By Lincoln Arneal
On Nebraska’s first match point, Lindsay Krause took a big swing but was blocked by Kansas.
She didn’t miss her second chance.
The sophomore outside hitter slammed home the game-winner and sent Nebraska to the Sweet Sixteen for the 11th straight season with a 25-14, 25-18, 19-25, 26-24 win over the Jayhawks Friday night in front of 8,235 fans at the Devaney Center.
Krause recorded seven of her team-high 13 kills in the fourth set taking powerful rips to keep the second-seeded Huskers afloat. Setter Nicklin Hames said she appreciates having someone as consistent as Krause late in matches.
“She made plays tonight when we needed her to,” she said. “And that last swing, she was fearless and she was going for it. That’s what we ask of her. She’s a huge competitor and shines in those moments.”
Kaitlyn Hord also delivered for the Huskers (26-5) in the fourth set. With the score tied at 6-all, Hord recorded two blocks and a kill on an overpass. Allick said she got hyped watching the senior middle blocker out there.
“She absolutely annihilated the ball,” Allick said. “I was just like that’s Kaitlyn Hord, man, yeah, that’s Kaitlyn Hord.”
The Lexington, Ky., native finished with nine kills on a .350 hitting percentage and seven blocks. Hord was at her best in the fourth set with four kills and four blocks and even assisted on a kill by Krause.
“She has great hands,” Hames said. “Anytime she sets it I’m not worried.”
Allick also finished the match strong with three kills on four swings in the fourth set, including one out of a timeout with the score tied at 24-all. She ended with nine kills on a .562 hitting percentage and three blocks.
“It was a grind,” Allick said. “It will never be handed to you, so it’s a mixture of satisfaction and relief to know that the war is over. That mini battle is over. That fourth set, like coach said, was electric.”
The tight finish was a stark contrast to the dominant first set by the Huskers.
NU limited Kansas (19-11) to just two kills as the Jayhawks committed 10 hitting errors, including four on blocks. In fact, KU’s last nine points in the set all came via NU errors – five service errors and four hitting errors, one of which was a block.
“I think it was us trying to stick our toe in the water a little bit and say, ‘Okay, how’s this going to be’ and you can’t do that to get started,” Kansas Coach Ray Bechard said. “We bounced back obviously and got some things going. We feel like we’re a pretty good offensive team. We got third-best hitting efficiency in the Big 12, but we haven’t seen that type of physicality that often either.”
As a result of the sputtering offense, Kansas inserted Rhian Swanson for the second set. Bechard said the 6-foot-2 freshman provided a different angle to hit against an aggressive NU block. Swanson finished with a match-high 14 kills and a .286 hitting percentage. Entering the match she only had 28 kills on the second, 15 of which came against Iowa State.
In the second set, the Huskers used a 5-0 run to break a 13-all tie and pull away. The NU offense tallied 19 kills in both the second and fourth sets, which was tied for the second-best performance this season only behind a 20-kill first set against Creighton.
The Jayhawks took control early in the third set as it turned a 5-4 deficit into a 12-8 lead. KU hit .310 in the set and finally grabbed the momentum to force a fourth frame.
For the match, the Huskers hit .232 with 58 total kills. They were boosted by the return of Hames, who was back in the starting lineup after missing the past two matches with injuries. She finished with 25 assists, while Anni Evans tallied 20.
After learning that Hames was cleared around noon on Friday, Cook said he went with his gut to start those two setters. Cook said the time off helped Hames get back to full strength.
“She was sick last week after getting hit in the head. She just looked really fresh, and you can tell she didn’t gas out tonight,” Cook said. “It might be the healthiest she’s been all year.”
Both NU outside hitters finished with double-doubles even though they finished with hitting percentages below .100. Madi Kubik recorded 10 kills and a team-high 16 digs. Ally Batenhorst added 10 kills and 10 digs.
Both teams finished with 151 digs, while NU racked up 11 more digs than the Jayhawks. Sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez chipped in 14 digs while Whitney Lauenstein totaled seven kills and seven digs.
In the 88 times Nebraska and Kansas have played in volleyball, the Jayhawks have never won. Friday night’s match was just the second time they’ve played in the postseason after NU defeated Kansas in the 2015 Final Four.
The match also marked the return of former Husker Anezka Szabo, who spent her first three years at Nebraska before transferring to KU.
“Devaney is a great place for volleyball and has such great energy,” she said. “The fans are so welcoming. It felt good to just leave it all out there.”
Cook praised the fans after the match for helping them raise their level of play and finish the match off in four sets. The Huskers ended the night with their traditional run around the court to give high five to the fans.
Nebraska will find out Saturday night whether they will travel to No. 1 seed Louisville or host regionals next weekend. For Cook, he’s just glad the season will continue.
“If you lose, the season is over,” he said. “I asked Whitney (Lauenstein) in the locker room, after tomorrow night, how many teams will be practicing Monday. Sixteen. We go from 64 to 16 in a weekend so it’s a big deal, especially with college volleyball now and how competitive it is, there are a lot of great teams.”