By Lincoln Arneal
New year, same results.
Nebraska struggled to pass and find any consistency on offense as it lost its ninth straight match to Wisconsin.
The top-ranked Huskers hit .162 with just 37 kills as it fell 25-23, 25-23, 25-18 Wednesday night in front of 7,229 fans at the UW Fieldhouse.
“Wisconsin took it to us and we didn’t handle the environment very well,” NU coach John Cook said during the postgame radio interview. “When you’re on the road against a team like that, you got to take advantage. We just never were in sync or rhythm. Everything was hard for us tonight.”
NU (18-2, 10-1 Big Ten) lost all three meetings against the Badgers last season, including the national championship match. Six of the nine sets the Huskers dropped were by just two points, and that theme carried over to this year’s match as the first two sets were deuce games.
However, they unfolded in entirely different manners.
In the first set, NU led 10-8 early before giving up a 4-0 run. After trailing by four points, NU rallied to get within 21-20. However, NU couldn’t even the score. It delayed the first two set points before Sarah Franklin ended the set.
NU didn’t have an answer for Sarah Franklin, who finished with 21 kills – one off her season high – and a .381 hitting percentage. The Michigan State transfer terminated from all over the court with various shots and stepped up when the Badgers needed a kill.
“She worked the entire court,” UW coach Kelly Sheffield said about Franklin during an interview on BTN. “I thought she thought she passed well, I thought she defended well, but offensively, she used every one of her shots.”
Wisconsin (16-3, 10-1) looked like it was going to run away with the second set, but the Huskers came alive after trailing 22-12. Kaitlyn Hord powered an 11-1 run with five blocks and three kills, her first of the match. Ally Batenhorst was in on two of those blocks and notched her first two kills of the night during the streak.
NU battled back to tie the set at 23-all, the Badgers quickly ended its hopes with blocks on each of the final two rallies.
“You gotta give a lot of credit to their team and they brought it to us,” Cook said. “We made a great comeback with a chance to potentially win it.”
The third set fell apart from the service line. First, UW earned five points in a row from the service line on three Nebraska errors and two aces from Izzy Ashburn. Then with Orzol at the service line, the Badgers ran off six consecutive points to pull ahead 16-9 and never looked back.
Ashburn finished with three of Wisconsin’s six aces in the match. She finished with a double-double of 25 assists and 10 digs.
Even when they weren’t earning points on the serve, the Badgers kept NU’s attack off-balance with tough serving.
“I just thought Wisconsin put a lot of pressure on us and we didn’t handle it very well,” Cook said. “It all started at the service line, and they served really well. We had a hard time passing and we never really got into a rhythm tonight.”
Wisconsin hit .207 as a team. Devyn Robinson added nine kills and six blocks, while Danielle Hart had six kills and nine blocks.
Sheffield said the key was to balance patience with aggression. While they were aggressive serving, they picked their spots while attacking.
“The real key is being patient because they’re just so good defensively,” he said. “They can frustrate the heck out of you, but I thought we did a really good job of keeping our composure.”
Bekka Allick was the only Husker to find any success on offense. The freshman middle blocker set a new career high with 13 kills on a .647 hitting percentage.
No other NU player hit above .160. Outside hitter Madi Kubik and opposite Whitney Lauenstein each had seven kills but combined for 10 errors. Batenhorst tallied four kills, while Hord and Linsday Krause hit three kills. Hord recorded seven blocks, while Batenhord had five.
Senior Nicklin Hames finished with 15 assists and a match-high 14 digs. Anni Evans added 12 assists, while libero Lexi Rodrigue recorded 12 digs.
Despite the loss, Nebraska is still tied with the Badgers for first place in the Big Ten. The Huskers are back in action Saturday, hosting Maryland.
“We just got knocked down on the mat. We got to get back to let’s see how we’re going to respond,” Cook said. “I’m curious what they got in them and how bad they want this, and you know what your response can be the next three days.”