By Lincoln Arneal
With freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick ruled out against Michigan because of an illness, Nebraska shuffled its lineup and still had little trouble with No. 24 Michigan.
Freshman Maggie Mendelson slid from opposite hitter to the middle. Lindsay Krause flipped pins to the right side and outside hitter Ally Batenhorst saw the most time since the second week of the season.
Mendelson finished with three kills, four blocks and two aces in her first time serving this year. Batenhorst added seven kills and Krause tallied six and hit .353 as the third-ranked Huskers won 25-14, 26-24, 25-19 Saturday evening at Crisler Arena.
NU coach John Cook said he learned Allick was unavailable late and said he only had 10 minutes to reconfigure the lineup and figure out rotations. Cook said he told the Huskers (14-1, 6-0 Big Ten) before the match that this was an opportunity to play together.
“Ally has been waiting for an opportunity and I thought she did a pretty nice job tonight… She took a couple of big swings and we needed them,” Cook said during his postgame radio interview. “We will have to see who is playing next week. I’ve never made as many starting lineups before.”
Even with the reshuffled lineup, the NU regulars delivered in big fashion.
Senior outside hitter Madi Kubik recorded 15 kills on a .519 hitting percentage. Sophomore outside Whitney Lauenstein tallied 10 kills and six blocks, while senior middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord finished with a team-high seven blocks. Sophomore All-American libero Lexi Rodrigeuz notched 25 digs, which topped her previous best in a three-set match of 17.
Sophomore setter Kennedi Orr had one of her best showings with 26 assists. Junior Anni Evans added 13 as the Huskers hit .330 for the match. Orr struggled last weekend with seven setting errors against Maryland.
“She’s getting better and better with it,” Cook said about Orr. “I thought she was phenomenal today. She was really good. We just had a great tempo going, and she was putting the ball on the money.”
NU started strong with an 8-2 lead in the first set and the Wolverines (12-4, 3-3) never got closer than five the rest of the way.
The only drama came in the second set. Michigan used a 5-0 run to grab a 10-6 lead and later extended its advantage to 17-13 after winning four out of five points.
However, the Huskers rallied behind Kubik, who had seven kills in the set, including four during a 5-0 run that put NU in front 18-17. Lauenstein had a kill and two blocks with Hord to help earn two set points and Kubik put the set away with another kill.
“She put on a clinic today,” Cook said about Kubik.
The Huskers used a 4-0 run capped off by a Mendelson ace to take a 16-11 lead that it never relinquished.
The Huskers out-blocked Michigan 11-2 and recorded six aces to none for the Wolverines.
Michigan entered the week leading the Big Ten with a .287 hitting percentage, but only hit .184 against the Huskers. Kendall Murray, the older sister of NU recruit Harper, led the Wolverines with 13 kills. Jess Mruzik finished with 10 kills but nine errors. Middle blocker Jess Robinson, who leads the NCAA in hitting percentage, added 7 kills at a .545 clip.
The win caps off four road wins for the Huskers in nine days. They will finally return home for a week as they host Penn State and Northwestern next week.
Given all the changes which came at the end of a long road trip, Cook was pleased with how the Huskers performed. The win along with Purdue losing to Wisconsin gives Nebraska sole possession of first place in the league.
“For me, personally, this is the most satisfying win of the year so far,” he said, “We’ve been on the road for eight out of the last 10 days. It seems like we’ve been gone for a month. Our team handled everything and came in and gave a great effort today.”