LINCOLN — After watching its defense take a step back following a loss to Wisconsin last Sunday, Nebraska returned to form and played like a team on a mission Saturday night.
For the 11th time this season, the sixth-ranked Huskers limited an opponent to under .100 hitting as they swept Ohio State 25-15, 25-16, 25-19 in front of 8,170 fans at the Devaney Center.
NU used nine blocks and 52 digs to limit the Buckeyes to a .086 hitting percentage.
“They pulled out of the slump or funk or whatever you want to call it,” NU coach John Cook said. “We just executed really well defensively. I get the most joy when we really shut teams down and suffocate them and I thought we did that tonight.”
The Huskers’ defense carried the load on a night when Ohio State recorded more kills, 36-34. However, the Buckeyes (15-17, 8-13 Big Ten), who needed to win to have a chance of qualifying for the postseason, also had too many miscues with 25 attack errors, 10 service errors and five setting errors.
Nebraska’s block was at its best in the second set, when it tallied five stuffs, including three from Callie Schwarzenbach. The sophomore middle blocker said setting up their block was challenging at times because Ohio State used 10 attackers during the match.
“We’ve been preparing a lot for this team knowing they have multiple people that play, so we were ready to adjust to whoever they were going to put in,” Schwarzenbach said. “Usually we have scouting reports on them, but some of them we didn’t so we just had to read. Honestly, it worked out pretty well.”
Jazz Sweet helped limit Ohio State’s Jenaisya Moore to a minus-.143 hitting percentage with just three kills. Lauren Stivrins finished with six blocks while stymieing the Buckeyes’ attack in the middle. Four Ohio State middle blockers combined to hit 12 kills and 12 errors on 38 attacks.
“They usually are pretty good at killing out of the middle and Lauren just completely shut it down,” Cook said.
Behind the block, Madi Kubik and Nicklin Hames led the defense with 12 digs each, while libero Kenzie Knuckles added 10.
Hames said the Huskers needed a strong defensive performance against Ohio State to set the tone for the postseason.
“It gives you confidence when you’re out there getting blocks and awesome digs,” said the sophomore setter, who finished with a double-double with 24 set assists. “Having a great match like this is great to get into a stride going into the NCAA tournament.”
The offense struggled out of the gate as the Huskers committed four attack errors, including three from Kubik, during the first nine points. However, Nebraska settled down and committed just six the rest of the match.
Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun finished with six kills on eight swings in the first set on her way to a match-high 12. Schwarzenbach added seven kills on 11 swings, while Kubik recovered from her shaky start for seven kills.
For the match, the Huskers hit just .242 and Stivrins finished with a season-low two kills.
“Lexi carried us Game 1 and Lexi was really good tonight attacking. She hit some really nice shots tonight,” Cook said. “There wasn’t a lot of flow for either team tonight because there were a lot of crazy rallies and crazy balls coming over tonight.”
The Huskers’ sweep, combined with Minnesota’s win over Penn State, means all three finished tied for second place in the Big Ten with a league record of 17-3. Wisconsin swept Rutgers on Saturday to claim the conference crown with an 18-2 mark.
Next up for the Huskers is the NCAA tournament selection show on Sunday at 7:30 p.m., where they find out their path to try to reach a fifth straight Final Four.
Hames said their experience during the conference schedule has them ready for another deep run in December.
“The Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences in the country. You have to come ready to play every day,” Hames said. “I’m proud of how the team battled and how it grew throughout the Big Ten play. We are ready and we are going to make a great fight for the championship.”
NEBRASKA 3, OHIO STATE 0
Ohio State (15-17, 8-12)..... 15 16 19
At Nebraska (25-4, 17-3).... 25 25 25
OSU (kills-aces-blocks): Gonzales 10-0-0, Sandbothe 7-0-3, Podraza 3-0-3, Moore 3-0-0, Grunze 3-0-0, Powell 3-0-2, Smeathers 2-0-0, Witte 2-0-2, Murr 1-1-0, Fry 1-0-0, Franklin 1-0-0, Halm 0-1-0. Totals: 36-2-10.
NU: Sun 12-0-1, Kubik 7-1-1, Schwarzenbach 7-0-3, Sweet 5-0-3, Stivrins 2-0-6, Hames 1-0-2. Totals: 34-1-16.
Set assists: OSU 35 (Podraza 20, Mauer 7, Murr 3, Halm 3, Gonzales 2), NU 30 (Hames 24, Knuckles 6).