After second-set loss, Jazz Sweet guides Nebraska past Santa Clara
LINCOLN — Give the fans in the west stands of the Devaney Center credit for not giving up the first time their chant fell apart.
They had to orchestrate it with a “one, two, three” to get their section in rhythm, but Jazz Sweet gave them plenty of chances to keep trying. After each one of the sophomore outside hitter’s 14 kills in No. 5 Nebraska’s 25-13, 21-25, 25-9, 25-15 win over Santa Clara on Saturday, the supporters in section C11 would synchronize themselves and try to make their cry go viral across the arena.
That. Was. Sweet.
The Huskers needed to learn from their own lesson in perseverance to rebound from a poor showing in Game 2. They did it by putting up season highs in aces (10) and blocks (12) to finish a 3-0 weekend and win the Ameritas Players Challenge.
Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke picked up her third double-double of the season with 10 kills and 10 digs, and added three of NU’s aces to be named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Foecke and Sweet combined for eight kills and one error in the third set as the Huskers regained the lead after getting sloppy in the second set. Nebraska (4-1) committed nine hitting errors in Game 2 and gave up a late 9-1 run as Santa Clara (4-3) took command.
“They’ve got to learn how to work through those things,” NU coach John Cook said. “Last year’s team mastered it. They were able to go on to the next play. It’s a very difficult thing to do. This team is learning how to do it.”
Sweet paced Nebraska during a 7-1 run early in Game 3 to dispel any second-set hangover. She bookended the stretch with an out-of-system kill and a block that put the Huskers in command up 9-2. The Huskers would later string together seven straight points and were never threatened in the second half of the match.
Santa Clara finished the day hitting .059 led by eight kills from freshman Michelle Shaffer.
“We came out in Set 3,” Foecke said, “and really proved we really are still capable of doing those things and put the pedal to the metal.”
The Game 2 letdown was the only set Nebraska dropped in the tournament, and even that setback provided a lesson in resilience. Cook knows there will be more of those moments as the Huskers head into a week when they’ll play Creighton on Thursday and Iowa State next Sunday.
“I thought we did some really good things over the course of two days for about 80 percent of the time,” Cook said. “Then, 20 percent of the time we didn’t play such great volleyball and we broke down. Our whole thing is: How are we going to learn from those moments? Because they’re going to continue to happen especially as we up the competition level.”
Chalk it up to growing pains. The Game 2 struggles came as errors began to run together from players trying out new roles. NU’s retooled back row mishandled some serves, and the Huskers committed six hitting errors and a serving error over nine rallies.
Freshman outside hitter Capri Davis came off the bench late in Game 2 and helped steady things with a career-high eight kills on 16 attempts. Freshman middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach also brought a spark with a career-best nine blocks.
Schwarzenbach, a 6-foot-5 newcomer from Kearney, Missouri, said coaches changed much of her blocking technique when she arrived this summer. Matches like this show the tutoring is paying off.
“We’ve really been focusing on just our timing, especially on out-of-system balls set to the pins,” Schwarzenbach said. “I think we really did a good job of setting up our block and taking our time during this game.
“To me, it makes me feel like what I’ve been practicing on is showing that I’m getting a little bit better every day.”
Baby steps. Cook will take them. Especially in areas he views as fundamental to the Huskers’ success such as serving and blocking. Sweet added four blocks, and middle blocker Lauren Stivrins, who Cook said has become “a game changer” in her sophomore season, added seven kills and three stuffs.
Stivrins also served two more aces Saturday, giving her seven for the season. Freshman setter Nicklin Hames had three aces of her own to go with a double-double of 37 assists and a team-high 13 digs against the Broncos.
A Nebraska team that can serve tough, block well and quickly get past a few errors? Cook’s seen that formula work before. It’s produced seasons that were pretty sweet indeed.
“I think this weekend we established a great serving mindset,” Cook said. “We’re still a little high error, but we are serving tough. Santa Clara had very few perfect passes today, and I don’t think Wake Forest had any yesterday. We are really pressuring with our serves.”
Santa Clara (4-3)........ 13 25 9 15
At Nebraska (4-1)... 25 21 25 25
SCU (Kills-Aces-Blocks): Shaffer 8-0-0, Dreyer 5-0-6, Light 4-0-2, Anthony 4-0-1, Kantor 4-0-2, Gajdka 3-1-1, Nwabuzoh 2-0-0, Caoili 2-0-0, Decker 1-0-1, McCreadie 0-0-1
NU: Sweet 14-0-4, Foecke 10-3-3, Davis 8-0-3, Stivrins 7-2-3, Hames 5-3-2, Slaughter 4-0-0, Schwarzenbach 2-0-9, Densberger 0-2-0
Set Assists: SC 33 (Light 25, Loreen 4, Gillingham 2, Gajdka 1, Kantor 1), N 45 (Hames 37, Miller 4, Foecke 1, Schwarzenbach 1, Maloney 1, Densberger 1). Att: 8,047