Nebraska gives Missouri State a beatdown, tunes up for Big Ten season
LINCOLN — In the early days of NCAA volleyball, Nebraska and Missouri State met often. They played four times in 1975, the Huskers’ inaugural season, and the Bears picked up 15 wins over NU prior to 1982.
But after the two border-state programs met Saturday for the first time since 1993, you could excuse Missouri State for trying to stay out of Nebraska’s way for the foreseeable future .
No. 4 Nebraska’s 25-19, 25-12, 25-4 win to conclude the Husker Invite gave a glimpse of the Huskers’ potential and sent reporters thumbing through the record book. The four points Missouri State managed in Game 3 tied for the fewest scored by a Husker opponent in one set since rally scoring began in 2001. NU also held Louisiana-Monroe to four points in a 2013 set.
The Huskers hit .500 Saturday with only four hitting errors, tying for the second-lowest number of miscues in the rally scoring era.
“What did we have? Four hitting errors in three games?” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “I can tell you this: We had four errors hitting warmups with no block on an open net. That’s pretty good, and that’s what I mean that we got in a really good rhythm there.”
Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins set a season high with 11 kills with just one error to hit .714. Mikaela Foecke joined her with 11 kills on 23 error-free swings while adding 11 digs for a double-double. And playing in her second straight match, outside hitter Lexi Sun had nine kills and seven digs as the Huskers ran their winning streak to nine matches.
Nebraska also reached double-digit blocks for the second straight night, turning back 13 Missouri State shots. Freshman Callie Schwarzenbach led the way with nine stuffs and added five kills without a hitting error.
“We have been working really, really hard on (blocking) every day in practice and with our setters and with our pins,” Stivrins said. “It’s nice to see that work out in games. We still have a long ways to go. I think Coach is still pretty frustrated with a few of our moves, but we’ll get there.”
The Huskers like to use words like “rhythm” and “flow” to describe volleyball when it becomes seemingly effortless. It never looked more so than when the Huskers rolled to the sweep by hitting .696 in Game 3.
Nebraska recorded blocks on the first three rallies of the set, and whatever did make it past the block was usually dug into quality transition chances for freshman setter Nicklin Hames. Hames’ targeting of the Husker middles was as good as it’s been all season Saturday. In the third set, Stivrins had kills on each of her four attempts.
“I feel like our connection just gets better and better every day, so I’m really excited to see where we take it from here,” Stivrins said. “It’s been something we’ve been working on day in and day out. It’s really fun playing with (Hames). She brings so much energy and excitement to the game.”
“We’re each other’s hype man,” Hames chimed in. “We hype each other up.”
Missouri State (7-6) became the second NU opponent of the year to finish with more errors than kills. Amelia Flynn and Ashley Ophoven each had six kills for the Bears, but the rest of the team could manage only eight kills combined.
Cook credited Nebraska libero Kenzie Maloney, who had a match-high 17 digs, with controlling the match from the backcourt.
“I nominated her for MVP of the tournament,” Cook said. “She kept everybody calm back there. She was picking everything up and putting it right on Nicklin’s head.
“Kenzie is just kind of our rock back there. I think she instills confidence in other players, too.”
If confidence can be contagious, the epidemic had become teamwide by Game 3 as the points rolled up starting with Hames, who served the Huskers to leads of at least 4-0 to start each set.
The Bears didn’t record a kill until their 17th attack of the third, and by then, Nebraska had built an 11-1 lead. By the time the advantage had grown to 19-3, Missouri State coach Melissa Stokes seemed out of ideas, leaving 5-foot-1 defensive specialist Leah Vokolek in to play in the front row.
Nebraska’s Game 3 scoring came in strings so long the teams didn’t make it through a full six rotations in the set. NU finished the third set with 16 kills and no errors on 23 swings.
“I didn’t even realize that was the score,” Stivrins said. “We were talking about how we kind of went into this flow stage, or whatever, as a team, and we were all really playing Nebraska volleyball. We didn’t even look up at the score. We had no idea. We just kept doing our thing.”
Saturday’s win was the kind of balanced, dominant showing the team was looking for going into next Friday’s Big Ten opener against Michigan, which is undefeated heading into Sunday’s match against Notre Dame.
The Wolverines haven’t dropped a set yet this season, providing the next test for NU’s growing list of developing weapons.
“We have so many different attackers, and now, with Lexi in there, too, we have even another attacker in the back row,” Hames said. “It’s just like evenly going around, and they’re all getting super good at not making a ton of errors. I think we’ve really worked on that, cutting down on our errors.”
Missouri State (7-6)............... 19 12 4
At Nebraska (9-1)...............25 25 25
MSU (Kills-Aces-Blocks): Ophoven 6-0-0, Flynn 6-0-1, Dake 4-0-2, Rear 1-0-0, Wratten 1-0-0, Cheffey 1-0-0, Villarreal 1-0-0, Messa 0-3-0, Vokolek 0-1-0
NU: Stivrins 11-0-3, Foecke 11-2-3, Sun 9-0-2, Sweet 8-0-5, Schwarzenbach 5-0-9, Hames 2-1-2
Set Assists: MSU 20 (Rear 16, Chaffy 1, Flynn 1, Butters 1, Messa 1), NU 41 (Hames 35, Foecke 2, Smith 2, Sun 1, Stivrins 1). Att: 8,149