By Lincoln Arneal
Twice Nebraska had an opportunity to win the first set on the road, but each time Emily Londot denied the fourth-ranked Huskers a chance to steal the opener.
Londot finished with 23 kills and a .353 hitting percentage, and the Buckeyes made enough big plays to stymie NU as they emerged with a 31-29, 25-21, 26-28, 25-16 Sunday afternoon at the Covelli Center.
With the win, No. 6 Ohio State (19-5, 15-1 Big Ten) is tied for first place in the Big Ten and controls its destiny in the title race.
“We got beat by a really good team, and we had our chances and we didn’t take advantage,” NU coach John Cook said on a postgame radio interview. “I got to coach them better, and we got to learn how to be tougher in those big moments.”
In the first set, Nebraska (22-3, 14-2) fell behind Ohio State twice at 9-5 and 18-15, but each time rallied to tie the score. The Buckeyes earned their first set point after a kill from Londot. However, a kill from sophomore outside hitter Ally Batenhorst and an ace from freshman Bekka Allick made it 24-all.
The Huskers had two chances to win the set, but Londot terminated an attack each time. Finally, Ohio State converted its fifth set point thanks to an NU-hitting error.
In the first meeting, Londot recorded 17 kills and committed 17 hitting errors. In the first set, she tallied 12 kills at a .579 clip.
“It was nice to see Londot really respond after that first match when we were at Nebraska and play really well,” OSU coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg said to BTN. “She took some pressure off some other attackers and then we were able to spread it out throughout the rest of the match.”
Gabby Gonzales finished with 18 kills, while Jenaisya Moore added 12. OSU hit .254 as a team.
In addition to better play from Londot, the Buckeyes did a better job of limiting their mistakes in the rematch. In the first meeting, OSU was blocked 15 times and committed 20 service errors. On Sunday, NU recorded just six blocks, and the Buckeyes missed nine serves.
The Huskers bounced back in the second set and jumped to an 8-2 lead. However, Ohio State rallied to tie the set at 11-all. NU kept it close until three straight errors gave OSU a 21-18 advantage.
“We just made critical errors and critical points,” Cook said. “We just gave them points. They didn’t give us anything. We missed serves at crucial times. We made bonehead hits. Ohio State played great as a team. You can tell they played together for three years now.”
Cook changed setters in the third set as Kennedi Orr saw her most extensive action in a month as she played the final two sets. Junior Anni Evans tallied six assists, while Orr amassed 8 assists.
“Anni was not getting it done, and Kennedi has been practicing great. So I thought, well, let’s give her a shot,” Cook said. “I thought she did really well. She missed a couple of sets early and then I thought she set great.”
Facing a sweep and trailing 20-18 in the third set, the Huskers rallied and won six of the next eight rallies. However, NU closed it out at its fifth set point, which took a challenge card to give Nicklin Hames an ace.
OSU pulled away early in the fourth set, winning 11 out of 14 points for a 13-5 advantage. The Huskers got as close as five points late, but the Buckeyes scored the match’s final four points.
Ally Batenhorst led Nebraska with 15 kills as she also hit a team-high .256, while Whitney Lauenstein added 12 digs. Madi Kubik finished with a double-double with 14 kills and 10 digs but took 61 attacks. The 208 total attacks were one fewer than the season-high in a five-set win against Creighton.
Ohio State also frustrated the Husker attack with solid back-row defense. Five players recorded double-digit digs, including three with at least 20, as the Buckeyes finished with 101 digs. Libero Kylie Murr led the way with 24.
NU also had an impressive defensive performance with 86 digs. Sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez led the way with 24 digs. Hames added 21 digs to go with 32 assists and two aces.
“It’s always gonna be a battle against Nebraska,” Oldenburg said. “They’re one of those teams that does it all the time, and when we’re playing that style of play, we do it as well… Their defense is always on fire, and it was nice to see ours elevate it and be on fire as well.”
Senior Kaitlyn Hord contributed seven kills and four blocks. Allick chipped in six kills, and Lindsay Krause had five.
Even though the Huskers came up short, Cook called OSU a national championship contender and hoped the match would be an educational experience. If NU learns from the match, Cook said, it will help it play with more urgency down the stretch. The Huskers play at Iowa on Friday and then close by hosting No. 15 Purdue, No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 9 Minnesota.
“This is how hard we’re gonna have to play for the rest of the year,” Cook said. “Our players, they played hard today. They did some great things, and now they got to do that for a longer period of time and they got through every match from here on out.”