By Lincoln Arneal
The Purdue volleyball team came into the Devaney Center with a plan not to let Nebraska’s middle blockers beat them.
During their first meeting, Bekka Allick and Kaitlyn Hord combined for 17 kills and a .615 hitting percentage. In the rematch, the Boilermakers fronted the Husker middles trying to limit their offense.
The plan worked as Hord and Allick combined for four kills and three errors on 16 attacks. However, the NU outside hitters carried the offense and lifted the No. 6 Huskers to a 25-22, 25-20, 25-11 sweep over the 19th-ranked Boilermakers Sunday afternoon in front of 8,248 fans.
“Wherever our middle went, they were there. We still can set them and kill the ball, but we didn’t execute very well tonight,” NU coach John Cook said. “Basically, what they said is we’re going to make your outsides kill balls.”
Madi Kubik answered the challenge with 17 kills and a .311 hitting percentage. The senior outside hitter racked up 45 swings, more than twice the amount of any other Huskers. Sophomores Ally Batenhorst and Lindsay Krause each added seven kills.
The Huskers (24-3, 16-2 Big Ten) hit .192 for the match as Nicklin Hames finished with 22 assists, while Kennedi Orr added 13.
Kubik said Purdue’s game plan made running their offense a little more challenging, but that created one-on-one opportunities elsewhere.
“I think Nicklin does a great job of spreading our offense out and running a lot of different things and getting people in good positions,” she said.
While Whitney Lauenstein might have had a forgettable night attacking – she had just four kills and six errors – she made up for it from the service line.
With NU trailing 22-21 in the first set, the sophomore opposite hitter served the final four points and ended it with an ace. In the second set, she was at the service line for a 6-0 run that put NU in front for good with a 20-15 advantage. Then, she served six straight points in the third set to put the Huskers up 15-6.
In total, Lauenstein served 22 times for 17 NU points, including one ace, while committing just one service error.
“The big turnaround on all three games was Whitney went on big serving runs, and I thought that was the key to the match,” Cook said. “It’s a great night for Whitney because she was struggling hitting but found other ways to help our team win.”
The Boilermakers started each of the first two sets strong as they led 4-1 in the first set and were up 12-6 in the second before the Huskers regrouped.
“Purdue came out firing on all cylinders and it threw us off with how well they were playing,” Cook said. “We had to get off the ropes and find a way to get back into it.”
Nebraska rallied around its defense to take control of the match. The Boilermakers used a lot of tips and roll shots for kills in the first set, but the Huskers adjusted and covered those better as the match wore on. After hitting .186 in the first set, Purdue was negative in each of the next two and finished with a .016 hitting percentage, a season-low.
Krause said they talked after the first set about not letting any off-speed shots get the best of them.
“Once we could stop their whole team’s junk or funky stuff coming over – really get all the miss hits, not let them get any easy points and make them earn every single point – that’s what kind of shifted our defense,” Krause said. “You could tell they had a really hard time getting kills in the second and third set because we really turned on our defense.”
Sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez led NU with a match-high 17 digs, while Kenzie Knuckles added 14. Kubik finished with a double-double as she chipped in 11 digs.
While Hord and Allick struggled on offense, they each recorded four blocks. As a team, NU out blocked Purdue 9-8.
Purdue freshman Eva Hudson tallied five kills in the first set but then recorded one kill and seven errors on 27 attacks the rest of the way. Her six kills were a season low and the only two times she’s hit negative this season were both against NU.
Maddy Chinn paced the Boilermakers (19-9, 10-8) with seven kills. Ravin Colvin added six kills, five blocks and an ace.
With the win, the Huskers set up a showdown on Friday night against No. 3 Wisconsin. NU needs a win to have a chance of a share of the conference crown, as the Badgers are one game up. On Saturday, the Huskers close the regular season against fourth-place and ninth-ranked Minnesota.
“This is what we’ve spent all year getting to this point where we’re playing for championships,” Cook said. “The Big 10 wanted this, and they’ve got all the teams lined up.”