No. 4 Nebraska opened its final week of non-conference play in a big way, knocking off No. 5 Stanford on its home court Tuesday night to improve to 8-0.
The victory was Nebraska’s first over the Cardinal since 2008, snapping a five-game losing streak and securing Nebraska’s first victory at Stanford’s Maple Pavilion. Stanford’s only other loss came to current No. 3 Florida without star outside hitter Caitie Baird, who led the Cardinal with 15 kills and .400 hitting against the Huskers. Nebraska hit a season high for a Stanford opponent (.333) and held the Cardinal to a season low (.091).
“We competed very well in important spots and kept our composure very well,” coach John Cook said after Thursday’s practice. “We didn’t get nervous when Stanford made runs…I just thought they really kept their composure and played point for point. That was something we talked about, when the other team makes a great play we just have to come back and go out, and I think they really embraced that.”
Five straight losses wasn’t the only streak the Cornhuskers ended Tuesday. Nebraska had also lost four straight games of two to the Cardinal before winning the first set Tuesday 25-23. Trailing 21-20, Nebraska scored three straight points to take the lead and then traded ends the rest of the way to take a 1-0 lead in the game.
“For the last few years, at least since I’ve been here, we’ve always talked about winning those close games and winning three games by two points,” junior Lexi Rodriguez said. “And then, going on the road, facing a top-five opponent and being able to win that two-hander, I thought was really important and it kind of pumped us up for the rest of the game. “Winning that first set is probably the reason we won the whole match, so it was really huge for us.”
The Huskers carried the momentum of getting over the hump in a close game into the second set, which turned out to be Nebraska’s best offensive frame of the season, as the Huskers hit .696 with 17 kills and just one error.
“We were flowing,” Cook said, “you look at all the one-on-ones we had, we handled the ball and passed well. These guys were just flowing. It was probably the best game we’ve played all year.”
The Huskers were so focused during the second set that junior point guard Kennedi Orr didn’t realize the team had hit nearly .700 until she was asked about it Thursday.
“We talked about calling that a flow state, and in flow states you don’t really like to think about things like that,” Orr said. “I had no idea we got to .700; It is as if you continue until you reach the goal.”
Stanford made some adjustments during the intermission and rallied to win the third set, but Nebraska fought back and put the match away in the fourth game. Cook said Nebraska put in a great effort to get the win, which should only reinforce the team’s faith in what it can be as the season progresses.
Rodriguez said she was excited to end the losing streak against the Cardinal, but it was just one win and the Huskers still have a lot of work to do this season.
“It was incredible,” Rodriguez said. “There are some rivalries that I hope we can squash this year, so to start with that win at Stanford was great… We went into it with a lot of energy and motivation, and we really wanted him. So we got the job done, but I think we have more to do, so we’ll do it again today and next weekend.”
The Huskers will close out their non-conference slate against another ranked foe when No. 21 Kentucky visits the Devaney Center on Sunday night. The Wildcats are just 2-5, but have lost to current No. 8 Pittsburgh (twice), No. 17 Purdue and No. 2 Louisville, and have a win over No. 22 Houston.
“They are a great team and have given other opponents very close games,” Rodriguez said. “So we are expecting a battle. “Everyone always gives us the best they can and that is why we are ready to give them the best.”
Senior All-America opposite hitter Reagan Rutherford leads Kentucky’s attack with 3.63 kills per set and a .284 hitting percentage. He had 16 kills on .583 hitting, nine kills and four blocks against Louisville on Wednesday. Senior middle blocker Elise Goetzinger is adding 2.85 kills per set on .325 hitting, while All-American and SEC Player of the Year Emma Grome is orchestrating the offense, averaging 10.81 assists per set.
Sunday’s first service is scheduled for 6:30 pm CT on the Big Ten Network.
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