MADISON, Wis. — For the second time this season, Wisconsin’s offense overpowered Nebraska for a sweep.
The fifth-ranked Badgers hit .331 in a 25-19, 25-22 25-21 win over No. 6 Nebraska Sunday afternoon in front of 7,052 at the UW Field House.
Junior Sydney Hilley finished with 48 assists as she ran the Wisconsin offense to near perfection. Molly Haggerty paced Wisconsin (21-5, 17-1 Big Ten) with 16 kills. Dana Rettke hit 12 kills without any errors at a .480 clip and Madison Duello hit .450 with 10 kills.
“Wisconsin is just playing at a higher level right now than everybody else,” Nebraska coach John Cook said in a postgame radio interview.
This was the first time in program history the Huskers were swept by a league opponent twice in one season. The setback also snapped their 25-match winning streak during November, which dated to 2016.
Nebraska (23-4, 15-3) now sits two games behind Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings with two matches remaining.
Sunday’s match played out in a similar fashion to the first meeting.
Nebraska had chances in each set, but Wisconsin finished strong. The Huskers trailed 16-15 and 18-17 in the first two sets, respectively, before Wisconsin pulled away. In the third set, the Badgers led 21-20 then scored three straight points on two hitting errors and a kill by Duello.
For most of the match, the Huskers kept up with Wisconsin’s on offense. Nebraska had five hitting errors in the first two sets as they hit a combined .328. However, they committed eight hitting errors in the final set.
“They stress you and we didn’t handle the stress very well,” Cook said. “When a team is stressing you like that, you have to become more disciplined and we became more undisciplined.”
Lexi Sun led Nebraska with 16 kills on .308 hitting, but Lauren Stivrins was second on the team with eight kills. Jazz Sweet recorded five kills on just 11 swings.
After finishing with 20 kills against Minnesota on Friday, freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik tallied five kills and three errors on 22 swings.
Cook said they were trying to get Sun matched up with the 6-foot-8 Rettke, but also poor passing limited the number of options for setter Nicklin Hames, who finished with 31 assists.
“When they dig a ball, Hilley is able to set anyone she wants,” Cook said. “When we pass and dig a ball, it’s a lot more rare that we can set middle.”
Cook said he was disappointed with the block and defense. Usually, he said, the Huskers adjust well to what opponents are doing against them, but they failed to do so against Wisconsin.
The Huskers finished with four blocks, the second-lowest total this season other than a two-block performance against Rutgers. After Nebraska recorded a block on the first point of the match, it didn’t record another one until Sweet blocked Haggerty to tie the third set 6-6. Meanwhile, the Huskers had seven blocking errors.
Wisconsin also attacked libero Kenzie Knuckles with its serve. Though she finished with 37 successful serve receptions and one error, the Huskers struggled to stay in system.
Despite her struggles, Cook said he is going to stick with Knuckles, who finished with seven digs.
“I’m looking down the bench and there is nobody else there to pass,” Cook said. “Welcome to the Big Ten. If they find a weakness, they’ll go after you. She’ll be fine.”
On the other service line, the Huskers failed to record an ace against Wisconsin this season.
Despite the loss, Cook said he wasn’t too upset. Wisconsin sets the standard for where his team needs to play during the next month, Cook said.
“Sometimes the other team is better than you are,” the coach said. “That’s a very experienced team. That’s a team that has been together for three years. We have no seniors. We are going to learn from this and we’ll get better.”
Nebraska (23-4, 15-3)..........19 22 21
At Wisconsin (21-5, 17-1)....25 25 25
NU (kills-aces-blocks): Hames 3-0-1, Kubik 5-0-0, Sun 16-0-0, Sweet 5-0-3, Schwarzenbach 2-0-1, Stivrins 8-0-1, Zuhn 0-0-1. Totals 39-0-7.
UW: Barnes 0-1-0, Hilley 3-0-0, Duello 10-0-4, Rettke 12-0-5, Hart 6-0-3, Haggerty 16-0-1, Ashburn 0-1-0, Clark 0-1-1, Loberg 7-0-1. Totals 54-4-14.
Set assists: NU 38 (Hames 31, Kubik 1, Stivrins 1, Knuckles 4, Miller 1), UW 53 (Hilley 48, Haggerty 2, Ashburn 1, Clark 2).