LINCOLN — Ahead of its big test Wednesday against No. 1 Stanford, Nebraska learned a few more lessons Saturday during a four-set match that took 2 hours and 40 minutes.
The second-ranked Huskers overcame a sluggish start and pulled out a tight final set to earn a 31-33, 25-19, 25-20, 27-25 win against Loyola Marymount in front of 8,037 fans at the Devaney Center.
With the win, NU finished 3-0 in the Ameritas Players Challenge in just over 24 hours. Coach John Cook said the LMU match was more beneficial than a blowout, like the Huskers’ 25-8 final set against High Point on Friday.
“We are not learning a whole lot in that,” Cook said. “Today, we learned something ... The biggest thing was how hard they have to compete every point. They can’t cruise.”
In the first set, Nebraska led 17-14, but the Lions rallied with a 6-0 run, including three straight hitting errors from NU freshman Madi Kubik. Both teams had chances to close out the first set, but Loyola finally converted on its eighth set point on a kill by Savannah Slattery, her eighth of the set.
The Huskers reversed their fortunes in the fourth set as they cut down on their errors late.
“Fortunately, we were able to make some adjustments and find a way to win Game 4,” Cook said. “I would not have wanted to go five in that situation.
“It was a really nice comeback by us. We made some big plays to get there. After losing the first game by two, it was good for our team to win a close game.”
The weekend was a showcase for NU outside hitter Lexi Sun, who was named tournament MVP. The 6-foot-2 junior finished with 23 kills,14 digs and three blocks.
While she hit only .190, Sun delivered kills in big moments, including eight in the second set. She also had three kills in a 6-1 run that turned a 19-15 deficit into the Huskers’ first lead in the fourth set at 21-20.
Junior captain Lauren Stivrins said Sun has developed into an all-round player and a team leader.
“She took over that game today,” Stivrins said. “She was taking risks with her swings and she was going up and she’s putting up a good block. She’s doing a lot better on defense this year, and it’s a lot of fun to see.”
Jazz Sweet also stepped up in clutch moments. She had three kills during a 5-0 run that ended the second set. The junior outside hitter finished with 14 kills on a .387 hitting percentage.
The Huskers didn’t record a block in the first set, but totaled 11 for the match. Stivrins finished with seven, while Callie Schwarzenbach added four.
LMU took advantage of a leaky block early on.
“They were beating our seams and we were going too high and letting balls fall between us and the net,” Stivrins said. “In the next few games, we calmed down a bit, focused on going over first and getting back to the basics.”
The Huskers’ floor defense also came through to keep rallies alive. Nicklin Hames led four Huskers in double figures with 17 digs. Kubik added 15, while freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles added 13.
While the Huskers’ play was enough to get past LMU, Cook said they have a lot of work to do before the Cardinal get to town. The Huskers are playing better than they did at this point last season, he said, but they aren’t exceptional in any one area.
“We’re going to have to go to another level against Stanford,” Cook said. “That’s our only choice. There has to be another level.”