kills-aces-blocks): Maksimova 9-0-2, Marmen 5-0-1, Cieslik 5-1-2, Miljevic 4-0-3, Balyko 1-0-0, Weidt 0-0-3. Totals: 24-1-11.
NU: Sun 12-2-1, Sweet 10-0-0, Schwarzenbach 9-0-0, Stivrins 8-0-2, Kubik 7-0-1, Hames 2-3-0, Szabo 2-0-0. Totals: 50-5-4.
Set assists: RU 23 (Balyko 18, Maksimova 2, Marmen 1, Cieslik 1, Miljevic 1, Weidt 1), NU 44 (Hames 36, Knuckles 6, Sweet 1, Drewnick 1).