By Lincoln Arneal
Nebraska’s game plan was simple – stress Ohio State with its serve and make Emily Londot work as much as possible for kills.
The second-ranked Huskers succeeded on all accounts for a 25-14, 25-16, 25-21 sweep Friday night over No. 21 OSU to kick off the Big Ten season.
NU kept the Buckeyes out of system as they hit .090 for the match, a season low, and limited Londot to single-digit kills for the first time this season with nine on 33 attacks.
“Our team came out really well prepared, was really on the game plan and very focused tonight,” NU coach John Cook said. “The first two games, we put a lot of pressure on Ohio State and controlled the match.”
The Huskers (10-0) began the match with a block party, jumping out to a 12-3 advantage behind four stuffs. Junior outside hitter Ally Batenhorst earned her second straight start in place of the injured Lindsay Krause and put up five stuff blocks in the first set, four of which were in partnership with freshman middle blocker Andi Jackson.
Batenhorst finished with a career-high seven blocks, while Jackson and Bekka Allick were each in on five.
Of Londot’s eight attacking errors, four came via NU blocks. Cook said NU’s goal was to put as many hands as possible in front of the senior opposite and take away her favorite shots.
“We did a really good job of that,” he said. “She got a couple of kills we couldn’t do anything about but for the most part we did a really good job of taking away her tendency and forcing her to hit a shot maybe she didn’t want to hit.”
On offense, the Huskers could do little wrong early in the match. Junior opposite Merritt Beason added back-to-back aces in the first set as NU set the tone with its serving. The Huskers didn’t have an error in 24 serves in the first set.
The attackers took over the second set as the Huskers recorded 17 kills with just one error for a .516 hitting percentage. Beason led NU with 14 kills at a .467 clip, while freshman outside hitter Harper Murray added 11 kills.
The Huskers finished with an attacking percentage of .333, their fifth-straight match over .300. Freshman setter Bergen Reilly, who tallied 37 assists, said the key is the trust she’s developed with her hitters, knowing they are going to be ready to swing away every single rally.
“Getting the middles up for every single play regardless (of the pass) has helped to open a lot of things up for the pins and then obviously get the middles kills,” Reilly said.
Allick recorded eight kills on a .467 hitting percentage, while Jackson added six kills on 10 errorless swings.
NU faced some adversity to start the third set as the Buckeyes (3-7) won three of the first four points. NU took its first lead at 11-10, but OSU eventually tied it up at 17-all. However, NU responded by taking four of the next five rallies.
The third set has been the Huskers’ trouble spot, as the only three sets they’ve dropped have come when they are trying to close out the sweep.
Allick said Laney Choboy helped keep NU focused in the third set after the slow start. The freshman defensive specialist, who returned to action after missing one game because of concussion protocol, told the rest of the team that she hoped Ohio State was making adjustments to avoid the sweep and what they had done to win the first two sets might not work anymore.
“As Coach always says the great teams adjust and that has been our weakness in the third set,” Allick said. “Laney made a great point. She’s like, ‘I hope they would adjust if they’re down two sets or they’re just going to get swept and sent home.’ We talked a lot about adjusting, just playing it cool, and not getting outside of ourselves, and I think that’s what we did tonight.”
Rylee Rader was the only OSU attack with consistent success on the night as she terminated six of her 12 attacks.
The Huskers opened their Big Ten schedule with another record crowd as 8,711 fans set a new Devaney Center mark. NU will take on another ranked opponent Sunday, hosting No. 12 Minnesota at 6:30 p.m.
Allick said she is ready for another challenge in league play.
“I understand the value of every game and each opponent,” she said. “You really can’t overlook anyone in the Big Ten. You never know how it’s going to add up in the end. Because in the Big Ten, we don’t get to play a tournament. It’s all built based on wins and losses, so every game has got to be our best game.”