By Lincoln Arneal
As the errors piled up, Nebraska looked in trouble against Michigan State after the second set.
The second-ranked Huskers recorded six kills and nine errors to go with four service errors as Michigan State tied the match 1-1.
Yet, NU regrouped after intermission and took care of business for a 25-23, 16-25, 25-15, 25-11 victory over the Spartans Friday night in East Lansing.
“I was not a pretty match,” NU coach John Cook said on his postgame radio interview. “We had no rhythm. There were a lot of errors on both sides.”
The Huskers (14-0, 5-0 Big Ten) were fortunate to go into the break tied as the Spartans led 20-15 and later 23-21 in the first set.
However, NU eventually found some success, closing the first set with a 10-3 run topped off by winning the last four points. The Huskers recorded two blocks during the comeback, and Merritt Beason added four kills, including set point.
“We were tipping every ball. We weren’t passing. We were missing serves. Bergen (Reilly) was setting everything really high,” Cook said. “I haven’t seen us play that bad ever this year.”
There was no rally in the second set. After NU tied the set at 5-all, the Spartans won eight of the next 10 rallies and didn’t look back. MSU hit .320 in the set and added three aces.
The Spartans set a new attendance record in Breslin Center with 8,789 fans. Cook said he thought the large crowd rattled his team a bit.
“We had a great practice last night, and we just were completely out of it today,” he said. “We got to continue to learn how to compete and start from point one on the road.”
Nebraska emerged from the locker room for the third set and quickly established its dominance, scoring the first five points, including three kills from Harper Murray. The freshman outside hitter finished with a team-high 12 kills but only hit .176.
The Huskers won the first four rallies and jumped to an 11-3 lead. That run was capped by back-to-back aces from Lindsay Krause, who hasn’t served much this season but was given the opportunity after Laney Choboy struggled early.
NU finished with 10 aces to go with 15 errors. Cook said NU struggled with the blowing winds in the spacious basketball arena.
“We hit some balls, and it’s just like they just took off,” he said. “I was like, ‘In our gym that would be a great serve,’ and then all of a sudden, it’s like the wind carries it and it floats 10 feet out. You can feel the wind swirl in there.”
In the final two sets, Nebraska hit .356 after being under .100 in the first two. Krause was the most efficient attacker as she finished with nine kills at a .381 clip. Beason also had nine kills but also five errors.
The middle blockers struggled to find a connection with Reilly, who tallied 29 assists. Freshman Andi Jackson added three kills on three swings in the fourth set to get her back into positive territory as she hit .167. Sophomore Bekka Allick only recorded one kill on 10 swings with three errors.
Cook said Jackson was a bit flustered early on before settling down.
“She was all over the place and worked up,” Cook said. “With Bekka, at first, everything was so tight, and the times we set her wasn’t good and she was tipping.”
Michigan State (11-5, 3-2) was led by freshman Taylah Holdem, who finished with 16 kills, 10 errors and 11 digs. The Spartans also recorded 15 service errors.
Despite another lackluster performance, Nebraska fought through the adversity and remained undefeated.
The Huskers will have a quick turnaround as they take on Michigan Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Central. The Wolverines (3-11) won their first Big Ten match of the season with a four-set victory over Northwestern on Friday. Kendall Murray, Harper’s older sister, paced Michigan with 13 kills.
Cook said he hopes to avoid repeating the slow start on Saturday.
“I told them tomorrow night at 8:30 when we start, the team that finished – that’s the team we want to see,” he said.