LINCOLN — In front of a sold-out crowd at the Devaney Center, Nebraska resorted to creating its own energy and excitement on the court — a tactic usually reserved for road matches and not in front of 8,038 friendly fans.
After a slow start riddled with errors, the sixth-ranked Huskers cruised to a 25-20, 25-15, 25-18 sweep over Maryland Friday night.
“These are always scary matches the day after Thanksgiving. I thought we looked like we were still at Thanksgiving to start that match,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “It took us a while for us to get back into it and start playing. Our team did a really good job of creating some energy tonight. They had good energy from the beginning, which I was worried about based on practices this week.”
Cook said the crowd wasn’t generating the energy they usually do, whether that was because they were watching poor play or dealing with a hangover from football’s loss to Iowa less than two hours earlier.
“This is one of the quietest I’ve heard Devaney,” Cook said. “It was just kind of ugly volleyball to start with but we were bringing energy on our side and that was really really important and I think that allowed us to play and get in a rhythm."
The match capped off what Cook called a weird week.
The Huskers suffered a loss on the road to Wisconsin on Sunday, which eliminated them from the Big Ten Conference title race. That match also threw off their regular practice schedule as they had to take Monday off. In addition, Nebraska didn’t have classes for the past three days and also had a holiday thrown in there causing all of their routines to go out the window.
Perhaps as a result, both teams started the match playing sloppy. At the first media timeout with Nebraska leading 15-14, a combined 17 of the 29 plays ended as a result of a hitting, blocking or service error. The Huskers missed six serves in the opening set, while Maryland hit five service errors.
Eventually, Lexi Sun broke helped NU (24-4, 16-3) get on the right track with back-to-back ace serves to give the Huskers a 22-18 lead in the first set. The rest of the way, Nebraska hit three aces while missing just three serves.
“We started off a little bit shaky,” Sun said. “In the second and third (sets), we picked up it and were serving great and getting them out of system.”
The rest of the offense began hitting its stride after the opening set. In the second set, Nebraska hit its stride as they hit .484 with just one hitting error.
In the third set, Maryland (13-18, 5-14) hung around and trailed 14-13 before Nebraska ran off five straight points, which was capped off by an ace from Megan Miller.
Cook credited sophomore setter Nicklin Hames for leading a balanced attack with 36 set assists as NU hit .359 for the match.
Sun and Jazz Sweet each finished with 10 kills to lead the Huskers. Madi Kubik added nine kills, while Lauren Stivrins finished with seven kills on 12 attacks.
After just one kill and three attacks in the first set, Sweet really took off in the third set as she hit seven kills on just 10 swings. She finished the match without an error and a .526 hitting percentage.
“We started more evenly distributing the ball,” Sweet said “ They were definitely had no one up on me and going heavy to the left side. They were holding the block for me and let me go at the end.”
With the Big Ten crown out of reach, Cook said they are still hoping for a top-two league finish. The Huskers wrap up the regular season Saturday night against Ohio State. With a win, they can finish either tied for second place or in solo third place.
NU’s final spot will be impacted by what happens in State College, Pa., where No. 7 Penn State faces No. 8 Minnesota. The Nittany Lions are tied with Wisconsin for first place (and one game ahead of NU) after defeating the Badgers in five sets on Friday night. Wisconsin can clinch at least a share of the title against last-place Rutgers.
“We’re going to have to play better tomorrow,” Cook said. “I can’t predict seeds or anything, but you want to finish strong. We pride ourselves on being good in November and taking it up a notch.”
NEBRASKA 3, MARYLAND 0
Maryland (13-18, 5-14)........ 20 15 18
At Nebraska (24-4, 16-3).... 25 25 25
UM (kills-aces-blocks): Pritchard 12-1-4, Rath 7-0-0. Myers 4-1-2, Gardner 3-0-0, Alford 2-0-0, Jones 2-0-2, Naumann 0-1-0. Totals: 30-3-8.
NU: Sun 10-2-3, Sweet 10-0-1, Kubik 9-0-1, Stivrins 7-0-4, Schwarzenbach 4-0-2, Hames 3-0-1, Knuckles 0-2-0, Miller 0-1-0, Drewnick 0-1-0. Totals: 43-6-12.
Set assists: UM 30 (Alford 25, Naumann 3, Rath 1, Gardner 1), NU 40 (Hames 36, Kubik 2, Knuckles 2).