The Nebraska volleyball team completed a season sweep of No. 19 Purdue with a 3-0 sweep (25-22, 25-20, 25-11) at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Here are a few takeaways from the repeat straight-set performance against the Boilermakers.
Another One for the List
Our ongoing discussion of Nebraska’s opponent’s hitting percentages continues.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, Nebraska still claims an NCAA-best 0.120 opponent hitting percentage. With such an impressive mark, it’s not a surprise that many of Nebraska’s opponents have had their biggest offensive struggles of the year when facing the Huskers. Purdue is no exception after Sunday’s meeting.
The Boilermakers were relegated to a 0.016 in the rematch with Nebraska, by far Purdue’s worst single-match effort of the season. The team’s previous low was a 0.115 mark in a sweep loss at home to Maryland, making Sunday’s output even more lackluster.
Ten teams have had their lowest single-match hitting percentage of the season against Nebraska: Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Tulsa, Pepperdine, Long Beach State, Michigan State, Rutgers, Penn State, Maryland, Iowa, and Purdue.
Purdue outside hitter Eva Hudson, widely regarded as the frontrunner for Big Ten freshman of the year, was held to negative numbers Sunday with six kills and nine errors on 42 swings (-0.071). Hudson has now hit negative numbers in both meetings with Nebraska this year–her only two matches below zero this year. Her combined stat line against the Huskers: 13 kills, 19 errors, and 77 swings for the freshman who is averaging a 0.247 hitting percentage on over four kills per set.
But Nebraska’s defensive success in Sunday’s match was about a lot more than slowing down Hudson. Purdue’s other starting left-side hitter, senior Emma Ellis, also hit negative with three kills and five errors. The Boilermakers explored a variety of other pin permutations throughout the match with limited success.
Serving Up Success
Despite winning in straight sets, Nebraska found itself trailing by sizeable margins in the first and second stanzas. But strong, assertive serving brought the Huskers back into the match every time.
Sophomore opposite Whitney Lauenstein struggled offensively but made up for it by unleashing an onslaught of tough serves from behind the line. Lauenstein’s impact was felt at a pivotal moment with the Huskers down 22-21 in the opening set. After a Hudson service error, Lauenstein delivered four consecutive tough serves to complete a Husker comeback. Fittingly, an ace ended the run for a 25-22 win.
Nebraska faced an even larger deficit in Set 2 with Purdue building a 12-6 lead. Then, it was time for senior defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles to deliver five straight serves of her own. A couple of rotations later, Lauenstein returned to the line to serve six in a row and allow the Huskers to pull away in the second. The sophomore had another run of seven serves in the third to total a whopping 21 serves on the afternoon.
There’s an important common thread between Knuckles’ serving rotation (Rotation 2) and Lauenstein’s serving rotation (Rotation 4): senior outside hitter Madi Kubik is in the front row for both. Nebraska’s leading scorer and most efficient pin hitter spent a disproportionate amount of time along the net in Sunday’s match, and Kubik seized that opportunity. She posted 17 kills in just three sets and did it on an admirable 0.311 clip. The Huskers like to tout the importance of offensive balance, but Sunday’s circumstances allowed for the reliable senior to carry a heavy load.
The Title Race
The Big Ten championship race has shifted yet again since Nebraska’s Friday outing with the Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin narrowly escaped a five-set battle at Penn State Saturday night. A Badger loss would have brought the three-time defending Big Ten champs back into a tie with Nebraska in the conference standings, opening up a whole new range of title scenarios.
Now, the layout is simple: Nebraska needs to defeat Wisconsin Friday night to stay alive in the conference title hunt.
In fact, the Badgers would clinch the championship outright with a win. This scenario was opened up by yet another shocking loss by Ohio State, as the Buckeyes dropped a five-set Sunday stunner to Indiana in Columbus. Nebraska entered last week needing an Ohio State loss to get back in the championship picture, and the week finished with the Buckeyes one match behind Nebraska.
But Ohio State could still have an influence on the outcome of the Big Ten race. If Nebraska defeats Wisconsin, a Buckeye win over the Badgers in the season finale would give Nebraska an outright conference title with a Husker win over Minnesota. A Nebraska loss to the Golden Gophers in this scenario would yield a three-way tie atop the standings.