LINCOLN — It takes a lot to make a Nebraska team coming off four straight Final Four appearances look youthful and inexperienced, but Stanford did that Wednesday night.
The Cardinal, who feature five senior starters, used their big-match experience gained winning the 2016 and 2018 national championships and playing four matches against top-10 opponents this season to earn a 25-21, 22-25, 25-17, 25-16 win over top-ranked Nebraska.
Coach John Cook said his Huskers showed glimpses of a high level of play, but inexperience caused them to make unforced errors.
“The biggest difference is Stanford plays consistent at a high level and doesn’t give you anything, and we are not there yet,” Cook said. “I thought this was probably the best volleyball all year. We didn’t get the result we want, but Stanford is really good.”
In front of an arena record of 8,632 at the Devaney Center, second-ranked Stanford remained calm to start the match.
“We are used to this environment by now,” Stanford coach Kevin Hambly said. “Plus, our seniors have played in how many big matches? They’ve seen a lot.”
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Midway through the first set, NU was hitting .074 and trailed 16-9, but then the offense came alive to hit .500 the rest of the way. Freshman Madi Kubik, who finished the set with five kills, sparked the turnaround.
She began to use the Stanford block to her advantage, hitting off it out of bounds. For the match, Kubik recorded a team-best 14 kills, but she also committed 10 hitting errors on 46 swings.
Other Husker attackers followed Kubik’s lead as NU cut its deficit to 21-19. However, two-time player of the year Kathryn Plummer, who finished with 19 kills, ended the rally with three kills down the stretch.
Nebraska was more steady in the second set. After Stanford took a 16-15 lead, NU ran off four straight points to take the lead. The Cardinal tied it 22-22 before Lauren Stivrins connected on her fourth kill of the set. The Huskers captured the game as Stanford hit the ball into the antenna on the final two rallies.
After intermission, the Cardinal returned to their staples: solid defense and good passing. In each of the final two sets, Stanford led 9-8, but it used an 8-2 run in the third and 10-1 run in the fourth to seize control.
“I feel like we were going after it, but at times we let a string of points get away from us,” Nebraska sophomore Nicklin Hames said. “Overall, we need to be a lot more consistent with our serving and passing, with everything that we are doing.”
Stanford’s defense kept the Husker attack at bay most of the last half of the match. Morgan Hentz led the Cardinal with 22 digs and seemingly took away every Nebraska tip attack.
The Huskers recorded 19 kills on 72 swings in the final two sets. They also finished with more errors than kills in the third. Meanwhile, Stanford hit .294 for the match.
Lexi Sun, Jazz Sweet and Stivrins each had nine kills. Sophomore Megan Miller, who Cook said provided a spark in the second set, had both of Nebraska’s aces and 13 digs.
Hames, who added a team-high 16 digs, said the Huskers can learn from the loss, and learn to play at a higher level more consistently heading into Big Ten play.
“I’m glad we played them in the preseason because they are going to be the top team,” Hames said. “Knowing that we took a set off them and we can compete at that level is really awesome. I’m proud of how hard we fought and I know we can get that level consistently.”
Stanford (6-1)..............25 22 25 25
At Nebraska (7-1).........21 25 17 16
Stanford (kills-aces-blocks): Gray 4-0-0, Plummer 19-4-0, Campbell 6-0-0, Fitzmorris 8-0-0, Gates 10-0-1, Hentz 0-1-0, Kipp 11-0-0, Formico 0-2-0. Totals 58-7-23.
NU: Hames 3-0-0, Kubik 10-0-0, Sun 9-0-1, Sweet 9-0-0, Schwarzenbach 1-0-1, Stivrins 9-0-0, Miller 0-2-0, Davis 3-0-0. Totals 48-2-12.
Set sssists: Stanford 56 (Gray 50, Hentz 4, Formico 2), Nebraska 46 (Hames 40, Knuckles 3, Kubik 1, Stivrins 1, Drewnick 1).