By Lincoln Arneal
LINCOLN – After finishing Friday night’s match on the bench, Lindsay Krause went home, reflected on the match and realized she just had a bad 10 minutes in Nebraska’s four-set win over Michigan State.
Nebraska coach John Cook never doubted his junior outside hitter would bounce back. He blamed the performance on the reigning conference player of the week jinx.
Against No. 13 Penn State, Krause recorded kills on six of her first 10 swings and helped the Huskers earn a 25-22, 25-22, 25-19 sweep Saturday night at the Devaney Center.
Krause finished with 13 kills with a .300 hitting percentage and added a pair of assists and two blocks.
“There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to start her today,” Cook said. “The jinx was lifted last night. I knew she would respond. I had a really good gut feeling from her that she would do that. When she brings that fire and kills balls, and she had a couple of huge blocks tonight and served really well, it just raises the level of our team so much.”
The second-ranked Huskers came out firing as they scored the match’s first five points, prompting a timeout from Penn State. Krause then went on a personal 3-0 run to give Nebraska a 9-3 advantage from which the Nittany Lions could never recover.
“We did a really good job of just using our energy and playing how we play to start off that match and really get them stuck down in a hole very early on,” Krause said.
After having several opponents try to avoid her, NU libero Lexi Rodriguez also put an imprint on the match with 12 of her match-high 18 digs coming in the first set.
Cook said many of those digs came from Penn State being out of system so much and PSU outside hitter Jess Mruzik taking 26 swings. However, several came because Rodriguez is an All-American talent.
“We just turned her loose tonight and I told her to read (Penn State’s attack),” he said. “There was one time they cut it really sharp and she was standing at the 10-foot line waiting for it. You can’t coach that stuff.”
As well as the first set went for Nebraska (17-0, 8-0), the second set was the opposite. After the Huskers won the first point, Penn State scored eight straight.
The Huskers struggled to serve to start the second set. NU missed on four of its first five attempts from the service line. Krause again rose to the occasion and served back-to-back aces – the only two of the match – to get NU off the snide and start cutting into its deficit.
“We really talked about in that huddle and throughout those few timeouts that we don’t need to go on one long point run,” Krause said. “We need to go on two-point runs and three-point runs every single time a server goes back and string a few points together and chip away one by one and don’t let them go on any more runs after that.”
Krause said NU tends to pressure itself to serve aggressively, which can lead to errors, but she went back to serve to just get it in and allow the Huskers to play defense.
The Huskers’ comeback featured mostly two-point runs and siding out. After taking an 8-1 lead, Penn State didn’t score any points on its serve the rest of the set. The Huskers’ longest run came on four straight points capped by back-to-back blocks from Merritt Beason and Andi Jackson to give them a set point.
“We’ve had other comebacks, but doing it against a team like Penn State, that’s a really great comeback,” Cook said.
The Huskers took care of business in the third set as, again, Krause provided the spark during a 3-0 run that gave NU a cushion at 12-7 that it rode the rest of the way.
After getting benched early in the second set, Harper Murray responded well with eight kills on her final 13 swings with just one error. For the match, she finished with 10 kills and eight digs.
Cook said the freshman outside hitter started playing more aggressively and passing better. She provided several clutch kills in the third set as she hit high hands of the PSU block.
“She stepped up and I kept telling her, ‘You’re gonna have to make a couple plays here for us to win this,’ and I like how she responded,” he said.
Beason and Krause each finished with a team-high 13 kills, with hitting percentages of .333 and .300, respectively.
Bergen Reilly played a solid all-around game with 33 assists and nine digs and was a force at the net with two kills and three blocks. The Huskers finished with a .289 hitting percentage.
Penn State (13-4, 7-1) hit .117 for the match and was led by Mruzik’s 12 kills. However, the Michigan transfer also recorded eight errors and finished with a .073 hitting percentage on 55 swings. The rest of the Nittany Lions combined for 20 kills and 11 errors on 56 attacks.
Jackson led NU’s block with five stuffs as the Huskers finished with eight.
The win was the sixth straight for Nebraska over the Nittany Lions and 13th in the last 14 meetings.
After dropping sets to Michigan State and getting pushed by Indiana and Purdue during the last few weeks, Cook said he was pleased that his team rose to the occasion against a team that hadn’t dropped a Big Ten match before Saturday night.
“The most pleasing thing was that when it didn’t go right, we came back and attacked instead of getting soft,” he said. “It’s a little easier to do that when you’re playing a team like Penn State because that’s a great team, with great players, so we know we have to do that. As opposed to some other teams we’re playing, we just expect to crush them or we are expected to win so this group gets a little bit tentative.
“These guys are really physical, and they know they’ve got to be really disciplined and do the right things or you’re going to pay for it. Again, it was a really good effort on our part.”