Cook earns 700th win, Sun makes debut as Nebraska defeats New Mexico
LINCOLN — The miniature volleyball in Lexi Sun’s hand was a dead giveaway, and when she tossed it into section B18 during the introduction of Nebraska’s starting lineup, the Devaney Center was buzzing.
The sophomore outside hitter finally made her Husker debut and didn’t disappoint in helping No. 4 Nebraska fight off New Mexico 23-25, 25-12, 25-20, 25-11 on Friday night in NU’s second match of the day at the Husker Invite.
In the first, the Huskers swept Central Michigan 25-18, 25-15, 25-11.
Sun’s first kill as a Husker came at 7:39 p.m. on the match’s eighth rally when she deposited an out-of-system bump set from libero Kenzie Maloney. Sun finished with 13 kills, tying Mikaela Foecke for the team high, and added five digs, two blocks and one ace.
“It was awesome,” Sun said. “I was so happy to be out there my first time playing in front of such amazing fans. It was so great to be out there with the girls, and competing and playing with them.”
Sun provided the crowd of 8,043 glimpses of the talent that had made her the nation’s top high school recruit and an All-Big 12 pick during her freshman year at Texas in 2017. She started in the Huskers’ back row and played in all six rotations, giving Nebraska a pair of all-around outside hitters.
NU held Sun out the first three weeks of the season while she recovered from an injury. But coach John Cook, who earned his 700th career win as a head coach Friday night, said his staff reached a consensus that Sun was recovered enough to play this week.
“All along our goal was, this is the weekend we were shooting for,” Cook said. “She’s been through two weeks of practice, and this week we went hard Tuesday and Wednesday. She went through the full practices and felt good.”
Wednesday was the only day Nebraska practiced its new passing lineup with Sun in the back row, and it didn’t go like clockwork early. New Mexico (5-6) served the Huskers out of sorts in the first set and put down 17 kills in the opener, eight more than the Huskers recorded.
But the block party started in the second set when freshman Callie Schwarzenbach had six of the Huskers’ seven stuff blocks in the set. The 6-foot-5 Schwarzenbach finished with a career-high 13 blocks, the third-highest block total for a Husker in the rally scoring era.
Nebraska (8-1) finished with 16.5 blocks against the Lobos, the most for NU since putting up 17 blocks against Minnesota in 2016.
The Huskers’ defense eventually slowed New Mexico’s potent outside hitter duo of Tai Bierria and Lauren Twitty. Bierria put down a match-high 16 kills, but added eight errors. After scoring six kills in the first set, Twitty had just three kills and eight errors the rest of the way.
“After we struggled in the first set, we started to talk a lot more and got our timing down,” Schwarzenbach said. “Just the pins helping with communication, it all came together, and obviously it showed in the last couple sets.”
Earlier in the day, Schwarzenbach had a team-high five blocks in the win over Central Michigan. Cook said the quiet freshman has the height any coach would look for in a blocker and the instincts that surpass her age. She leads NU with 1.47 blocks per set this year.
“I’ve told her every day at the end of practice, I say ‘Callie, you had more touches, and more blocks, and better efficiency than Lauren (Stivrins) today,’ because I don’t think she thinks she’s very good,” he said. “I’ve just been trying to pump her up that she’s putting up really good numbers in practice.”
Against Central Michigan, Nebraska finished the sweep by hitting .750 in the third set to pull its hitting percentage up to .347 for the match. Stivrins tied a season high with nine kills, while Foecke also added nine and Jazz Sweet chipped in seven. Each of the three had only one hitting error.
The Huskers had eight aces in the matinee, led by three from sophomore Hayley Densberger.
Sun admitted she had been “antsy” to play earlier in the season, but the Husker training staff had a script to ease her back through increasing activity in practice. Sun came to Nebraska in part to be developed into a six-rotation player.
She looked comfortable with it by the fourth set against New Mexico when she put down six kills on seven swings to close out the win.
“I know that I just need to take my time and not rush into things, so I trusted the process and everything that we had to go through to get to where we are today,” she said. “I think that the coaches and the trainers and everyone did a really good job at getting me to be at where I needed to be when I step back on the court.”
NU will finish off the Husker Invite with Saturday’s 7 p.m. match against Missouri State (7-5), the final nonconference match before the Huskers open Big Ten play against a Michigan team that has swept its first 10 matches of the season.
Central Michigan (3-7)..........18 15 11
At Nebraska (7-1)................25 25 25
CMU (Kills-Aces-Blocks): Myers 8-0-0, Thompson 8-0-0, Smith 5-0-1, Whitfield 3-0-0, Wesley 2-0-2, Sivertsen 1-0-0
NU: Foecke 9-1-2, Stivrins 9-0-3, Sweet 7-0-1, Schwarzenbach 4-0-5, Davis 3-0-0, Hames 1-2-2, Szabo 1-0-1 Densberger 0-3-0, Smith 0-1-0, Maloney 0-1-0
Set Assists: CMU 27 (Braate 12, Butler 9, Kern 3, Wenglikowski 2, Grant 1), NU 29 (Hames 24, Foecke 1, Miller 1, Smith 1, Davis 1, Maloney 1). Att: 7,907 (4,564 actual)
New Mexico (5-6) 25 12 20 11
At Nebraska (8-1) 23 25 25 25
UNM (Kills-Aces-Blocks): Bierria 16-0-0, Twitty 9-0-2, Beddingfield 5-0-0, Spragg 4-0-1, Carrasco 4-1-0, Tan 1-0-0, Bianco 0-1-0, Murphy 0-0-1
NU: Foecke 13-2-6, Sun 13-1-2, Stivrins 7-0-3, Sweet 4-0-5, Hames 3-2-1, Schwarzenbach 1-0-13, Szabo 1-0-2, Densberger 0-1-0
Set Assists: UNM 37 (Inclan 17, Bianco 14, Schreckler 4, Twitty 1, Bierria 1), NU 42 (Hames 34, Maloney 3, Sun 2, Stivrins 1, Smith 1, Densberger 1). Att: 8,043