By Lincoln Arneal
Let the hype begin.
No. 2 Nebraska took care of business Wednesday night with a 25-15, 25-16, 25-11 victory at Northwestern, while top-ranked Wisconsin strung its undefeated set streak to 30 with a sweep over Ohio State.
The two undefeated teams will meet Saturday night at Devaney Center in one of the most anticipated matches of the season.
However, NU coach John Cook wasn’t ready to turn his attention to the Badgers following the match.
“We’re gonna enjoy this one tonight,” Cook said during a postgame radio interview. “I haven’t looked at them. They’re undefeated and No. 1 in the country. What else do you want to know?”
Both teams’ game plans and scouting reports were changed as the Huskers didn’t have junior outside hitter Lindsay Krause, who suffered an ankle injury in practice on Tuesday. She sat on the bench with her foot in a walking boot and walked with the assistance of crutches.
Junior Ally Batenhorst got the start in place of Krause and finished with four kills on 16 swings and four digs.
Meanwhile, Northwestern (9-10, 3-6) was without outside hitter Julia Sangiacomo, who averages 4.11 kills per set, because of a knee injury.
Without Sangiacomo, whom Cook called one of the leaders for Big Ten Player of the Year, the Wildcats sped up their offense and switched up their rotations. NU made adjustments and limited Northwestern to a .141 hitting percentage led by 11 kills from Averie Hernandez.
“The Huskers do a really good job of adjusting,” Cook said. “It’s also a mental adjustment too. We simulated (Sangiacomo) in practice, and then all of a sudden, she’s not there. We spent a lot of time simulating her because she gets like 30 kills, so you gotta hold her back.”
Nebraska (18-0, 9-0) limited the effectiveness of the Wildcats’ middle blockers with tough serving. NU missed on 11 serves but recorded nine aces, including four from Harper Murray.
On offense, the Huskers made it a point to feed their middle blockers as they combined for 16 kills on 19 swings. Sophomore Bekka Allick terminated on nine of her 10 attacks, while freshman Andi Jackson finished with seven kills on nine swings.
Cook said the middles had a great connection with setter Bergen Reilly, who tallied 38 assists and helped the Huskers hit a season-high .395.
“It starts with a great set,” Cook said. “Bergen has got to put them in a good spot, and those guys gotta run good routes and get in good positions. So we’ve been working really hard on it, and it paid off tonight.”
Junior opposite Merritt Beason led the Huskers with 13 kills and a .323 hitting percentage. She also tied for a team-high with Jackson with three blocks.
Murray started the match slow with only one attack in the first set – an error – and didn’t record her first kill until 11-6 in the second set. However, the freshman outside hitter closed strong with eight kills in the final set, finishing with 10 for the match at a .412 clip.
Junior libero Lexi Rodriguez finished with a match-high nine digs after not recording one in the first set. Beason added seven and Reilly had six digs.
After giving up the first point of the match, the Huskers never trailed the rest of the match, although Northwestern did tie up the third set at 15-15 and 16-16.
Earlier this week, Cook met the media and said the team focused solely on the Wildcats. NU didn’t mess around, winning in 82 minutes in front of 3,252 fans, with a majority wearing red.
With their win streak extended, the Huskers can begin to prepare for Wisconsin, the four-time defending Big Ten champion.
“It’s gonna be a fun match and a great test for us,” Cook said. “Let’s go.”