By Lincoln Arneal
After suffering its first Big Ten loss of the season Wednesday, Nebraska entered its match with Maryland not waiting to have any hangover or lingering doubts.
Whitney Lauesnstein delivered that message as she bounced an overpass on the first rally of the match. A few points later, she pounded another attack that ricocheted off the Terrapin dig, hit the scoreboard and crossed the net for another NU point.
The top-ranked Huskers faced little trouble as they swept Maryland 25-16, 25-9, 25-19 Saturday evening in front of 8,133 fans at the Devaney Center.
Lauenstein said the Wisconsin loss was tough, but they rallied during a team meeting and tried to take a more aggressive approach against Maryland.
“One of the things that we said was we’re going to come in guns blazing,” the sophomore outside hitter said. “So, I just went all out. All of us went all out. We just swung for the fences because you have nothing to lose at that point.”
NU coach John Cook worried about how the Huskers would play after a low energy serve and pass earlier on Saturday. He challenged the team captains to get everyone ready for the match.
Nebraska (19-2, 11-1 Big Ten) also won the net battle with 11 total blocks compared to a season-low five by Maryland, which entered the match averaging a nation-best 3.44 blocks per set.
“I thought they came out with a great sense of urgency tonight, and we were really sharp and just kind of really deflated Maryland,” Cook said. “I think especially when we started blocking them. They’re leading the conference in blocking but sometimes when you do something really well somebody does it back to you, it can deflate you pretty fast.”
Senior middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord led the defense with nine blocks while Lauenstein added eight. Sophomore Lindsay Krause and freshman Bekka Allick each recorded three stuffs.
The key to working around Maryland’s block was better passing than against Wisconsin and smart decisions from the setters and attackers. While Cook said he would have liked a few swings back and they could have challenged the Terrapins more, overall, NU’s offense played well enough.
The Huskers ended with a balanced attack as Launenstein, Allick and Krause recorded seven kills apiece. NU’s other three attackers – Hord, Madi Kubik and Ally Batenhorst – each tallied five kills. Maggie Mendelson, who took the place of Batenhorst in the third set, also chipped in a kill.
Senior setter Nicklin Hames said the hitters found a good balance between using tips and roll shots and knowing when to let attacks rip.
“That means we’re spreading around the ball and everyone was taking care of business,” said Hames, who finished with 17 assists. “It was super easy to run our offense because everyone was terminating. We really got the middles involved which I think opened up a lot of things.”
The Huskers’ passing was also markedly better than it was against the Badgers. NU struggled to handle Wisconsin’s serve, which forced it to play out of system often.
Against Maryland (13-11, 4-8), the Huskers did not allow an ace for the sixth time this season. The Terrapins entered the match leading the Big Ten with 1.87 aces per set.
Kubik did most of the work in serve receive as she handled 22 of Maryland’s serves. Lexi Rodriguez, who recorded a match-high 13 digs, passed 10 services, while Kenzie Knuckles handed the final seven.
They served Madi a lot of balls tonight and Madi held up really well,” Cook said. “All of our passers were on a mission after Wednesday night. We just did not have a good effort up there and we pride ourselves on being a great passing team.”
On the other service line, the Huskers racked up six aces, all of which came in the final two sets. Kubik had two during an 8-0 run in the second set.
After the Huskers ran away with the first two sets, Maryland made it interesting in the third set as it trimmed a seven-point deficit down to 18-17. Allick provided two kills to provide breathing room, and later Hames ended the match with an ace serve.
Cook said he should have called a timeout earlier to try to break the momentum, but he wanted to see if the Huskers could work through the adversity.
“We’ve talked about not giving up big runs and we made for four poor plays in a row,” Cook said. “It got close and then we rebooted on that, regrouped and finished out really strong.”
The Terrapin hitters never found a rhythm, as they finished with 24 kills and 24 errors. The UMD outsides especially struggled as Laila Ivey finished with 12 errors and hit.-194. Sam Scire also was negative with four kills and seven errors.
After the match, Hames said they felt disappointed following the loss to Wisconsin, but they responded well and look forward to the last month of the regular season.
“When you want to win something so bad, it’s really draining and frustrating when you don’t have a successful result, and I think that’s how we felt on Wednesday,” Hames said. “We were disappointed with how we played because we knew we could be a lot better. But it just shows where we need to go. Coach (Cook) just said that we’ve got eight games left and the ante goes up every game. We got to be dialed in every game, and the margin for error gets smaller. So we’re just going to try to go from good to great and play our best in those big moments, which I think we struggled with on Wednesday and that’s why it was so disappointing for us.”