The Nebraska volleyball team captured another Big Ten road win with a 3-0 triumph (25-14, 25-16, 25-22) against Illinois. Here are some takeaways from the Huskers’ sixth consecutive sweep.
Offense Carries the Load
For as much as Nebraska’s dominant defense has carried it to some grinding victories, it was the Big Red’s offense that led the way in a sold-out Saturday bout with the Fighting Illini.
The Huskers hit .320 as a team Saturday night, Nebraska’s best single-match effort since a .330 performance at Michigan. It’s a continuation of an interesting trend given that Nebraska’s last five .300+ hitting matches have all come in road matches.
Balance certainly helped achieve this solid offensive mark, too. Sophomore opposite Whitney Lauenstein returned to the top of Nebraska’s kill column after a quieter Wednesday outing against Purdue. Her 13 kills in Huff Hall came on a .346 and were vital in spurring the team through some out-of-system situations caused by Illinois’ tough serves.
Senior outside hitter Madi Kubik followed closely behind with 10 kills on an impressive 0.421 clip. Attaining such a high percentage is especially difficult for a left-side hitter, but this is also Kubik’s sixth match with an attacking efficiency above .400. The veteran’s steady presence on the outside is irreplaceable.
True freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick contributed to the balanced attack with seven kills on .462 hitting, while sophomore pin hitters Ally Batenhorst and Lindsay Krause both added five kills and hit over .200. Allick is surely headed toward her second Big Ten freshman of the week nod.
Many of the efficiency numbers cited above cannot happen without the balanced attack that Nebraska has exhibited over the last several matches. It’s incredibly difficult to hit over .400 as a left side if no other players are an offensive threat. Kubik’s career-best numbers so far this season are a credit to her personal development and to the evolution of frontcourt hitters around her. This balance could continue to flourish in what seems to be a permanent lineup with a healthy Batenhorst back in the fray.
In a lot of ways, this match demonstrated the value of having graduate senior Nicklin Hames in the Nebraska lineup.
Hames missed about a month following an injury suffered in the mid-September loss to Stanford, but she’s now back and part of the two-setter offense alongside junior Anni Evans. 20 of Nebraska’s 44 kills Saturday night were off the assist of Hames. The senior setter also had a team-high 13 digs, allowing sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez to pile up nine assists while taking a high volume of second contacts.
Fittingly, Hames’ strong performance came as the fifth-year starter broke Nebraska’s all-time record for career assists, previously held by Fiona Nepo (’95-’98). With about a month left in the regular season and another NCAA tournament on the horizon, Hames is set to approach 5,000 career assists before her playing career is over.
A Streak Continues
Saturday’s sweep prolongs an impressive streak of success against Illinois.
Not only does Nebraska now have a string of six consecutive sweeps in conference play, but the Huskers now have scored six straight 3-0 wins against the Fighting Illini. Nebraska and Illinois faced off a whopping five times during the 2021 calendar year, with two meetings during the 2020-2021 season and three meetings in the fall, including a regional semifinal duel in Texas. All five resulted in sweeps, and you can add another one to the ledger.
Nebraska will now have a chance to break a losing skid of its own. The Huskers’ next on-court appearance will be at Wisconsin, a team that has beaten Nebraska in the last eight meetings between the schools. That includes last fall’s national championship match.