LINCOLN — Nobody used the P-word after No. 6 Nebraska’s 25-15, 25-12, 25-12 sweep of Ohio State on Friday night, but there was evidence scattered throughout the 80-minute dusting that the Huskers are peaking right before the NCAA tournament.
It was in Nebraska’s 13 blocks, which tied the most for NU in a three-set match this season.
It was in Lexi Sun’s match-high 12 kills on 23 error-free swings, her first match as a Husker without a hitting miscue.
And it was the futility NU imposed on Ohio State’s attack, which hit negative-.044, a season low for a Nebraska opponent.
Middle blocker Lauren Stivrins, who had a match-high seven blocks, said the Huskers realized they were stuck in neutral after a five-loss October. It was a wake-up call to approach practice with “intentional volleyball,” that’s now led to seven consecutive wins in November.
“Before, I’m not going to say we were going through the motions, but there were definitely times we would take a play or two off each practice,” Stivrins said. “We know that’s not going to help us get any better, so we really dialed in and focused this week.”
The win ended a rare slide to a Husker opponent in Lincoln. The Buckeyes had won three straight on NU’s home court in 2016, 2014, and 2012.
But Ohio State, the Big Ten’s 13th-place team, never threatened to extend that streak. The 2-1 deficits Nebraska (23-6, 14-5 Big Ten) faced in the first and third sets were the latest moments they would trail all night.
For the second time this season, Nebraska moved the ball around to get efficient attacking nights from several players. After hitting .407 in an Oct. 24 win in Columbus, Nebraska hit .353 on Friday, tying its fewest number of hitting errors (six) in a Big Ten match since 2012.
With nine kills Friday, Mikaela Foecke passed Kadie Rolfzen for sixth place on Nebraska’s all-time kills chart, and the senior from West Point, Iowa, added nine digs and four blocks.
Stivrins had six kills on nine swings, and freshman middle Callie Schwarzenbach added five blocks.
“I think our whole team is progressing,” NU coach John Cook said. “This month, we’ve been getting better. I think that stretch in October really built a toughness, and a resiliency, and a mindset of how we have to play, and how critical each point is, and how you’ve got to be really good every point.
“You can’t give easy balls, and you can’t serve easy, and you’ve got to pass the ball.”
And sometimes, you’ve got to wiggle out of trouble, which Sun did on several of her nine first-set kills. The Texas transfer showed off her whip-quick arm and diverse shot portfolio to bail out Nebraska several times in the opener.
Over the course of five rallies in the first set, Sun deftly put an out-of-system swing in the middle of Ohio State’s court, added two more kills in transition, and teamed up with Schwarzenbach for a block.
“I think I’m just always trying to get better,” Sun said. “I think (setter) Nicklin (Hames) is doing a great job, and I think the middles and the right sides and everyone are doing a good job spreading the offense out so that we get one on one, and they get one on one, and vice versa.”
Earlier this season, Sun had a stretch where she committed at least nine attack errors in five out of six matches. The opponents in the NCAA tournament will be a step up, but Cook said Sun’s last two matches in which she’s had 20 kills against one error are signs her work in practice is paying off. The Husker attackers often hit in drills against multiple blockers, including male practice managers.
“We’re putting them in really tough situations, and they struggle,” Cook said. “Then, I think they get to the games, and it’s easier than practice.”
Middle blocker Lauren Witte led Ohio State (12-19, 3-16) with eight kills, but she was the only one of the Buckeyes’ starting attackers to hit above .000. Ohio State lost its 11th in a row.
Saturday’s 7 p.m. Senior Night match against Maryland (18-13, 9-10) will determine where Nebraska finishes in the Big Ten standings. The Huskers are tied for third with Penn State and Wisconsin, who square off Saturday in State College.
For the Husker seniors, Foecke, Kenzie Maloney, and Brooke Smith, Friday was the first time in their careers they swept Ohio State. What comes next is familiar to them, though. Nebraska has been to three straight final fours, winning the NCAA championship twice.
After November’s running start, can Nebraska make the leap again in December?
“I think our hard work is finally going to pay off, and we’re finally figuring out how each other plays,” Stivrins said. “It’s all coming together right in time for the tournament, so I’m excited to see what we can do.”
Ohio State (12-19, 3-16)……..15 12 12
At Nebraska (23-6, 14-5)……..25 25 25
OSU (Kills-Aces-Blocks): Witte 8-0-1, Bukilic 6-0-0, Mauer 3-0-0, Powell 3-0-0, Franklin 3-1-0, Dailey 1-0-1, Gruensfelder 0-1-0, Halm 0-1-0. Totals 24-3-2.
NU: Sun 12-2-4, Foecke 9-0-4, Stivrins 6-1-7, Sweet 3-0-2, Schwarzenbach 3-0-5, Davis 2-0-0, Hames 1-0-2, Maloney 0-1-0. Totals 36-4-24.
Set Assists: OSU 23 (Dailey 21, Witte 1, Powell 1), N 31 (Hames 28, Stivrins 1, Miller 1, Maloney 1). A: 8,267