LINCOLN — The streaks were both extended. Barely.
Creighton put a scare into No. 1 Nebraska, but Kadie Rolfzen’s All-America moments were enough for the Huskers to extend their overall winning streak and the stretch of consecutive wins over the Bluejays.
The Papillion-La Vista South graduate nearly reached a triple-double with 17 kills, 13 digs and nine blocks, and the Huskers needed every one of them to scratch out a 23-25, 25-13, 27-25, 25-18 win at the Ameritas Players Challenge on Saturday night.
Rolfzen led four players with double-digit kills. Mikaela Foecke, Briana Holman and Andie Malloy each had 11 kills, and Nebraska outhit Creighton .245 to .131 to stretch its winning streak to 25 straight matches dating back to last season.
But this version of the in-state rivalry went beyond numbers, NU coach John Cook said. It produced some of the most exciting volleyball in the series’ history. NU has now won all 16 meetings with Creighton, but few have been this kind of grind-it-out, sweat-it-out affair.
“If you look at the stats,” Cook said, “it looks like it was a lot easier match than it felt.
“(Creighton) won the serve-and-pass battle tonight. I’m a little disappointed in that because I think that’s the first time this year we’ve lost the serve-and-pass battle.”
The Bluejays’ aggressive serving put the Huskers on their heels and kept them out of system for much of the first half of the match. Creighton stole the opener after trailing 21-18 by ending on a 7-2 run that included two kills and an ace from sophomore outside hitter Jaali Winters, who finished with 11 kills.
The Huskers quickly righted their ship by hitting .400 in a second-set blowout, setting up the match’s pivotal stretch at the end of the third.
The teams were tied at each point between 17-17 and 22-22 before the Bluejays edged in front. Lincoln Southwest product Marysa Wilkinson teamed with Megan Ballenger to block a Rolfzen swing, then NU middle Briana Holman fired wide to give Creighton two set points at 24-22.
Husker setter Kelly Hunter said Nebraska’s practice scenarios paid off. NU regularly drills end-of-set situations where it may trail, and composure was key.
“It’s normal, but obviously when a team has (set) points, it’s always a little bit stressful,” Hunter said, “but we do a really good job in practice trying to create those situations.”
NU staved off one of the set points on a kill by Foecke, but the next point required some artistry from libero Justine Wong-Orantes and a gutsy swing from Rolfzen. The Husker libero chased down a ball deep in the backcourt and sent a long bump set across the court to Rolfzen, whose swing tooled the Creighton block and fell for a kill to tie the set 24-24.
“We just work on that all the time in practice,” Rolfzen said. “We have a 90-degree rule, so wherever the setter is going to be at, you’re 90 degrees from them and the net. We practice that so much that it’s almost second nature.”
After one of Lauren Smith’s team-high 12 kills gave Creighton another set point, the Bluejays couldn’t find their finishing kick, committing three straight errors to allow Nebraska to escape with a 2-1 lead in sets.
“We’re disappointed,” CU coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said. “You get that close in any match and you want to seize the opportunity. Especially the third game, we had some opportunities there.”
Opportunities were there for the Bluejays in the fourth set as well before the Huskers again finished strong. With Foecke struggling from the service line, Cook turned to sophomore defensive specialist Kenzie Maloney to serve for the first time all night with NU up 19-18.
Creighton struggled to pass her first two serves, leading to a 21-18 NU lead. It kicked off a 7-0 run to end the match. Rolfzen did the honors on the final three rallies with two kills and a solo stuff of Winters on match point.
She was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Ameritas Players Challenge, an event where the Huskers emerged unscathed but tested before the Big Ten schedule starts next week.
“This was the most important match (of the weekend) because we got punched a few times and we had to respond,” Cook said. “That’s going to be helpful going into the Big Ten because this is what it’s going to be like for the next 10 weeks.”
Creighton (6-6).............25 13 25 18
At Nebraska (9-0).........23 25 27 25
CU (kills-aces-blocks): Dimke 2-1-1, Winters 11-2-1, Wilkinson 9-0-2, Crawford 0-0-0, Smith 12-0-4, Ballenger 6-1-2, Witt 0-0-0, Conlon 0-0-0, Foje 0-1-0, Bohnet 0-0-0, Kloth 8-0-2, Bird 0-0-0. Totals 48-5-6.
NU: Foecke 11-0-0, Hunter 1-1-0, K. Rolfzen 17-0-9, A. Rolfzen 2-0-9, Holman 11-0-3, Albrecht 3-0-0, Wong-Orantes 0-1-0, Townsend 0-0-0, Malloy 11-0-3, Maloney 0-0-0. Totals 56-2-14.
Set assists: CU 43 (Dimke 40, Witt 2, Winters 1), NU 53 (Hunter 47, Wong-Orantes 4, Albrecht 2).